February 11, 2021
I am not an avid reader, although that seems to be changing. I am a big movie buff. I really do like them, and TV too. In fact, I am in the running for the top ten in the category of people with the most watched movie reruns. I am in the top five category for most watched episodes of Law and Order, all three versions.
When cable TV came out in the 70’s and added HBO as a choice, it was like heaven. I was drinking and using non habit-forming cocaine at the time. So, when a guy showed me a trick to pirate HBO for free, I took advantage of it and I could watch movies just a few months after they finished their theater run. It saved me money to spend on more alcohol and drugs. I know and yes, I have made amends. In those days there was no popcorn, only six-packs, bottle, rolling papers and mirrors.
During that time my repressed emotional side, mostly sadness, began to show itself. I did a lot of crying alone as I was often triggered by scenes and lines from movies. It manifested the most watching movies where the underdog won, the villain was foiled, and good things happened. Spiritual messages were coming through to me before I knew that was what was happening.
Back to books for a moment. We all know we get lots of spiritual content from reading. There are messages in program literature, affirmation books, novels, short stories, et al. In movies, I have also found a wealth of incredibly helpful spiritual messages in storylines, scenes, and monologues. I now watch movies differently, which is to say, not just for entertainment.
There are a few films that have touched me over the years and helped me discover me. Perhaps you film buffs will remember some movies that touched your soul too. So, go get some popcorn and in my case hold the salt and butter. I will have to pass on the “Good and Plenty’s” and “Junior Mints” too.
My first memories of the movies are age 8 or 9. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was in downtown Evanston, Illinois. It was a film starring Audie Murphy in “To Hell and Back.” Little did I know! Audie Murphy movies were mostly Westerns and War films and the good guys always won. The bad guys always lost. Oh, how nice it would be if it were the same in real life today! Most of you will say, “Who is Audie Murphy?” He was a highly decorated war hero turned Hollywood actor. He played himself in “To Hell and Back.” Later he developed an addiction to sleeping pills. He used them to manage his PTSD, although the depth and danger of PTSD was not known about at that time. PTSD was called “shell shock.” As program people, we can relate to going to hell and coming back. This is what recovery is all about! In my early age I used drugs such as food and sugar to attempt to manage trauma and PTSD, which had roots when I was young. Before alcohol and drugs, and after I got sober, they worked for a while, until they did not. That is another story for a different time.
My introduction to movies came around the same time televisions were coming to American households. God, I feel old saying that. Oh yea, I am. In those days, going to the “show” was a big deal. Getting a tv was too. I do not remember getting any spiritual information from watching the movie, “To Hell and Back.” I got lots of spiritual information by surviving the hell of addiction by becoming a practicing member of 12-step programs. Therapy, step work, work, play and watching movies helps too.
Several movies come to mind that have played a role in helping me learn and discover that life is often different in a better way than I first think it to be. There are so many movies that have spiritual messages that this story may have a sequel. Spiritual messages are available all the time. We just must slow down long enough to notice them. Some movies that come to mind are, “Groundhog Day, The Shawshank Redemption, Field of Dreams, Karate Kid and The Legend of Baggar Vance. I have seen these films many times and like re-reading program literature. I get new information each viewing. You will never catch me in a tee-shirt that says, “Been There, Done That.” I have found revisiting to be an exceptionally good thing! So, here are some thoughts on films.
In Groundhog Day, Phil (Bill Murray) is a television news reporter. He is a conceited, narcissistic individual who is self-absorbed to the max. He is looked at by his colleagues Larry, the camera man (Chris Elliot) and Rita, interviewer, and later love interest (Andie McDowell) as a complete buffoon. In the films beginning, he does not impress anyone in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (filmed in Woodstock, Illinois). As the storyline goes, he keeps waking up at the same time every morning and begins the same day over and over again. He repeatedly faces the same things that drive him crazy. He redoes each day, at first with arrogance, which eventually leads to despair as nothing changes. The first time I watched the movie sober, I teared up immediately. We all know how repeating the same behavior works. It was interesting to watch Phil trying to escape the reality of his situation and choices in his life. He tried everything even suicide to escape. Even that did not work. I had that experience too and it is a very lonely place to be.
