April 28, 2004

Edward Morgan Forster & The "Hook-Up" Obsession

Ummm . . . right. I want to say right at the beginning that the fact that Forster was gay is utterly irrelevant to everything. With Wilde, that was *it* . . . here it most certainly *is not.* Really. No, seriously. Geez, will you stop obsessing about it already? Oh, and of course it has absolutely nothing to do with my selection of titles! Oh my goodness! Get your mind out of the gutter! This can't go anywhere good, I'm abandoning paragraph . . .

Alright. The happy news is that I have none of the author's work to paste in here. It's all way too long and this is a review of the movie version of one of his novels anyway. Title: "A Passage to India," and let me just say that it was good movie which I thoroughly enjoyed and . . . I should probably go into this a bit better. Hold on. Let me switch paragraphs again.

There. As I was saying, I had a very good time watching this movie. Dr. Watson swears that the guy sitting behind him (presumably when he originally saw the movie in '84?) said nothing happened in the movie. Outrageous! Or, at least, if it is true, I was far too busy trying to look at the movie and watch it at the same time to notice whether this nebulous concept of "something" was actually going on. The really cool thing about the movie, I think, was that it succeeded enormously at making India itself a central character. From the single chapter I read of the novel, and what I picked up from watching the movie and looking at Forster's key ideas, I think that this is absolutely vital.

The portrayal of India is what makes the movie rich and full of flavor. I remember especially a very breath-taking shot near the beginning of the train traveling across a vast, empty plain. You can tell that the plain is very green and that the railroad track is the only real sign of human civilization in it, but the shot is taken at night and there are stars overhead and so forth. And right in the foreground of the shot is the statue of some sort of Hindu god I believe, with all of the arms and everything. It takes up probably a third of the screen, and it seems to be gazing imperiously out over this huge domain that it owns, (whatever the British may think), while studiously ignoring the insignificant train as it crawls by. That particular shot is one among many that captured my imagination and drew me into the movie. The acting was quite superb, as well.

The basic plot of the movie is this: An elderly Englishwoman named Mrs. Moore is journeying to India to visit her son, who is the City Magistrate of Chandrapore. She is accompanied by Adela Quested, her son's fiancée. Both of them are eager to experience "the real India" while they are there. Upon arrival, this desire is frustrated by what they rightly perceive as the insufferable attitude of superiority that all of the other Brits in India hold with respect to the native Indians.

However, this notwithstanding, Mrs. Moore strikes up a chance friendship one night with an Indian named Dr. Aziz, and it is through the combined efforts of Dr. Aziz and Mr. Fielding, the principal of the local university who also happens to be the only British citizen in the city who does not hold himself above the Indians, that the two women will be able to experience India as they wish to experience it. Incidental, but strangely important, to these activities is Professor Godbole, the "Inscrutable Brahman," (hilariously portrayed by Alec Guinness).

Their endeavors will lead to Miss Quested rethinking the basis of her entire life, including her love of Ronny, to Dr. Aziz closely considering the question of whether the English and the Indians can successfully form friendships that bridge the differences of culture and race, to Mr. Fielding examining just how far his well-balanced respect of all men can stretch, and, ultimately, to an explosive trial, centered around all of the major characters, which brings Chandrapore, and perhaps all of India, to the brink of bloody revolution.

Are we drooling yet? No? *shrugs* Oh, well . . . We can't all be me, I suppose. And, let me be the first to point out, it would be dashed inconvenient if we were.

It is a fascinating look at the cultural barrier between the East and the West, the British Colonial system circa World War I, the loss of innocence that contact with a more "advanced" culture inevitably brings, and, of course, with the importance of making connections (or forming friendships, if you prefer). It is a movie that is full of significant suggestion and allusion, if comparatively little significant action. But enough dancing around it all . . . time to dive into the heart of the thing. What is the point of it all?

I am quite reluctant to focus entirely on the "making connections" angle because Dr. Watson covered that one in class, and I'm all about doing my own thing in these journals . . . but I gotta say something about it, both because it is huge and because it is meaningful to me.

It would appear that a big part of this movie, if not the big part of this movie, is that the best thing you can do with life is to go through it making connections with people. Now, I arrived at something very much like this conclusion nearly three years ago, and have been developing it ever since, but from an entirely different basis. The center and key to life, Forster would say, is in human relationships . . . and I would nearly agree. Relationships, one in particular, are the center and key, and human relationships are very near to that center.

Forster was working from the assumption that this *throws arm out in sweeping arc* is it. Do what you're going to do on this planet, because life does not proceed beyond it. Therefore, in addition to simply making for a better life, and here I make a fun little jump over to the philosophy of Big Fish and its ilk, interacting and connecting with people will allow you to retain life beyond death. This is what makes you matter. Now, when I look at the question, I remember the overused statement, "You can't take it with you," continuously applied to material possession. I'm pretty stubborn when it comes to statements like that, and I contend that you most certainly can take it with you. The key lies in exactly what you are taking . . . I'm bringing relationships, myself.

Horribly irrelevant side note that I really shouldn't be indulging in: I always wondered, if heaven is so grand, what exactly do I care if I haven't gone that extra mile and put forth the effort to receive bucketloads of "crowns" when I get there? I mean, do I really care that you've got 1300 crowns to my 3 because you spent all your time doing Longview Blitz and evangelizing people who have just seen The Passion while I was in bed? I think not . . . I mean, how many crowns can you wear at once, for goodness sake? I don't know about you, but I have no more than a single head on my shoulders. And who really wants a crown, anyway? I mean, sure, it would be kind of cool, but . . . you're in heaven . . . where does the extra-crown-coolness-factor fit in with all that?! You don't need a crown unless it's, like, your little water park bracelet thing that lets you ride the rides . . . but that doesn't even make any sense, so forget I mentioned that.

What I'm leading to is this: What if these treasures you're storing up for yourself are directly related to the relationships you are building here on earth . . . After all, think of any work that you know of anyone doing for God, ever . . . What, of that, does not involve some degree of networking, often on a massive scale? What better way to get the good times going in heaven than if you fit right in with everyone there? As the Jewish mother says brightly, "You'll have a basis." Anyway, whatever. Time to move on.

So, clearly, relationships are, in the end, really vitally, inescapably important here, but I'd like to spend just a second or two on the question of culture because I have a bit of experience here. I can say, from that experience, that one can most definitely make friends in spite of, and/or around and through, culture differences, but those differences will always be there for the friendship to work around and to work through and to work with . . . the question must be taken and asked again with each particular friendship: Is this one strong and versatile enough to withstand that pressure? And, regardless of the answer, one must continue to try, for this, if it is not where *it* is at, is at least where *it* begins. Ummm . . . Make of that what you will . . .

Posted by Jared at April 28, 2004 04:15 AM | TrackBack