Hoop Dreams (1994)

The social determinants of health are a group of factors which influence the health and well-being of populations. They include education, literacy, income, housing, food security, culture, and genetics among others. These elements collectively impact and determine health outcomes of a population, but can also be applied to an individual’s life trajectory. If there are certain determinants inadequately present in a person’s surrounding environment, the ability to live comfortably and/or to achieve daily or highly sought after goals becomes increasingly difficult. “Hoop Dreams” is a 1994 documentary film directed by Steve James highlighting the multiple elements shaping the courses of two promising basketball players’ futures.

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William Gates and Arthur Agee are two fourteen-year-olds living in inner city Chicago in the late 1980s. Insurance agent Earl Smith acts as a basketball recruiter for the prestigious private St. Joseph’s High School, priding themselves on their eye for talent and crafting of basketball stars. Both teens begin attending this school, making a long trek daily to advance their education and sportsman skills. The viewers are bystanders to their challenging and sometimes arduous journey from freshmen to the end of high school. Both face incredible uphill battles, from financial to familial to physical struggles. We yearn and cheer for their success and achievements as do their families and friends, and we greatly empathize with them in their trials and tribulations. The community of team sports is quite evident in the film, and that spirit is tangible through the screen.

The concept of “dreams” is present throughout the documentary. The two teens at the film’s epicentre undoubtedly have aspirations to finish high school, go to college, and to ultimately play for the NBA. However, their triumphs and ambitions extend beyond their individual selves and infiltrate into many other systems. Family members may live vicariously through them to relive their lost hopes, but family may also view their ambitions to chase and pursue their own goals. The talent of one may be preyed upon by a recruiting organization, fulfilling their “dreams” of winning competitions, grooming their novices into polished players. Behind the interrelated web of those beneficiaries, supports, and challenges lies a fire. This fuels drive within us all to pursue our passions and purposes. Roadblocks may be insurmountable at times in even thinking about those aspirations. However, I feel that it is crucial to remember and continue to follow these wishes and intentions no matter the speed. These passions and interests are a core aspect of our identity, and our participation in related activities whether large or small allows us to inhabit our true selves and to blossom more fully.

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I do not own any of the photos in this post. As well, this post is part of the Play to the Whistle Blogathon hosted by Film and TV 101 and Reffing Movies. Please check out posts regarding sports-related films associated with this blogathon between June 3 – July 8 (I am putting up my post early)!

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Wrap-Up – Medicine in the Movies Blogathon!

This has been a great weekend of sharing information and overall appreciation of cinema related to medicine. I have to thank everyone who participated, read and commented on posts, and shared the news about this blogathon! You all definitely made this such a wonderful experience, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have. I will definitely be hosting blogathons in the future!

As promised, here is a list of films to include in the wrap-up, as well as links to each day of the blogathon! Thanks again!

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society – Dr. Kildare Film Series (1938 – 1942)

Tranquil Dreams – My Sister’s Keeper (2009)

B Noir Detour – A Woman’s Face (1938 & 1941)

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Day 1 Recap – Medicine in the Movies Blogathon!

Day 2 Recap – Medicine in the Movies Blogathon!

Day 3 Recap – Medicine in the Movies Blogathon!

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I do not own the photos in this post.

Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Ingmar Bergman is one director who I feel has left a body of work that represents the complicated and sometimes disappointing reality of human nature. The intricacies of human relationships are on full display in his films, delving into associated stressors and supports. A great deal of time is devoted to essential character development, enhancing viewers’ understanding of said relationships. The cinematography is carefully composed with a haunting tone under the direction of frequent collaborator Sven Nykvist. These are all hallmark components to a Bergman film. However, I feel that the openness of the stories allows for much introspection and meaning applicable to one’s own life circumstances. Through a Glass Darkly is a 1961 Swedish Academy Award-winning drama directed by Bergman embodying these qualities in spades.

The film is set on a secluded island during the hot summer months, and events gradually unfold over a period of twenty-four hours amongst four principal characters. Karin (Harriet Andersson) is the central character, fragile in nature. She was recently discharged from a psychiatric facility, having been treated with electroconvulsive therapy and diagnosed presumably with a psychotic illness. She has an overarching delusion with religious overtones infused with auditory hallucinations, dictating and controlling a large amount of her decision-making and behaviour. Her husband, physician Martin (the legendary Max von Sydow), is extremely devoted to Karin and concerned for her well-being. Her father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is an ailing, self-serving writer who sometimes uses others’ suffering as subject matter for his novels. Her brother Minus (Lars Passgard) has an unhealthy, immature, and extremely close attachment to Karin, yearning for attention and approval from his father. It can be deduced from descriptions of these close-knit yet diverse group of characters that confusion, conflict, and lament fill their existence and interactions. Overall, I feel that the film challenges our thoughts on familial relationships, mental illness, death, culminating into a surprising yet inevitable finale.