In recovery we hear that a definition of insanity is, “repeating the same behavior expecting different results.” For addicts I think the word “different” should be changed to “better”. Eventually Phil’s attempts at self-destruction cease to work. He begins to fall in love with doing the “right thing”, then he falls in love with Rita. In the beginning of the movie, she would rather have an intimate relationship with a rattlesnake than Phil. As he slowly starts doing things differently, positive actions begin to replace the negative ones. Rita is digging him! His good new actions happen through repetition. Ever wonder why we read the same things over and over to begin meetings? After some time, he likes the atta boys, but then his ego comes into play. He makes lot of mistakes during his continuing transformation process and he has a bumpy period. Sometimes he feels like giving up, yet he doesn’t.
Over time, he continues to change for the better and this grows into a fondness of living a good life, Then a gentler Phil shows he is stronger in his convictions and Rita is gradually won over. In the end of the movie the two get together and Phil says, “Let’s live here.” I took that as a life lesson for getting comfortable in our new life without alcohol, drugs and acting out. It is about being at home in a place we thought he would hate, never thinking he would be comfortable. Recovery works in that way. Rating A+
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption, although a bit rough, is captivating. In the beginning of the film Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is framed for a murdering his wife, which he wants to do but did not do. His wife has betrayed him, and he has deep resentment. He is a person who would not normally do so except when he is, what else, drunk! He is set up, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in the horrible Shawshank Prison. He endures terrible injustices from a corrupt Warden and brutal head prison guard who make his life beyond miserable. He is manipulated, enslaved, and mentally, emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. He is tormented relentlessly. Kind of sounds like dysfunctional families many of us come from, and what we do when drunk or loaded, doesn’t it?
Andy is an accountant by trade. He is manipulated by the criminal Warden who is hiding his corrupt business practices. Anytime he does something to stand up for himself, he is sent to solitary confinement. He endures hardships that would break most people. He has a main friend, Red (Morgan Freeman.) Red never gives up on Andy. No matter what happens, Red stands by Andy’s side. Red supports Andy, gives him a safe place to land, encourages him when he is down, supplies him with things he needs. Above all Red listens to him with an attempt to understand what Andy says. Hmm, sounds like the program and sponsorship, doesn’t it?
Andy does a lot of good in the prison population including mentoring a young person new to Shawshank. He helps him get his GED diploma and instills a sense of self respect in the young man. He also builds a sense of community amongst the inmates. It turns out the young man has knowledge of the real killer of Andy’s wife. When Andy tells the Warden what he thinks is good news that will bring him freedom, the Warden rejects the information. He fears Andy could expose his larceny. He has Andy’s young friend killed and the truth about Andy’s innocence is lost. In recovery, sadly, we have casualties. Life on life’s terms is just that. Recovery literature does not promise “it will be easy.” The point is not to give up, not to “quit before the miracle!”
