After the Lights Come On

All those thoughts that strike me after the lights come on, after I close the book, or the last notes fade out.

The Hint of a Heart Beneath the Hardness

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a terrific action and suspense movie. It moves along at breakneck speed providing no pause to think and ponder. But then I didn’t need any, that is, not until this last line from Sarah Connor—“The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” It was then that I realized that there was all along a heart beneath the glint of steel.

These hints of hearts get missed even when their bearers are flesh-and-blood characters. Like I did with Jason Bourne, Lisbeth Salander, and Sherlock Holmes. They are human characters and yet as I watched the movies and/or flipped through the stories, I was quite surprised to discover a heart beneath their rugged, tough, and steely exteriors. It was as if I had expected them to act just like any other machine.

With no past that he could remember and no memories to cherish, it is not hard to understand why Jason Bourne’s eyes do not show any emotion. He is no doubt, as efficient as a machine and almost acts like one too. Except when he decides to keep a photograph of him and Marie after burning all traces of her existence when she gets killed in Goa (The Bourne Supremacy). Or when he lingers over that partially-burned photograph on the train (The Bourne Ultimatum) and reminisces about Marie; the aching in his heart is very apparent.

Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is ruthless when she executes her revenge. The hardened look in her eyes has come about after many instances of abuse and throughout the movie, she comes across as an unsentimental person who is not to be messed with. And then this apparently “heartless” person goes and falls in love with journalist Mikael Blomkvist as they work together on an assignment. The latter of course, has other plans.

I am sure the sight of Mikael and Erika Berger walking happily and cozily wrapped around each other came as a crushing blow to Lisbeth and for a fleet second, I wondered who Lisbeth would next unleash her fury on—Mikael or the Other Woman.  But this time around, she not only displays a heart but also a level of maturity that her legal guardian had earlier accused her of lacking in. She is heartbroken as she realizes she has no romantic future with Mikael and then, rides away.

These hints of hearts in seemingly mechanical characters come as pleasant surprises. For Dr. Watson, catching a glimpse of a heart in Sherlock Holmes was an intensely emotional experience, in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs. Holmes and Watson confront a dangerous criminal and Watson gets shot. In an instant, Holmes springs to Watson’s aid and the latter does not fail to notice the concern and the angst in the detective’s eyes. Watson is touched: “It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain.”


The First Fight. Is It as Special as the First Kiss?

Alex and Kate, in The Lake House, live two years apart in time. But “that’s just a detail.” They reach out and connect to each other through letters. They even have their “first fight” through letters.

Kate: He’s not my boyfriend.

Alex: What is he, then? Your brother?

Kate: Oh, we have a comedian! What, did you eat clown for breakfast?

Alex: Wonderful. Our first fight.

And then Alex walks away in a huff (at least if they had been fighting face-to-face, it would have looked that way) after suggesting to Kate that she should write a song about it (their first fight) and sing it in San Francisco. 

It felt as if Alex wanted to commemorate their first fight. Like remembering the first kiss. But what got me wondering about what is so special about “the first fight” after I watched Before Sunrise.

Jesse and Celine are taking a walk along the Donaukanal in Vienna. They get into an argument that ends with Celine calling Jesse a whinny little boy. Sometime later:

Jesse: Yeah. So, uh, were we having our first fight back there?

Celine: No…

Jesse: Yeah, I think so, I think we were.

Celine: Well, even if we were a little bit, y’know. Why does everyone think conflict is so bad? There’s a lot of good things coming out of conflict.

“Our first fight.”

Alex sounded almost exasperated. It was as if he meant that he and Kate could hardly be together and yet they have managed to have their first fight (or maybe I am reading wrongly). And in Jesse’s question it felt as if he wanted to check with Celine if he had just missed something momentous.

But by their words and tones, it was evident that the “first fight” is inevitable as the first kiss and as much cherished as any other thing shared between them.

I cannot decipher what is so magical about a “fight” (“conflict” sounds too pompous to be happening between lovers), but I think Sara Zarr has a point, “… it’s the change you remember, the firsts and what they meant …” I think it means that you are so comfortable with a person that you can even have a fight with him/her.

Books? Or Life Savers?

That day I read this quote on The Quote Garden: Books support us in our solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves.

That particular Quote Garden page on books had many more such sayings and if you are a bookworm, you will agree with them wholeheartedly. But these are sayings on how books save our souls. There is a movie, The Day After Tomorrow, and a book, The Book Thief, where books actually keep people alive, in the physical sense of the term that is.

The Day After Tomorrow is a science fiction disaster film about a series of catastrophic weather events that strike the Earth as a result of massive global warming. There is heavy flooding in Manhattan and some students manage to find shelter in the New York Public Library as temperatures continue to plummet. And they burn books to keep themselves warm inside the library! Well, some of them do resent the act at first (bookworms probably) but given a choice between burning books and freezing to death, they choose to live.

For a split second I wondered if they could have burned pieces of furniture instead. Actually, the sight of scores of books being flung into the fire was a bit distressing but then, I was not the one freezing to death. So, that’s it. At the end of the day, or the movie, New York Public Library gets snowed in but the group inside manages to hang on. Saved by books!

The events in the book, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, too unfold with cataclysmic events (although, of a different kind) in the backdrop. It is Nazi Germany during the Second World War. There was death everywhere—in the extermination and concentration camps and after Allied bombings—and everybody, both the Jews and the ordinary Germans, lived uneasy lives.

And then Himmel Street was bombed. It was flattened and as Death (the narrator of the story) observes, “Houses were splashed from one side of the street to the other.” And all while the residents were asleep.

Only Liesel Meminger survives. And she survived because she was sitting in the basement of her house. Reading.

The Book Thief is about Liesel and her love for books. And her love is so obsessive that she steals from Nazi book-burnings and the mayor’s wife’s libraries. Books “feed her soul,” give her solace, and ultimately, it is a book that saves her life.

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