Monday, November 17, 2014

Whatever Is... Honorable

Whoo, finally getting this one written! Sorry for the huge gap in between this one and the last one -- I kept forgetting to put it all together.

Today's word is "honorable," but as I said in my last Whatever Is blog, there are a lot of differing interpretations for this one:
Looking up the original Greek word, I found this: semnós (an adjective derived from sébomai, "to revere, be in awe") – properly, what is august (dignified, has "gravitas"); weighty, deeply respected because viewed as majestic (having "gravity"); grave. 
This gets translated as all kinds of things. A quick glance at Bible Gateway translations gives me answers like honorable, honest, worthy of reverence, seemly, holy, noble, worthy of respect, respected, chaste, and grave. The most common by far, however, are "honorable" and "noble."
While I definitely chose a few that deliver messages about honor and nobility, I was also really struck by the definitions that were on the side of "grave" or "deeply respected because of... having gravity." It made me think of a few movies that are really hard to watch but deliver some important messages or tell important stories -- movies that treat grave issues gravely without sentimentalizing or trivializing them. So I wanted to look at that side of it as well, since I thought that was a fascinating interpretation of the word.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988). This was actually one of the first ones that came to mind when I chose the interpretation I wanted to focus on. This has been called by many people "the saddest movie in the world," and I can absolutely agree with that. It is heartbreaking. The story centers on a boy and his younger sister living in Japan during World War II, as they find themselves orphaned, homeless, and eventually dying. It's one of the most intense stories I've ever seen about how war can seriously impact innocent citizens, not just soldiers. There have been a lot of stories about the horrors of war, but this movie was one of the ones that really hit it home for me.

Requiem for a Dream (2000). This was another no-brainer for me. I've heard people say that this movie did more to dissuade them from trying drugs than anything else, and that it should be shown in high schools. While I can't imagine a high school ever being willing to screen this, I do think it's the most powerful movie I've ever seen about substance addiction.

One cut of the movie is even rated NC-17 (though I've only seen the R-rated version), but the images earning it that rating are in no way prurient or enticing. They're terrifying. If there ever was a movie that should not be edited, it's this one. Watching this movie and the depths to which these characters' addictions take them makes plain the ugliness of their addiction. It's not romantic or exciting. It's destructive beyond all belief, and this movie is a movie that is not afraid to treat the subject the way it deserves.

Casablanca (1942). After a couple of hard-hitters there, here are a few movies that focus more on the more common meaning of "honorable" and "noble". (There are spoilers ahead, although I think most people know how this one ends by now.)

In this movie, Humphrey Bogart's character, Rick, has determined that, in his own words, "I stick my neck out for nobody." As the plot unfolds, he has an opportunity to run away with the wife of a resistance leader fighting for freedom during World War II. When the time comes for him to make his decision, he instead chooses not to take that opportunity, giving this beautiful speech:
Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I've done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you're getting on that plane with Victor where you belong. . . . You have any idea what you'd have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten, we'd both wind up in a concentration camp. . . . Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. . . . Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.
Rick makes the decision to reenter the fight for the right, even at the expense of his own romantic happiness. He's become bitter and cynical over the years, and we as the audience fully expect him to have the happily-ever-after ending he's been hoping for, but deep down he knows this is not the right time or place for that, and he ultimately chooses to do the right thing, the honorable thing, instead of being self-serving, as he has been for so long.

Frozen (2013). Gosh, there is just moment after moment in this film about honor -- self-sacrifice all over the place, especially in two almost-deaths, though once is more dramatic than the other. Olaf nearly dies saving Anna's life by lighting a fire to keep her warm, and Anna nearly dies dying saving Elsa's life at the end, as well as a lot of other smaller ones. And along the way, honor yields good things: lives are saved, lives are transformed, and in the end everything is restored. I've described this movie as "the anti-Little Mermaid," because for Ariel personal happiness trumps wisdom, honor, kindness, and patience, but in Frozen the exact opposite message is sent. Even Elsa had to learn this lesson -- in "Let It Go," she delights in the fact that her need to do the proper thing (not even necessarily the right thing) is no longer suffocating her, but eventually she learns that shutting everybody out for her own good is not good for her or for others.

That's my list! I also asked on my blog and on my Facebook page for people to suggest movies that exemplified the word "honorable" or "noble" and got some great choices -- here's what they suggested!

Ikiru. To find purpose to helping others without expectation of recognition. -- Lauren

Cyrano de Bergerac. That movie always makes me tear up. He stuck to his ideals past personal pain and hardships. He would go hungry and be love sick and even loved someone so much that he would try to give them the person they wanted even if it wasn't him. --Christian

Lars and the Real Girl, and Waitress. Both films deal with honorable behavior...people making noble sacrifices and doing the right thing, for the sake of someone else, even when it's hard, even when it seems impossible, even when it makes themselves unhappy, but they go ahead and do it anyways because it's what's right even when they really really don't want to. Even when doing the wrong thing seems so easy....and that it would make them personally happy. They are actions that in my opinion are more honorable then going on some epic quest or fighting in some epic battle. In many ways they are actions that are a lot harder then that, because it takes a much true sense of honor and nobility. They're films about people who do the right thing, and that's truly honorable.

In retrospect I would also include Spanglish with the two I mentioned and for the same reasons. I think Flor is deeply honorable. --Naomi

I'm gonna go brawn here and throw down Gladiator and 300, man or group of men fighting for their honor. Spartans don't back down and throw away who they are to an evil empire, even if it meant death. --Timothy

Babette's Feast. The witness of genuine sacrificial love vs. self-martyrdom. Though the movie is rather "gray," the theme shimmers with life for me! --Michelle

Maybe this is silly, but Mulan. And it highlights different kinds of honor and that sometimes the most honorable thing may be the least expected. --Sarah

What are your picks? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Next Month

Next month's theme is "whatever is right." Looking that up online found this explanation of the original word:
díkaios (an adjective, derived from dike, "right, judicial approval") – properly, "approved by God"; righteous; "just in the eyes of God". "Righteous" relates to conformity to God's standard (justice).
Other translations say "just," "righteous," and "fair." I'm thinking it shouldn't be hard to come up with some movies that exemplify that idea! I was late in posting this month's post, but let's give ourselves another four weeks and plan to post the next installment on December 22, right before Christmas. I suppose if you want to come up with some Christmas-themed movies about justice, you can go right ahead. Submit ideas in the comments, email me, post on my Facebook page, or contact me any other way!

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