Andy doesn’t quit. Unbeknownst to anyone, he has been working on an escape for nearly two decades. When he is finally released from solitary confinement following his friend’s murder, he makes his escape. The Warden and the malicious guard pay for their sins. I liken the escape from Shawshank to the freedom from bondage we get in the program. In the end of the film, Red meets before the Parole Board for the umpteenth time. Instead of trying to convince the board that he has been rehabilitated, he demonstrates redemption by saying “he wishes he could mentor himself as a boy, letting him know the error of his own choices.” It is a strong message about self-awareness, and surrender. For those in ACA, it is a strong example of what is possible with inner child mentoring. Another strong message from the movie is about our connection and integration on a human level. Red is a man of color. Andy is not. They develop a beautiful level of intimacy and are rejoined in the end of the film. Rating A+
Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams is a movie that has so many messages of value that it is kind of like being at an amusement park thinking, “which ride do I take first?” It starts out with Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), an Iowa farmer hearing voices. No, not the ones some of us heard at the end of our runs. Voices that give him a sense that he is being called to a higher purpose. The first message is, “If you build it, he will come.” He sees fit to build a baseball field in the middle of his fields of corn. He does not know why he is doing it, he just does it. It is a moment of clarity. Suddenly, he is met by “Shoeless Joe Jackson” (Ray Liotta) on his baseball field. Shoeless Joe promptly sets in motion thoughts that send Costner on a journey of seeking. As the story unfolds, he goes through a series of awareness’s that prompt him to take actions he does not yet believe in. The messages are: “If you build it he will come; Go the distance, and; Ease his pain.” This is what we do in recovery.
He begins to travel and seek out information and with help from several people find the meaning of his apparently nonsensical and financially debilitating project. Some of the people he encounters are not open to his queries. He travels a great distance to find author Terrance Mann, (James Earl Jones), who is beyond cranky and wants to be left alone. Mann all but takes Ray’s head off with a baseball bat, only to become curious enough to join him on his own quest after hearing the “voice” say, Go the distance.” He hears it while attending a baseball game at Fenway Park with Ray and then decides to join on the journey without knowing why he is doing it.
Next “Archibald Doc Graham,” (Burt Lancaster) appears as a ghost and has an interaction with Ray. Doc had never gotten the opportunity to play professional baseball because he chose to become a doctor, which he explains to a mesmerized Ray at his office. Ray and Terrance start their drive back to the farm and on the way pick up a hitchhiker who turns out to be young Archibald Graham. Young Graham get to play ball with his heroes as a wide-eyed rookie. Rays daughter, who is watching the game, falls off the bleachers. Young Graham crosses over the first baseline and becomes the Doc in time to save Ray’s daughter. He forfeits playing ball with the team of ghosts that Shoeless Joe has assembled on the farm. It is a beautiful metaphor for accepting choices and building good from them.
In the end, Costner’s character meets his father who he had rejected as a young renegade set on going his own way. He never had contact with him again and his father died. He learns he is there to ease his pain. Near the end of the film Terrance is invited into the cornfield where the ghosts retire at the end of the day. Terrance decides to go see what is happening in the corn and Ray is irked that he is not invited too. Shoeless tells him directly, you are not invited.” Shoeless Joe is walking toward the corn when he turns and looks at Ray and repeats the first statement, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray turns around and sees his father as a young man and then he gets to interact with him, including playing catch. I need a beach towel for all the tears I had watching this scene. I did not get to know my father until I was 3 years sober and in my forties. I had hated him because of misinformation learned in my family and getting to know him was a true gift of recovery. It turned out he was, or perhaps had become a pretty good guy. I was able to get to know him over the next four years before he passed. One of the greatest gifts of the relationship was he helped me get to forgiveness around my mother. After discovering my family secrets, a lot of my anger transferred to her. Step 9 is a very powerful thing!
Speaking of Recovery, all the characters in this film have a noticeable connection to it. I once heard an AA speaker once ask the audience rhetorically, “What is AA? Is it the meetings, no? Is it the literature, no? Is it the gatherings afterward, social events, etc., no? What Recovery is, is: one recovering person talking with another until the person who is seeking help begins to hear something that causes him/her to take actions they do not yet believe in. This movie exemplifies this theory.
