Sometimes a Disney story isn’t really about Disney. This is one of those stories.
My wife and I go to Disney parks more than most. Obviously we don’t go nearly as often as our love of the parks would suggest, especially compared to other fans with a similar level of devotion, but we go far more than the average married couple in their 30’s who don’t live near the parks. So inevitably when I announce that we’re taking another trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World I’m always met with the question of “Why?” People are frequently confused as to why we’d choose to fly or drive across the country to visit a crowded, hot, expensive tourist destination we’ve visited many times before. I’ve grown increasingly tired of this question, mostly because people use it to launch into a diatribe against everything Disney, but also because I’ve never felt like I have an answer that satisfactorily explains the depth of feeling I have towards the Disney parks. The cliché of “they make me feel like a kid again” doesn’t hold true for me at all, because the parks and Disney in general mean far more to me as an adult than it ever did as a child (despite loving it all my life). I try to talk up the concept of Disney’s idealism and optimism, but people tend to just dismiss that sort of thing. I try to tell them all of the reasons I want to work for Disney. I point out that the Disney parks offer an experience that is completely unlike anything anywhere else on the planet, the quality of the theming, the high caliber of Disney’s cast members, the level of care that goes into every detail, but most people are only interested in how fast the roller coasters are or whether they serve beer. But after this most recent trip to Disneyland a few weeks ago, I finally find myself with a story that does justice to my lifelong devotion to Disney.
There’s nothing that can prepare you. Last month, my wife and I lost our son, Luke, who was stillborn on March 22. Luke had a lot of issues, but we were ready for him to arrive, and were devastated when we got to the hospital (for a planned induction) and he had no heartbeat, despite moving around like normal earlier in the day. We went ahead with the induction, and Luke was born a day and a half later. We held him, spent time with him, told him we loved him, and will be dealing with grief and loss for the rest of our lives, even as we are able to appreciate the joy he brought to us in the 9 months we had together and make sure that Luke will always be a lovingly remembered part of our family. There are many resources online to help with all aspects of losing a child, from what to expect during labor and delivery to advice on how to maneuver through the myriad of decisions you’ll have to make to the best ways to remember and honor your child and cope with your grief to endless support groups, all of which should be checked out. But what I couldn’t find, surfing on my phone in the dark in the hospital unable to sleep waiting for my wife’s labor to start, was something that could prepare me for some of the unspoken things, the way I’d feel, the things I’d think or do. So this is my attempt, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness, at what the last month has been like; not taking you through events as they unfolded, but covering some of the things I felt and experienced for which I wasn’t prepared.
(As a side note, there is adult language below. I am not going to apologize for it, nor do I feel the need to defend it. They’re just words, and they’re an accurate representation of my thoughts and feelings. Also, I make no claims that this is what it was like for anyone else, as we all have our own experiences and ways of coping with horrific situations, but perhaps some other parent sitting there in the dark on their phone might read this and be able to brace themselves a little bit about what’s to come, or at least find some truth in it to which they can relate. And of course, as the father in our family I fully acknowledge that my experience is nothing compared to that of my wife, who carried Luke for 9 months and then gave birth to him. I couldn’t be more proud of her or amazed by her strength and bravery, and I know that what she’s feeling must be infinitely more intense than anything I’ve gone through.)
Bill Paxton is probably on your TV right now. The chances are that somewhere among the hundreds of cable and satellite channels you receive, Bill Paxton’s familiar face is grinning back at you. Throughout his career he chose roles in just the kind of popular movies that have become ubiquitous on television. Think about it. You wouldn’t be at all surprised while channel surfing to come across Apollo 13, Titanic, Aliens, Tombstone, Edge of Tomorrow, True Lies, Twister, or one of the countless other films perfectly suited to be filled with commercials and stretched to four hours so as to take up your entire weekend afternoon. And the odds are if you did stumble across one of those movies you’d stop to watch it for a bit, even if you’ve seen it a million times. And while Bill Paxton may not have been your reason for stopping, he just might be the reason you continued to watch long after you would otherwise have moved on.