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The title “Through a Glass Darkly” is derived from the following Corinthians verse:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Verses from the Bible or any manuscript based in religion can have a variety of interpretations by modern readers. In my humble opinion, this verse refers to our own self-image and beliefs. They may be distorted by multiple environmental and internal factors, casting a dark shadow on our true abilities and goals. As Karin states, “it’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it”. Recognition of illness and/or suppression by concerned and caring strangers, friends, and family can elevate our self-esteem and self-awareness. Our evolution into genuineness may be supported by them or shunned based on outside expectations. Regardless, a wealth of knowledge and soul-searching in our “face to face” meeting with either a higher power or ourselves stimulates pause for reflection on struggles and joys in our past.

As with many Bergman films, glimpses and explorations into human connectedness are in action. Minus wonders whether “if everyone is caged in. You in your cage, I in mine”. We all experience this sentiment in life at times, some more frequently than others. The truth is that we never act in isolation or in microcosms. Human nature and relationships are dynamic, changing, and influence our very being and direction on planet Earth.

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I do not own the pictures in this post. As well, this post is part of the “Favourite Director Blogathon” hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In! Please check out other posts about excellent directors in cinema that are a part of this blogathon!

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A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Family is an integral aspect and concept inhabiting human existence. Conflicts among those closest to us are inevitable, and their eventual resolutions may be civil or volatile. We also depend on familial relations for support, love, and resiliency. Joyous occasions, such as a birth, can facilitate immense celebration and happiness. An illness in a family member can create fear, panic, reflection, yet enhanced connectivity. Thus, it is quite evident that the idea of medicine extends beyond physical and mental illness to encompass the vital component of familial coping and interaction with their loved ones. “A Woman Under the Influence” is a brilliant 1974 drama film directed by John Cassavetes, demonstrating the wide array of familial emotions in the midst of a loved one’s illness.

Nick Longhetti (Peter Falk) is a hard-working construction worker married to Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and father to three children. He is quite preoccupied with others’ perceptions of Mabel’s eccentricities, and serves to exert a great deal of control over her decision-making and her behaviour. Mabel is acutely aware of this power dynamic, and puts a great deal of effort in trying to be a great “hostess”. She is greatly disturbed and confused by others’ expectations of her behaviour, manifesting into odd mannerisms and occasional outbursts. A variety of events over the course of a day including questionable conduct at a children’s party to a heated confrontation with her mother-in-law Margaret (Katherine Cassavetes) led to Mabel’s certification and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization for six months. Upon her return home, the familial expectation was complete cure (i.e. acting within the norms of society). It quickly became apparent that illness in any shape or form involves recovery – experiencing life in the present and using healthy coping strategies to deal with daily challenges.

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This film has multiple assets which effectively conveys the stressors involved in living with mental illness. The acting is absolutely sublime. Peter Falk palpably harbours anger, confusion, and discontent with the reality of his ideal vision of family. The supporting cast’s emotions greatly increase the intensity and concern of their loved ones. However, I feel that it is Gena Rowlands’ acting talent and complete engulfment into Mabel’s world which makes this film a classic. She epitomizes the central struggle of a fragile individual living with a strained marriage and mental illness. As well, the long scenes feel improvised, allowing the viewers to watch an encounter where individuals’ behaviours evolve. Emotions heighten, and behaviours may become more unhinged and disintegrative in realtime. This enhances the fidelity of the film to many real-life circumstances, whereby the snowball effect leads to a potential familial crisis and an eventual intervention.

I believe that the title of the film lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Specifically, how was Mabel under the influence? Were her behaviours a manifestation of alcohol use, true mental illness, her personality, her reality, or her family’s expectations? In truth, a multifaceted lens needs to be adopted in understanding anyone’s behaviour. Psychiatry as well as other areas of medicine operates under a biopsychosocial model, in which biology, psychology, and social factors contribute to wellness or illness. Culture is another component influencing health care professionals’ and the public’s opinions on the manifestations of mental illness. Mabel’s behaviours and eventual hospitalization were not solely from an organic basis. They culminated from many aspects and ideas of our Western societal and cultural perception of illness, norms, and wellness.

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I do not own any of the images in this post. This post is also a part of a blogathon I am hosting between May 26 – 28 related to Medicine in the Movies! Please check out other related posts over the next few days as we discuss the impact of the medical field on cinema!

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Yi Yi (2000)

Films transport us through a vast ocean in the spectrum of emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, and pure bliss are just some examples. They also convey amplified yet sometimes realistic portrayals of life events which themselves stir the deepest sentiments in viewers. Those very tales may have occurred in the past, present, or are impending in the lives of those who are engulfed in the film’s reality. The beautiful 2000 film “Yi Yi” directed by Edward Yang is one of the greatest examples of everyday characters highly representative of many moviegoers. One of the characters in the film states that “movies give us twice what we get from daily life” by living vicariously through their eyes, hearts, thoughts, and actions.