Ray’s action to build this Field of Dreams was based on hearing a voice say, “if you build it, he will come.” Ray influences many lives, heals past and present relationships, makes amends to himself and others and finally makes peace with the father he had blamed for abandoning him. When we build recovering lives, we do the same thing. If we build it, recovery comes. The many twists and turns in the film also offer evidence that there is a higher power at work in our lives. Rating A + +
The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid was released in 1984. It would be four years before I found recovery, or more accurately, recovery found me. The first time I saw the movie I was emotional at a lot of the scenes. Like the lead character, I grew up in a single mom family and I got bullied a lot. It was explained to me that it was partly because of having a popular minister (maternal Grandpa) as a male role model. Maybe it was true; maybe not. In his job, he traveled extensively and was not very available, just like the rest of the adults in the home. So, I took on roles and survival tools starting at 3 years of age. There was abuse on multiple levels. The mind is not prepared to handle this at any age especially when young. So, I developed survival tools to cope until alcohol arrived and appeared to save the day.
One of the reasons I liked the movie so much was that Pat Morita’s character (Mr. Miyagi) is a true mentor. This was something I did not experience growing up. I realized even through the drugs and alcohol that this was what I had longed for. The entire movie is full of great messages, and it exemplifies growth and change.
Daniel San (Ralph Macchio) is being raised by his mom. The family relocates, which is a geographic. I’m very familiar with geographics and the impact being thrust into a new environment has. I was mesmerized watching this transition and the how the cause and effect of the move affected Daniel. My family moved 11 times before my 12th birthday, and it was not until several journeys through the Steps that I understood the trauma that accompanied those powerless experiences.
In his new school, Daniel is bullied by several fellows from a clique at the school. The boys happen to be students of a ruthless karate sensei. Daniel cannot defend himself and turns to the unlikely character of Mr. Miyagi. Miyagi does not look like the powerful sensei of Daniel’s adversaries. Mr. Myagi is short and old, but he says that he will teach Daniel karate if he makes a commitment to do as he is told. One thing that I notice about recovering people is that we are in the highest percentage of human beings that absolutely do not want to be told what to do. It is so ironic because when we hit a true bottom, we have totally run out of options and therefore have a definitive need to be told what to do. Interestingly, the language in Chapter 5 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book gives simple instructions. “Rarely have we seen a person fail, who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program……. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it, then you are ready to take certain Steps.”
Back to the movie. Daniel has hit a bottom and Mr. Miyagi agrees to mentor him. First, Daniel begins to build confidence. As he feels better and learns new confidence, the intensity from the adversaries picks up and their sensei wants Daniel destroyed. This is a metaphor for the disease never rests. Daniel continues to do as he is told by Mr. Miyagi, but soon becomes restless with the seemingly endless tasks that he gives him. He goes from waxing the car to sanding the floor, to painting the house and painting the fence. He becomes angry with his mentor, wondering when he is going to learn karate. He does not realize each move of his tasks has a purpose, one which he cannot yet see. When Mr. Miyagi demonstrates how it works, Daniel learns, grows, and applies the principles he has learned and ultimately is successful.
There are a lot of wonderful interactions between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. The scene where Daniel learns the tasks Mr. Miyagi has given him is an all-time classic. Most of the time when we are taking the Steps we have no idea what we are learning and sometimes we balk. Take a moment to consider some of the transformations that have happened in your life by taking action you may not yet believe in.
Below is a link that has quotes that will showcase many of the lessons. The Karate Kid is well worth a return visit no matter how many times you have seen it. If you have not ever seen it, do yourself a favor and see it soon. Rating A ++
The Legend of Baggar Vance
This is a film about perseverance, amends, reconnection, redemption and much more. The movie was a box office dud because of a perception of racial profiling. I learned this as I was confirming some of the movie’s quotes and it was sad because it is a classic study in seeking and finding faith.
The scene is set in Savannah, Georgia and is about a golf match played by famous professional golfers, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and once popular local folk hero. His name is Rannulph Junah (Matt Damon). The movie has a narrator “old” Hardy Greaves (Jack Lemon.) It was to be Lemon’s last role, which was a sweet irony to be explained later.
Junah has mental baggage from soldiering. He is down on his luck and drinks a little too much. He has abandoned his former fiancé Adele Ivergordaon (Charlize Theron), who does not know why he rejected her. He was once a budding super star and was a local legend. Alcohol, depression, and despair have become the norm for Junah. He has come to a place where he cares deeply about life but has lost the ability to know it. He doesn’t know if he can get a passion for life back. Sound familiar?
