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Shrink at the Movies: “Warm Bodies” (2013)

I saw “Warm Bodies” last night, after frankly much anticipation, for any number of reasons.

Between this and “Jack the Giant Slayer”, young Nicholas Hoult is poised to claim the crown of new Movie Hunk enough to challenge the likes of the universally-loved James Franco. Also, my own foray into writing a Young Adult Fantasy Supernatural Romance novel (“The Boy from Yesterday”, which is in progress, and I’m very excited about finishing the first draft, possibly today after I write this — Fan Page link, below), has me perked up to see other stories of Young Adult Supernatural Romance for comparisons and inspiration (in the tradition of the “Twilight” series, “The Vampire Diaries”, “Secret Circle”, Sookie Stackhouse/”True Blood”, etc.).

It seems our Good Girls can’t get enough of Bad-Boy-with-a-Heart-of-Gold vampires, werewolves, and now zombies (mine will be a time-traveler). All of them include a certain “fish-out-of-water” quality when our young heroines rescue the supernatural hero from his baser instincts.

This theme always give me a little bit of pause, as if we are teaching our young (heterosexual) women that men are beasts whose baser nature is always to be tamed by the more-rational-thinking female POV; that men, left to their own devices, would destroy themselves if they were left alone with their baser instincts of what they do, eat, and, by implication, screw, if not for the intervention of the more-evolved female. As a male, I’m not sure I like this theme — purported usually by women writers, for a young female audience. I prefer to look at these stories as ways that not only supernatural beings and mere mortals can learn from each other and get along, but that they actually promote tolerance and understanding among people from very different backgrounds, increasing our capacity for compassion, empathy, and harmonious living. It is this theme that “Warm Bodies”, well, “embodies”, and breathes life into, and to its credit.

The storyline needs little explanation, but for the record, post-apocalyptic young zombie, “R”, falls for still-meaty “Julie”, whose dad is hell-bent on destroying the zombies who killed and ate his wife/Julie’s mother. Julie sees a different side, a more “human” side of R, after he rescues her from the particularly “worse” form of zombie, walking skeletons. Julie believes that the more human, compassionate, civilized side of R can be cultivated, and perhaps his lost humanity can be rehabilitated.

Despite the impressive CGI special effects that are ubiquitous to movies today, including Young Adult romances, it seems, there is an underlying sweetness to “Warm Bodies” that was making the audience I saw it with (and others, from what I hear) cheer its macabre sentiment of a certain “life” after death, and the beauty of a romance between a dead boy who “doesn’t smell rotting” very much and a real-living girl. It’s the new “mixed” romance.

From my Shrink POV, all the classic themes are there. Young R narrates the film (as he does the book by Isaac Marion; let’s not forget the man who created this story, because as a novelist and not a movie director, I’d like to credit the person from whose mind all of these characters, concept, and plot came from). Much of the humor of this dark-ish romantic comedy comes from R’s narration and the irony of being a young, somewhat horny man trapped in a probably newly-dead body. All the developmental signposts of being a young man are still there — questioning society, negotiating moral conflicts, wishing for an idealized alternative to reality.

The theme of coming to terms with one’s self as a young adult is there. So is the inevitable father-daughter conflict, particularly where fatherly angry-conservativism-after-loss meets daughter’s liberal compassion for poor stray beings.

There is the daughter-best friend relationship (which my “Boy From Yesterday” will take to extremes, by the way — hint, hint). There is the theme of depicting the positive effects romance can have on one another: Julie’s love for R, in classic fairy tale tradition, literally converts this “hideous” beast into a stunning beauty (although all the Hollywood zombie makeup in the world can’t seem to hide Hoult’s looks, even with pallor, zombie contacts, and black veins in his neck; even the black cracked lips look good on him).

I think my favorite theme is the triumph of compassion over fear. You see this in R, and R’s zombie best friend Marcus; you see it in Julie, you see it her best friend, and you see it, ultimately, in Julie’s father. I don’t know if that’s the primary theme author Marion was going for, but he achieves it nonetheless.

What’s the take-away message? I think there are several. If we’re in a relationship, compassion toward our partner can transform them more effectively than shooting them in the brain. If we don’t understand something, we should investigate it first before just destroying it. Forgiveness in a relationship is a good thing, even when our partner has eaten the brains of our ex. And some people look better “dead” (Hoult) than many of us do, alive.

Ain’t love grand?

How to Live an Olympic Life: Gold, Silver, Bronze

Have you been watching the Olympics?  Are you impressed with the skill, style, determination, stamina, endurance, grace, and aesthetics of the athletes doing what they do best?  If you’re like millions of people across the world during these weeks, you are.

