Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Two Approaches to the Human Spirit

The human condition has one great thing that keeps it going in times of the end of things: hope. When things go bad, the human spirit kicks in and thinks of the future and hope fills us with the ability to contiune. I've read to drastically different, yet similar books in the past few weeks. One is the post-apocalyptic novel The Road and the other is the memoir's of Jean Dominique Bauby entitled The Diving Bell & The Butterfly. Both are tales of desperation with an underlying theme of hope.

After seeing the brilliant No Country For Old Men last year, I had a large interest in reading the works of Cormac McCarthy, whose novel inspired the harrowing Neo-Western. Rather than start with that book since I just saw the movie, I looked up his other novels and noticed another one was coming out this year as a film adaptation. Simply titled The Road I immediately seized a copy after reading what the novel was about. A father and his son wander the wasted and scorched world after some cataclysmic event ends civilization. Being a fan of this scenario, the post apocalypse, it sounded like something I needed to read immediately. I got it for Christmas with a lot of other books and decided to read some of the lighter books first, such as Born Standing Up, the genius memoirs of Steve Martin's short but explosive career in stand up. After some time away from reading, I picked up The Road when my mind was fully ready for it. Needless to say, all the talk and awards it recieved over the novel is rightly warranted.

Cormac McCarthy has a way of writing that really shoots you into the roles of the characters. Even the cannibals and militants and thieves of the land in a America that has nothing to look forward to have motives and feelings that you can't not but feel bad about and not disagree on some level. I know this sounds ridiculous, but something about this story shows that although some extreme measures may come in such a situation, there is only one true feeling that may shine through the animal instincts that come in human calamities and that is Hope. The way the father wants and hopes there is some sort of future out there for his son is truly moving and beautiful. A scene where the man shares a Coca Cola with his son who has no idea what it is is moving in it's simplicity. Needless to say, I'm stoked that John Hillcoat, the director of The Proposition is helming the project to bring this story to life.

The next book I read might be the polar opposite in everything except theme. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby, is more of a beautiful tale of hope then one where only shards of light shine through. Bauby suffered a massive stroke that gave him whats called "locked-in" syndrome. All his brain functions work fine but his entire body is inert. Minus the ability to blink his eyes, he is cut off from the world entirely. Luckily, he was able to communicate in a very innovative way by blinking his eyes and we are given the beautiful and touching story of what it's like to be locked away in your own body. Unlike the last novel I talked about, I saw the film first. In it's own right, the film is unbelievable. They tell the story very true to the novel and somehow capture what it could be like stuck in your own body. Most of the film is shot in first person and with skewed vision. It's quite beautiful and it is a truly uplifting tale.

What is most important, though, is the very way this story is told. The memoir never strays into self loathing or depression, but is a glowing testament of the human spirit. It shows that you can have it as bad as it gets, but as long as the human spirit stays alive, as long as you can imagine and enjoy your thoughts, the other things in life seem a lot less important. The ultimate end of the memoir, which you know right away, is that Bauby died two days before it's official release. His hope and joy to the very last page makes it even more poignant knowing that sometimes the human spirit can outlive the human body. And this case is definitely one of those reads that just explodes of the page and lifts you out of your seat and gives you the realization that life ain't all that bad. I think this memoir should be read in every school at some point to give perspective on life and death.

Hope is a common theme in any novel. Whether it's the story of your life or the end of times. What is better for conflict than someone striving for the betterment life in general? Hope is something that anyone can attain even if the things we hope for are next to unattainable.

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