The community plans a golf tournament and needs a local amateur to play. Junah is pestered by “young” Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief) into being the fodder to lose to the pros. Junah finally and reluctantly accepts the invitation to play in the tournament. Enter Baggar Vance (Will Smith) who tells Junah he will be his caddie for $5.00 Guaranteed and an old pair of Junah’s golf shoes. Baggar is captivating with one-liners, always giving tips and encouragement. When Junah falters and loses confidence, he uses a combination of humor, needling and worthwhile suggestions to support Junah. The jilted Adele, seeing glimpses of her former hero and love interest, provides a combination of pouting, tantrums and flirting while discovering that she still feels the same and maybe more for Junah than before.
Junah’s trouble is that he knows he has lost his swing, which is something that no golfer ever wants to have happen. The lost swing serves as a metaphor for living a lost life and Baggar appears on the scene to help him regain his swing and passion for life again. On the first day of the match, Junah is playing poorly and falls behind the two golfers. The townspeople are talking behind his back. When he begins to listen to Baggar’s suggestions, he rallies. Then he begins to get cocky as he gains ground on his opponents. His ego kicks in and he stops taking Baggar’s advice. He insists on playing a particular hole his way with disastrous results. He feels the familiar territory of self-deprecation and is ready to quit. Then he hits his worst shot into a forest and is ready to quit. Baggar suggests that he vision his way to hitting the perfect shot and Junah has an awakening. Faced with uncertainty and with nowhere else to go he visions, then hits that perfect shot. It is like watching ourselves or newcomer come to life.
Junah regains his stride. He is now in the running to win the match. On the last hole, he inadvertently causes his ball to move in the fairway. This action will cause a penalty stroke if he reports it. Only young Hardy and Baggar see the ball move and Junah is left with a decision about whether to be honest or not. The whole community is now behind him and Adele is watching his every move, waiting for him to become the hero form the past. No one, including the professionals when they learn the circumstances, care that a penalty is enforced.
Watching Junah discover his true self is a powerful scene. He realizes the importance of his honesty and reports the infraction. At this point, Baggar abruptly announces he is taking his leave of his duties and that Junah is now able to be on his own. This sends the audience into chaos; after all it was Baggar who made it possible for Junah to return to life. Baggar demands and get his $5.00 guarantee and walks off into the night. Junah hits his next shot onto the green and watches as both pros miss their putts. His ball is 40 feet from the hole and on an incline that will cause a twist and turn on the way to the hole. Once again, he uses the visioning that Baggar taught him and sees the path for the ball to reach, then drop into the hole. He strokes the ball and it follows the course he visioned finding its way into the hole. This creates a 3-way tie where everyone wins. The crowd erupts with joy and Baggar in the distance hears the jubilation. He smiles and does a little dance.
At the end of the film a significant message comes when Jack Lemon’s character now “old” Hardy is found laying on the ground on a golf course on the last hole. He may have had a heart attack doing what he loved (Lemon was an avid golfer his entire life). It is apparently a metaphor for nearing the end of his life He picks himself up and comments that “golf is a game that can never be won, only played; so I play.” As he begins walking, Baggar appears on the horizon. He has not aged at all. He is waving to old Hardy and beckoning him to join him. The imagery seems clear that it is a representation that a Higher Power appears in mysterious ways with miracles to perform. And, that we have an opportunity in this life to recognize we are here to learn and that we are all walking each other home.
If you are the sensitive type, be sure to have some Kleenex for this one and if are not, you may need Kleenex anyway. Jack Lemon is brilliant as he adds juice to the intrigue about just who or what is Baggar Vance. One of best quotes in his narration is, “God is happiest when his children are at play.” Rating A +++
There are so many movies that have great spiritual content. If you have some stories, essays or poems to share, we have A Place to Share here, on our website.