The world doesn’t need another article today memorializing Carrie Fisher by focusing on her role as Leia Organa in the Star Wars saga, so I apologize that this post adds to the seemingly endless recollections of Fisher’s most famous role. She should be, and thankfully has been, celebrated worldwide today as much for her abilities as a novelist and screenwriter, particularly her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge along with the film it was based on and the countless scripts she worked on and improved throughout her career, as for her performance as Leia. She should be remembered for her biting sense of humor, her eagerness to call out bullshit wherever she saw it, especially in the world of movies and celebrities, and her bravery in openly discussing her battles with addiction and bipolar disorder, giving a voice to struggles that are all too common yet which we frequently pretend don’t exist. And of course her career as an actress was far more diverse and expansive than just Star Wars, with supporting roles in classics like When Harry Met Sally…, Hannah and Her Sisters, and The Blues Brothers to countless appearances on television. Carrie Fisher was far, far more than Leia, and yet the role that she so expertly defined will be the one that will forever define her, just as the character of Leia helped to define my views of what a hero should look like. Through Leia, Carrie Fisher taught me to be a feminist, long before I even knew what a feminist was.
It’s rare that an actor who was almost exclusively relegated to supporting roles can have a huge impact on audiences and create so many memorable performances and characters, but Alan Rickman was just such an exception. Rickman, who passed away today at age 69, is rightfully being remembered for his famous roles as villains in movies like Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the Harry Potter series (yes, Snape was a hero in the end, but for seven and a half films Rickman was playing the role of a villain), but his work was much more varied than headlines would suggest. He showed remarkable range, with a brilliant ear for comedy, a uniquely gorgeous voice, a charm and sophistication seldom seen these days, and the ability to rip your heart out of your chest and leave you emotionally destroyed. His roles always seemed to be the ones that stuck with you long after the rest of the film had faded from memory, and he could easily outshine those billed above him no matter the part. Every performance found layers to the characters that went beyond the script: his heroes were complex, his villains lovable. And while his career in the theatre is as worthy of celebration as any aspect of his career, his legacy lies in his varied roles on film, through which he connected to millions on a very personal level.
I can’t remember the first time I watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I don’t know exactly at which point it became an obsession. I couldn’t tell you when I stopped watching it on a regular basis, or why. And I can’t exactly articulate my feelings now that Jon Stewart is leaving the show. But I can’t let this day pass without saying something about a man who had such an impact on me in some of the most important years of my life.
I think I was extremely blessed by the timing with which Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show. I’m 31 years old now, but when Jon aired his first episode I was 15, and just starting to look at the world around me. Continue reading →
All Star Trek fans were saddened by the death of Leonard Nimoy two weeks ago. His impact on Star Trek as a story, saga, franchise, and experience is probably second only to Gene Roddenberry himself, as his character, Mr. Spock, is probably the defining character of Star Trek, ahead of Kirk, Picard, or any of the others. And while many articles celebrating his life and his work on Star Trek have focused on either his memorable quotes (“Live long and prosper” “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” or “I have been and always shall be your friend”), the two Star Trek films he directed (The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home), or Spock’s biggest moments in the show or the film series, my mind keeps returning to one particular scene near the end of the final Original Series film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
To understand the scene (which is not available on youtube), here’s a brief summary of the film up until this point. The Undiscovered Country tells a parable about the end of the Cold War, with the Klingon Empire dying and an attempt to forge peace between them and the Federation, longtime enemies. Spock, now an ambassador, has reached out to the Klingon Chancellor and brokered a peace deal, and has brought the Enterprise and her crew out of mothballs in order to take him to escort the Chancellor to a secret location to sign a new treaty. Kirk and many of the others would have rather stayed retired, and Kirk in particular is opposed to the plan, as he has “never trusted Klingons, and (he) never will. (He’s) never been able to forgive them for the death of (his) boy.”
