This is the title of the film I just saw.
It's two-thirty am and I should be going to bed, meditate a bit before I fall asleep and yet, here I am, thinking, not to worry, I'll manage with just four or five hours sleep.
It's a story I've been telling myself for many years now and yet, in situations like these, when I'm compelled to stay awake to write something, I often do not regret it afterwards.
It's feeling like that that I am here.
I'm listening to Clock DVA and thinking about what I wanted to say about this film as soon as it ended.
(I cried, of course I cried)
The main theme of the film struck home in a big way. No because I identify with the main character (even though I did so much in the past) but because I know of many people in that situation (most humans I would say) and one in particular. She's now twelve and struggling with a lot of things. Like you're supposed to when you're that young.
The film ended and I found myself thinking that I would've liked to have seen this film with her. To see her imbued with the feelings and everything that the film evokes in us. I think she would get. At least she would identify with that hunger for life but, at the same time, the fear of it.
That's Ben Kingsley's character. He is a man at the end of his life, too afraid to let go of all the repressions he has absorbed throughout his life to actually see what is in front of him. His dream. A beautiful young woman that truly loves him. She, so much younger than him, can see it. And she wants to help him to come out of his hardened mind that doesn't allow his heart to breathe. But he has a lifetime of fears, a lifetime of misconceptions and self protection.
I think he sees all this, but what makes him even more brilliant as a character is that he cannot let go of what he so desperately wants to get rid of about himself.
I think he is a powerful metaphor for humanity.
Actually, he is more than a metaphor. He is real. He is inside everyone of us. He is me and you whenever we surrender to our fear for no good reason but out of fear itself.
And how does all of this connect to a twelve year old girl?
The same way it would've connected to a twelve year old boy some 22 years ago.
It would've connected with that boy at that time because already there and then he was fascinated with the provinces of the mind. He was fascinated with art and science and people and everything he saw and welcomed inside him. Young people are like this, even when they don't fully know it.
He was fascinated with everything and he wanted to know everything. He knew it was a quimeric obsession, something that, in reality, somewhere inside of him, he knew it would be impossible to achieve but that, nonetheless, remained, increasingly powerful, increasingly magnetic and alluring.
He was fascinated with all these things but I don't think he really knew why he was fascinated. Things were just fascinating.
Yet, at the same time he began to realise that what he wanted was to know life, in its deepest, in it's fullest, so he could live it in precisely that way. In it's deepest. In it's fullest.
Can you blame him?
I do not.
I call him smart. Ambitious, perhaps even arrogant, but smart nonetheless.
I still think it's a good idea. To outwit life. To know early on the way you'll probably feel when you know you don't have much more time to live.
This was actually an exercise that I did (and sometimes still do) many times in the past.
"If I were to die tomorrow would it have been a good life? What would I regret? What have I missed?"
The answers to this were often surprising. Many times (not to say always) extremely important.
With the years I have found that my regret levels have diminished considerably and that I haven't missed much of the things I would've liked to have done.
That's simply because I am doing them now.
It does help.
Just today I was talking with a friend of mine and we ended up reaching this simple and yet so crucial conclusion that young people aren't stupid and that they actually know what they're doing.
(I guess myself and my friend both felt not listened to when we were younger so we can relate to this, even if a few decades have passed in the meantime)
(and by the way, I always dreamt about writing stuff like this when I was twelve. Go figure...)
I think it's quite brave and intelligent to try and find out what life means to us as quickly as possible. That way, hopefully, we will be able to enjoy it to the fullest as soon as possible.
When I was a teenager I used to dream about having the experience of an old man in a teenage body (and this has been the theme of many of my stories. Perhaps in disguise, but it's there).
There was a phrase that my father's uncle used every single time we went to visit him in Lisbon. It was something like
"Now that I' ready to die, I am ready to start living."
It's a bitter affirmation of disappointment towards one's life. This phrase became engraved in my mind. I could feel the taste of fear and pain that it held underneath the words. It weren't just the words you see. There were sights. And smells. And tones. Things that however many words we might use, we will never truly describe.
And, as soon as the meaning of this phrase became clear to me, I vowed to live a life that would NOT end up in this way. I wanted to end my life saying, I've lived my life and I am ready to die. I have done all I've wanted to.
There is a very powerful phrase in this film, it goes something like
"Man's biggest surprise in life is old age."
I understood this at the age of twelve but the understanding I have now is that of a twelve year old with twenty two more years of experience. An understanding of someone who already has some measure of knowledge of what it means your body growing old.
This is one of the big reasons why I believe this film is an important one. The sooner we become acquainted with life the better.
There are a couple of very important lines in this film about this.
In one scene Ben is saying that
"we've spent our whole life acting like teenagers."
He's not referring to clothes or going to parties, but rather in the sense of not knowing how to be fully responsible for one's own life.
I mean, let's face it, life is what we do everyday and yet, there is so little teaching about it imparted from other people. We have our parents. We have our grandparents. We have our friends. But, not always the wisdom they have to give us is enough to steady us in our path.and, to this I say, recognise them as fellow travellers in this mysterious road and chide them not for their blame. Life just happens.
On another scene Ben is talking to his oldest friend (played by Dennis Hopper) and he says something like
"It's time to grow up. Not just grow old."
Again he is alluding to that most precious of lessons that this film is trying to impart on us. A lesson in responsibility.
But a responsibility that has nothing to do with returning our assignments on time or know how to comment a work of art in an appropriate manner.
But rather a responsibility to the way we feel. A responsibility towards the heart. A responsibility that is unconditional and non-judgmental.
This is something very hard to achieve.
Our inner truth.
That's the only thing we've been striving for all our lives. That is certainly what Ben's character fails to accept, see, BECOME at every step of his path.
Yet, Penelope Cruz's character, some thirty odd years younger, she sees it so clearly.
More. SHE IS IT.
And this haunts him. This taunts him. This lures him as much as it frightens him. She is truly his Holy Grail. And in more ways that just this one. She is complete.
And she is complete because she is FULLY herself.
There's no holding back.
It's just take it or leave it. Like a child.
And it's through that innocence, that incredible, mature spontaneity that her beauty truly shines through.
This is the lesson they both learn in fact. But him, a lot more than her.
Still, the important thing is that they do learn it. And that they share this.
This is actually all plainly told in the film. They each go through their own masks and, what they find is simply what they always had known was there.
And why had they always know it?
Because they had feared it.
Anyway, you know how sometimes you just wish people would change, realise this or that in order for them to become so much more fully what you feel and know in your bones that they are, but you don't know how to?
Well, this is one of those films that gives you this trust that, if they did watch it, they'd get it. Just the way you got. And that impression, that lasting impression that it left on you, would be theirs as well. And, the next time you saw them, they would be a few steps further in their own path. Perhaps a bit closer to you as well. For truly, this is the one thing you want to share.