The story focuses on the intergenerational Jian family from Taipei. Each member faces trials and tribulations that are central within their particular stages of life. The adorable eight-year-old Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) is quite the school prankster but is extremely inquisitive in trying to understand life’s truths. His teenage sister Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) is challenged by friendship, loyalty, lust, and loss. Their parents, NJ (Nianzhen Wu) and Min-Min (Elaine Jin), are separately questioning the course of their life trajectories. Their maternal grandmother (Ruyun Tang) suffered a hemorrhagic stroke early in the film, and family members aim to provide care and comfort in her final days on Earth. The film also traverses through a variety of life events, including a wedding, a funeral, a business trip, a Buddhist retreat, and a birth. Many other characters interact through each family member’s storyline and these events, playing integral roles in reflection and personal growth via various interweaving perspectives and differences.

There was one exceptional detail of cinematography that I found quite intriguing in this film – the use of glass and mirrors. Often, there would be two differing scenarios reflected by two sides of glass, usually a windowpane. The simultaneous struggles of two separate individuals were mirrored within the same frame, alluding to humanity’s worldwide daily clashes and endeavours. The use of mirrors would reflect the emotions felt by the characters in a 360-degree realm, a point accentuated by Yang-Yang. He feels as if he needs to look at the back and front of a person to truly appreciate their emotional undercurrents, and this technique allows us as viewers to do the same.

The title “Yi Yi” translates to “A One and a Two”. That particular phrase is commonly used as a brief warm-up signal prior to a musical performance. In relation to the film, NJ reveals to a potential business partner that he ended a romantic relationship secondary to the partner’s lack of appreciation for music. That action impacted his future, just as decisions made within the arrangement of a musical composition can dictate many facets of its performance. Extending beyond that example, there are many within the film warning of probable conflicts. Approaches and compositions in preventing turmoil can be quite different. Every decision we make can have positive or negative consequences, and we must face the outcomes if possible with great composure and consideration. In other words, it is important to manage our roles in life patiently – one step at a time.

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I do not own the above image.

 

John and the Missus (1986)

Communities are not just geographical dots on a map. They are composed of a multifaceted group of individuals and families providing many essential services. As there may be a central source of industry in a town, for example, that may be a point of connection for community members. This in turn with many other factors as well as human decency creates and fosters human essence, interdependency, trust, and a true sense of home. Community members celebrate joyous occasions, but may even express a wider variety of emotions during difficult times, such as complacency, anger, and sadness. “John and the Missus” is a film starring and directed and written by Canadian legend Gordon Pinsent, exploring community response to duress. The film captures a specific time in Newfoundland and Labrador history, whereby one issue was on many minds in small communities – resettlement.

John Munn (Gordon Pinsent) is a longstanding resident of Cup Cove, a community founded upon by copper mining. Multiple generations of his family have lived in this area, and John therefore has a deep sense of pride and roots to his hometown. The spiritual presence of John’s father is sometimes viewed and experienced upon the screen. At some points during the film, we see that John and the “missus” (Jackie Burroughs) have both cultivated a family and life here, and could never imagine leaving their quaint home. However, two major events delivered shockwaves through Cup Cove. The closure of the mine meant unemployment, and the Smallwood era government mandate of resettlement to larger towns, including providing $1000 to families for moving costs, indicated forced displacement from their beloved homes. Citizens have a myriad of reactions to this news, including hope, guilt, joy, grief, loss, and fear. No one is angrier than John about this prospect, and the film continues to navigate through his own emotions with his family’s support. This movie also encapsulates the absolute beauty and ruggedness of my home province, which allowed me to further engage in this historically important story.

Resettlement has been a highly debated topic throughout the most recent history of the province. Prior to the beginning of the program in the early 1950s, there were already multiple emerging ghost towns due to a poor natural environment and unemployment. The perceived viability of one’s community versus fiscal responsibility, service acquisition, and industrialization were used to rationalize this initiative. A large proportion of the community (initially 90% then 80%) had to agree to this uprooting. Many individuals reported feeling content with the move and the accompanying increase in educational and employment opportunities. Personally, I could imagine a sense of abandonment, disruption, and longing for one’s original place of upbringing in these circumstances. Home is a vital component of our sense of self, and any pressured removal from that environment can be quite devastating and stressful. Some may find the opposite true, greatly welcoming a new beginning. Regardless, the establishment of a home anchors us, allowing each human to contribute to society and to uniquely flourish.

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If you would like to read further about the history of NL resettlement, please click on this link: https://www.mun.ca/mha/resettlement/

This post is a part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy!

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