Life Through the Lens: Two visions of enduring legacy
“If you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.”
What kind of legacy do you want to leave? What kind of lasting influence do you want to pass down? What kind of gift are you looking to give to those after you?
I just watched the film Gandhi (1982) for the first time a few months ago. I had heard about this movie many times, but the marathon-length of the movie (a whopping 191 minutes) was enough to scare me away. Even thinking about a movie over three hours makes me squirm in my seat.
Finally, I gathered the necessary gumption (don’t ask me where I found a heaping pile of gumption sitting around). I pressed play.
In 1893, Mohandas K. Gandhi, an attorney in South Africa, was forcibly made to exit a train. “Why?” you may ask. Because he was Indian in a British colony, ruled and ran by whites … and no white conductor is going to have his first class inhabited by coloreds. This served as a wake-up-call for young Gandhi; the world was not all candy canes and gumdrops … more like bludgeon-canes and elbow-drops. No matter the education he possessed, he would still be relegated to “one of those people.” Nothing would change if he continued to exist in this segregated system.
As a matter of principle and pride, he staged a protest, nonviolent but visibly dissident. He called for all permit-carrying workers to burn their permits. No more separation and inequality. Gandhi was instantly met with violence and oppression by the local government. Yet Gandhi continued until physically unable. His crumpled body was thrown in jail.
When Gandhi was released, he had become a symbol and a signal to his people. He returned to India where his fame had spread and began the long, uphill struggle to free the 360 million Indians from British imperial reign. As if fighting the king of England wasn’t hard enough, Gandhi had a nation religiously divided as well. If it wasn’t England killing Indians, it was civil war doing the same. No matter the situation, no matter the odds, no matter the opposition, Gandhi remained adamantly nonviolent and unwaveringly resolute. He was imprisoned 11 times, fasted 21 days (three times), walked 240 miles toward freedom, and ultimately shot three times in the chest. All of this in the name of truth and love.
Gandhi’s life is one of legacy, not money, not fame, not comfort, but a life lived for others. Every night in jail, every day without eating, every blistered step, every unwanted-but-welcomed bullet was to make it better for the next person.
I am not a huge fan of Richard Attenborough’s direction: it is expected and average. He tends to get lost in the moments instead of crafting them. I am, however, a huge fan of Ben Kingsley’s performance as Gandhi. It is transformational and transporting. It honestly plays like a documentary, full of heart and belief!
Although it has flaws and is much too long, it is a film of immense power. It has urged me to rethink what I know and consider that which I don’t. Gandhi is an inspiration, and the film magically captures that.
REPORT CARD: Gandhi.
Comment: Don’t be afraid of the runtime; go for it!
Another film that tackles “legacy” is 2012’s The Place Beyond the Pines. Unlike most movies, it doesn’t just show a story. It shows three. It shows how one life affects another, which affects another. It is a cool idea and is shown beautifully. Luke (Ryan Gosling) plays a traveling motorcycle daredevil who tours from city to city. He is cold and distant, seeming to get his only passion from risk. He is stoic in his appearance, almost void of real emotion, until he finds out he has a son (from a fling in Schenectady, N.Y.) This fact alters his life and passion. He yearns to be integral and important to his son (unlike his relationship with his father). He wants to create something lasting and loving with his son (knowing what it is like to grow up with no father). His story unfolds in the film in a dramatic and heartbreaking way, all stemming from a selfless and seemingly pure desire to be there for his son.
The movie then shifts to Avery’s (Bradley Cooper) character, a police officer. His decision in the line of duty begins to weigh him down and alter his path. It begins to change his personality and relationships. His previous life is dumped for this new direction, a very selfish direction. His selfishness affects his wife and son. His father’s ambition has become his own.
The final segment is, well, you’ll just have to watch it and see.
Rarely does a movie show legacy as powerfully as this. Gandhi changed the face of the world, but that may be unattainable for most. This movie, however, poses the idea that legacy can be immediate and intimate. How will you affect those around you?
I am a huge fan of writer/director Derek Cianfrance. His work is always so urgent and passionate. The tale that he manages to weave here is quite a feat, both poetic in nature yet real as can be.
The acting is phenomenal. Ryan Gosling is impactful in each glance. Cooper is impeccable in each movement. The rest of the cast (Eva Mendes, Mahershala Ali, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen) all create rich texture in each scene.
Another aspect worth mention is the cinematography of Sean Bobbitt. It is breathtaking and life giving.
This idea that “what I do matters” is kind of haunting to me. What I do matters. What I say matters. How I treat people matters. My example matters. My relationship with my kids matters. My legacy is wide reaching and future altering. For generations, my influence will echo. That is a decent amount of pressure. The Place Beyond the Pines is a powerful vision of this fact: each character is changed and shaped by someone else: a father, a son, a friend, a stranger. No one is above influence and you can’t choose where your influence comes from.
Every person leaves a legacy. Every person has a lasting influence. Every person passes down gifts/curses to those after him.
Be intentional about your legacy. Be conscious. Be aware. Be purposeful. Be careful. You will leave a legacy. The only questions is what will it be?
REPORT CARD: The Place Beyond the Pines.
Comment: A masterful piece of inescapable influence.