The Wisdom of Children

Like literature, films give me a place to locate myself. They bring to mind new ideas to tinker with, call into question others, and remind me of where I belong. Sometimes they console me and help me to get through my dormancy for a few hours. I am amazed at their power and the way they enter my life.

Sometimes I live with the characters on the screen for days and find it hard to get them out of my mind. There are moments when I imagine taking on their appearance and others when I begin emulate their behavior.

It took me more than a week to recover from the somber tone of In America in spite of the irrepressible joy and sparkle of its two little girls. Their indomitable spirit could not overcome the specter of death that hovered over their life. At the end Christy, an eleven year old, as beautiful and as perceptive a person as I have ever seen on film, asks you to try to forget, to try to forget the death of her brother, even though she knows that neither she nor you will ever be able to.

Christy narrates the story of her family’s emigration to America from Ireland. She tells it quietly and realistically. Her reticence is beguiling. We know she sees well beyond appearances; we know that mostly by her silences. Her quiet knowing manner as she tells her story is the only reason I went to see the film again. I wish there were more people like Christy. I wish I knew them too. One would be enough.

Now that I am a member of the discount demographic, I go to the cinema more than I care to admit. I feel somewhat like Susan Sontag who “At the end of her life, working hard, and often ill…went to the movies every day of the week.

Earlier this week I saw the Italian film Quiet Chaos. The film begins with the tragic and unexplained death of Pietro’s wife at their seaside summer villa. Pietro, an executive at a global media company, spends his days brooding on a bench at a small park just outside his 10 year old daughter’s school. He reads the paper, becomes familiar with the regulars, meets business colleagues, lunches at the local restaurant, and silently flirts with the beautiful woman who walks her dog each day. The days of mourning stretch into weeks.

Meanwhile his daughter Claudia, who seems immune from any sense of emotional loss, is at school across the way. One day her teacher introduces the class to the concept of a palindrome. The notion of reversibility captures Claudia’s interest.

As Christmas approaches, Pietro asks her what she wants for a gift. She ponders his question for a few days. Does she finally express her grief by asking for the return of her mother? Nothing at all like that. She wants her father to resume his life and return to work.

At times, I am startled by the wisdom and sensitivity of young children. Where do they learn to be so perceptive? How can we learn when to listen to them more closely? The scenes and individuals depicted In America and Quiet Chaos have stayed with me for days. I think often about the themes they explored and the way their characters confront the reality of life.

I am reminded that no less so than literature, the tales depicted in the cinema confirm the old Jewish proverb: “What is truer than the truth? A story.”