Seeing various Olympic events gets me thinking about how these athletes are in many ways nothing like you and me, because they are extraordinary.  The number of people in the whole world who can do what they do – and do it that well – are few.  It’s fun to see how “super-human” mere humans can be.

Yet, are they that different from us?  Not to take away anything from their unique skills and abilities, which they earned over years of training and sacrifice, but in a way, we can all learn to lead “Olympic” lives.  What do I mean by this?

The Olympics are important to us, as viewers, because they represent many positive qualities about the world we live in:  peoples from so many different countries, gathering in peace and competing in fair competitions with an elaborate set of agreed-upon rules.  They represent what happens when everything (well, almost everything) goes right with the human body.  The games show us what we are capable of – in theory – by being human.  And part of the competition is to be judged on the demonstration of those efforts, earning the Gold (the ultimate), Silver (excellent), or the Bronze (great), and even just to see participants (even non-medal-winners), who qualified enough to compete (still admirable, even extraordinary).

If we use the Olympic games as a metaphor for Life, how are you doing?  Your chosen “sport” is really your chosen life – domestically/personally, and professionally.  How are you doing?  Gold? Silver? Bronze?  Participating?  Or are you even qualifiying for your chosen “event”?

In life, we don’t have Olympic judges scoring us.  But we do have ourselves judging us, by our own subjective evaluation of how life is going.  What does it take to win the Gold?  I think therapy is a lot like the coaches the Olympic athletes have.  Sure, the athletes, at the end of the day, are the ones doing the actual performance (kind of like a therapy client), but they probably wouldn’t perform as well without their coach to evoke, inspire, guide, refine, troubleshoot, and discover the performance within them.  The athletes achieve more with a good coach than they could achieve without one.  It’s hard to “win gold” all the time in life, but there are moments when we do, and we savor the feelings associated with these moments, and store those feelings in our memory as the “high points” of our lives.

Some people achieve a lot of Gold; we see them all the time: the top-performers at work; the super-parents who seem to do it all; the school colleagues who are beautiful, talented, rich, kind, socially active, and never seem to get tired; the people at the gym who seem to do everything well and look great doing it; the neighbors who seem to just “have it together” and make it all look so easy.

There is also a lot of Silver we see – people who do well, but maybe not everything goes right, all of the time.  They’re not perfect, but they don’t have to be.  They achieve a lot, just not the most.  But they seem to master things more often than not.

When we see Bronze, we’re seeing people with lives who are getting most things right – but maybe certain flaws get in the way of full achievement.  The actress who wins awards, but gets in trouble with her alcohol abuse.  The politician who does great things for many people, but gets caught in a scandalous lie.  The businessperson who builds great wealth – but they did it through some kind of exploitation.  They would be great, except for, well, something that prevents greatness.

Then there are people who don’t win medals, but they participate handsomely in life.  They don’t stand out, but only a few of us can really stand out at any one time – that’s what “standing out” is.  Most of us might fit in this category, and that’s OK.  They just do their “sport”, day after day, and enjoy the playing – even if major glory and recognition never find them.

And there are those who don’t even qualify to play the Life Game: criminals, people who don’t even try, people who are too busy interrupting and undermining others’ dreams to ever really achieve their own.  We’ve all seen, or known, these types.  Losers.  Busybodies.  Haters.  Freeloaders.  Exploiters.  Douchebags.  You don’t want to be “that guy” (or girl).

What’s keeping us down?  What kind of “score deductions” are keeping us from “medaling” at Life?  Do we need more dedication?  More practice?  More self-confidence?  More skills-training?  More ‘luck’ (which is when Preparation meets Opportunity)?  Less resistance from others?  More support from others?  More attention paid to detail?  More strength and effort from us?  A better track to run on, pool to swim in, or equipment to work on (our environment)?  We can’t raise our scores to go for Gold unless we know what the score deductions are for.  These are the items that therapy can address, and does, with many, often.

We don’t have to medal at Life.  We can just participate – besides, after all the Olympic athletes wear their medals and stand at attention as their national anthem is played, what do they do?  In many cases, they go right back out and run on the track, or swim in the pool, or workout on the equipment.  They go back to doing what they love.  Winning the medal is nice, but getting there is way more than half the fun, before and after.  And for all Olympians, eventually, they need to master more than one “game”, if for no other reason than age and physicality change over time.

So if you’re not medaling at Life, maybe you need a different game to choose.  Maybe you need to troubleshoot your performance with someone you trust, and consider getting coaching/therapy to get better at it.  Life is not a competition, except with yourself.  You’re not being judged, except by your own conscience and your own standards of what works for YOU, now.

Maybe, after the torch is extinguished, it’s not whether you win or lose – it’s how you played the game.  For most of us, that’s the Gold right there.

 

(For help with your individual game, call me at 310-726-4357 or email me about your situation at KBHMSW@a0l.com)

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