I explored this a bit on my Starborn Revue blog, but I wanted to talk a bit more here about a movie I watched recently, Words and Pictures. In the Starborn Revue post, I only mentioned the movie in passing, as the film is not a kids’ film, although older teens would get a lot out of it.
In the film, a high school Honors English teacher, Jack Marcus (played by Clive Owen) and the Honors Art teacher, Dina Delsanto (played by Juliette Binoche) lock horns over a debate about whether words or pictures are more important. They involve their classes, and ultimately the school, in the fight over this question.
This tension brings out much more in both their lives, and in the lives of their students, however.
Jack is an alcoholic, although he won’t admit it. His alcoholism is getting more and more out of control, and it’s affecting his work. He is threatened with losing his job. In effect, he ends up staking the outcome of his professional career on proving the worth of words. His words.
Dina has been a world-renowned artist. She is now struggling with severe rheumatoid arthritis. Her hands can only hold a paintbrush if she wears a special brace. The fine lines of portrait painting are no longer possible for her. She has to reinvent herself as an art teacher, and she has to find a new way to express herself in her painting. Her professional life is tied up in proving the worth of pictures. Her pictures.
Their students have their own struggles, including bullying, sexual harassment, and learning how to find their own way in the world of words and pictures.
The quest to prove which is better, the words of literature or the pictures of visual art, becomes a symbol for finding what is meaningful in one’s life, and reinventing oneself when necessary in order to express that. That quest also shows how many things – including words and pictures – are often woven together so closely that they cannot be separated, either in life or in art.
It is the theme of reinvention of the self that strikes me most as I think back on this movie.
We all have times in our lives when we need or want to reinvent ourselves. It is not an easy process. Such things come easily only in fantasy. This movie shows the struggles and the pain, as well as the possibility of triumph, inherent in such reinvention.
We hear in the news the “big” stories of reinvention. Christopher Reeve, after his disastrous riding accident, became a passionate advocate for research into spinal injury and recovery. Even after his death, the work continues. Julie Andrews, after the loss of her singing voice, reinvented herself through the love of writing that she had always had, and now finds expression in her writing.
There are also countless reinvention stories that don’t make the news.
I have found that my life after 50 has been one of reinvention, of pushing the boundaries of my safe zone further and further out, of challenging myself to be more than I have let myself be before, as I have worked and studied and practiced and worked some more at becoming a writer. Words, which have always been important to me, have become my stock in trade, both in my writing and in my editing. With them, I seek to paint pictures in my reader’s imagination, and to help others do so.
Each day, we have the opportunity for reinvention, for becoming more true to the words and pictures that make up our own lives, for finding new ways to express that which matters most to us.
Who knows what art may result?