Monday, November 14, 2016

Growing Up, Growing Better

Review: Annapolis with James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jim Parrack; Greenfingers with Clive Owen, Helen Mirrin, Danny Dyer

Life after the semicolon; what changes in us after a disastrous life-turning event depends on what follows after. Do we wallow in victim-hood, or do we move on, up, and out of the pits life has landed us in?

Good films with this theme are not hard to find; it is a common story for us all. I was particularly inspired by two movies that share this theme by telling two very different stories: Annapolis (2006) and Greenfingers (2000).


This is the tale of a ship-fitter, Jake Huard (played by James Franco), working for his father's construction crew on the docks across the river from the prestigious Naval academy. Jake's dream is attend Annapolis, but he was wait-listed when he applied. So he fills his days with the hard work of a welder and riveter, and his leisure with training as a boxer.

We first meet Jake as he prepares to go into the ring against co-worker AJ, a taller, heavier boxer. (AJ is portrayed by Jim Parrack, who was a main non-vampire character in the HBO True Blood series.) Jake refuses to fight as directed by his father, closing with the larger boxer and defeating him despite multiple knock-downs. The naval officer in the crowd of dockworkers, conspicuous in his whites, has come to offer him a place at Annapolis. Lt. Buxton (Donnie Wahlberg) comments on how unusual it is for an application to come from someone in Jake's position. We get another glimpse of Jake's persistence thereby: he had apparently pestered a Senator daily for over a month to help.
   People who live in Arkansas, you know what their favorite state is? Mississippi. Cause Mississippi's the only thing that keeps Arkansas from being the worst state in the whole country.
   I'm Mississippi.
   Well you sure as hell ain't California. Listen, Cole and Whitaker are so busy tryin' to run you out they forgot about me. As a matter of fact, they've forgotten about every other plebe in this whole company.

For Jake, the "semicolon" is not just leaving the comfortable environs of family and friends to join the company where he will be "boxing over his weight". It is facing life-crippling bias. Jake grows his life in the direction he chooses by feeding his habit of persistence in the face of prejudice, and staying true to his dreams. 
Some of you have only known success your entire life. But this year, your plebe year, you will know failure... because failure is a far greater teacher than success.

And that's the point. Failure is not a stopping place; it can be a launch-pad to success. One only has to survive, and persist.


The theme I'm exploring, improvement over one's past, might seem to be belied by the opening scenes of Greenfingers, in which we see Colin (Clive Owen) stealing a bouquet of yellow roses and being reincarcerated in a British prison. But all is not as it seems in this movie based on a true story.

Immediately after the initial looting scene, we flash back to Colin's life in prison just one year prior. Facing his parole board, he learns that he is eligible for transfer to a new program in a lower-security prison. He's become resigned to his imprisonment, and tells the board, "If you don't mind, I'd just as soon not change."
Fergus: [Waking up and seeing the flower on the nightstand, then seeing Colin, who had received the flower as a parole gift] What's that old thing doing back here?
Colin: It wasn't ready for the outside world.

Nevertheless, he is transferred, and assigned a roommate, Fergus (David Kelley), and a grim job dealing with the prison toilets. For Colin, there is little to choose between his work and Fergus, whose cheerfulness in the face of life is an affront to Colin's pessimism. He tries, but Fergus refuses to be shut out. Eventually, they bond over the planting of a packet of violets in the snow, and protecting the fragile flowers that bloom despite Colin's conviction that they are doomed.

Like the violets, Colin and the other convicts who become involved in building the prison's formal garden bloom in the regard of professional garden-writer Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirrim).

The moral is that just as winter and death are inevitable, so too are spring and the flowering of whatever seeds we plant. The path to improvement for the convicts of Greenfingers was to choose which seeds to plant, and then tend then carefully.

One need not be a gardener to see the truth in that.