Things get off to a rough start as the Klingon ship and the Enterprise meet, but things get much worse when the Klingon ship is attacked in such a way where the Enterprise is blamed for it and Chancellor Gorkon is murdered. Kirk and McCoy are blamed for Gorkon’s death, and are sentenced to life on a remote prison planet, but are eventually rescued by Spock and the Enterprise, who suspect a saboteur is on board. They eventually uncover a conspiracy attempting to thwart a peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingons, orchestrated by high ranking members of both the Federation and the Empire, including Spock’s Vulcan protege, Lt. Polaris. Having learned of their plans, the Enterprise rushes to intercept a prototype Klingon ship attempting to disrupt the peace talks.
As they travel at maximum warp towards a battle in which, even if they arrive in time, they’ll be outmatched, Kirk pays Spock a visit as the half-Vulcan, half-Human lies meditating in his quarters. What follows is a quiet, subtle, contemplative scene where these two men, getting on in years, discuss the future in partly veiled terms while questioning what led them to this point. Kirk seeks to interrupt a brooding Spock by asking:
Kirk: Dining on ashes?
Spock: You were right, it was arrogant presumption on my part that got us unto this situation. You and the Doctor might have been killed.
Kirk: The night is young! You said it yourself, it was logical. Peace is worth a few personal risks.
Kirk wonders around the room, messing with Spock’s things, before finally getting to the deeper point he wants to discuss:
Kirk: You’re a great one for logic. I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread. We’re both extremists; reality is probably somewhere in between. … I couldn’t get past the death of my son.
Spock: I was prejudiced by her accomplishments as a Vulcan.
Kirk: Gorkon had to die before I understood how prejudiced I was.
They both stare into space before Spock finally sits up and looks at his friend, delivering my favorite line that Spock has ever delivered, in one of Leonard Nimoy’s finest moments as an actor:
Spock: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute a joke?
Nimoy gives Spock a weariness and even a tinge of bitterness that lies just under the surface, still suppressed by Spock’s Vulcan half. Yet he also appreciates the irony and even the humor of the moment, when these two old heroes, whom the universe is passing by as the Federation enters a new era and whose own prejudices that once served them so well are now working against them, are called upon once again to save the very universe in which they seemingly no longer have a place.
Kirk tries to comfort Spock:
Kirk: Don’t crucify yourself, it wasn’t your fault.
Spock: I was responsible…
Kirk: For no actions but your own.
Spock: That is not what you said at your trial.
Kirk: That was as captain of the ship. Human beings—
Spock: But Captain, we both know that I am not human.
Kirk: Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s human.
Spock: I find that remark… insulting.
Kirk: Come on, I need you.
In many ways, The Undiscovered Country was a farewell to the Original Series crew, set up as their final mission. The Next Generation had now taken over the reins, and was already four years into their seven year run, with spinoffs Deep Space Nine and Voyager coming soon. All three series were set in a different era of the Federation, and all aired in a different era of television, where special effects were more impressive, stories were more intricate and cerebral, writers strove for a level of realism, stories were more serialized, and there was considerably less camp. By comparison, the Original Series was quaint, outdated, and generally less popular.
But The Undiscovered Country did more than just unceremoniously kick those familiar faces out the door to make way for the new, it also celebrated what made them unique and special in the first place, while showing that even these old dogs could learn some new tricks, and be a part of a more thoughtful, mature, emotional, and symbolic film than audiences were used to from them. And while there was still an action packed finale to come, this scene encapsulates everything I love about the film, the cast, and Leonard Nimoy in particular (though Shatner is great in it as well).
And since this scene isn’t available for me to embed here for you to watch, I’ll leave you with another scene, the final of the film and the last time we see the entire crew together, signing off for the last time as a family.
What do you think? Do you remember this scene from The Undiscovered Country? What moment springs to mind when you remember Leonard Nimoy? What is your favorite Star Trek series, film, or character? Let me know in the comments!