I thought I would close this latest blurb with some notable quotes from other movies that have touched me in a special way. I have learned to pay attention to the content of movies because I have found that it helps me present. After all, I never know where my Higher Power’s message may appear. It is up to me to pay attention. That holds true for someone that I might not feel is easy to listen to. So, I include a few scenes and quotes I find memorable and one recommendation for a movie not in the review.
The Last Kiss
Near the end of The Last Kiss, there is an interaction between Michael (Zack Braff) and his Father-in-Law Stephen (Tom Wilkinson) that frames metaphorically what Steps 8 and 9 can mean when done with conviction. Michael has committed an indiscretion that may ruin his marriage. He transitions from intellectualizing his shortcoming to feeling it. He knows and wants to take responsibility for his actions. His wife Jenna, (Jacinda Barret) will have nothing to do with him because in his first attempt at amends he does not tell the whole truth. I know what that feels like.
Jenna is staying at her parent’s house and her mother (Blythe Danner) convinces her to at least hear what Stephen has to say. He tells the whole truth and is met with the rage that betrayal can produce. Stephen realizes he needs to be willing to go to any length. He seeks advice from his Father-in-Law assuming the risk to do so. Michael describes his feelings and is met by a terse statement from Stephen, “What you feel only matters to you. It’s what you do to the people you love. That is what matters. That is the only thing that counts.” Then he asks what he needs to do and is told by Stephen, “Do whatever it takes. You can’t fail if you never give up.” The next scenes showing the willingness to do “whatever it takes” are worth sitting through the entire movie to see!
Rating: Quote A
Under the Tuscan Sun
Near the end of Under the Tuscan Sun, there is a statement by Diane Lane’s character that speaks to our journeys in recovery. “They say they built the train over the Alps between Vienna and Venice before there was a train that could make the trip because they knew one day that train would come…. Another good quote from the film is: Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game.”
The quote about the train sounds like what Bill and Bob did by meeting and deciding to meet again and again. How many times did we stop before that second meeting when we knew the truth was knocking on our door? It took more than one get-together for Bill and Bob to understand they were onto something special and they built it not knowing if people would come. So, it is with us too, especially when we stay connected to actions in the program(s) and our sponsors. Rating: Quote A
Love and Other Drugs
In Love and Other Drugs, Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a flamboyant playboy who has no remorse about running scams. That is until he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway). As in most life transformations a bottom or coming of age awareness is the catalyst. When Jamie finally understands a greater meaning in his life, he has footwork to do. At the end of the film his re-cap is a wonderful description of what can happen to us in recovery.
Jamie is reflecting and says, “Sometimes the things you want most, don’t happen. And, what you least expect happens. I don’t know….you meet thousands of people and none of them really touch you. And then you meet one person and your life is changed forever.”
One of many miracles of recovery is that this experience has potential to repeat itself, perhaps many times. For me it happened when I met and asked my first sponsor Tom to work with me. It happened again when I made a commitment to the program(s) I am involved in. Most recently it happened with my commitment to my beautiful life partner Beth.
Fr. Tom W. often shares how important it is to say hello. So, I am again reminded about being and staying present so I have a better chance of not missing what is right in front of me. I can do this by saying hello to life and people in it. Rating: Quote A
My recommendation for a movie that can really make you think is another Jake Gyllenhaal film, Source Code. This is my birthday month. I will be 33 years clean and sober on February 16. I have learned a lot since 1988 and have a strong desire to learn more. Of all the lessons that have been revealed by staying connected in recovery, perhaps my greatest awareness is how important it is to continue to change the narrative. For all of us, layers of the onion come off as time goes by. I find that what I thought yesterday may or perhaps may not be useful or even true today. Then it’s up to me to take action on the awareness of what new information means and act accordingly. This movie will be a real treat about changing narratives!
So, grab some popcorn, and maybe a pen and notepad or a laptop and enjoy!