They say a picture tells a thousand words. For me this picture tells at least 1,917 of them. But I’ll just share a few of those with you.
Regular readers of this blog can understand why I might compare Dar’s condition to World War I’s Western Front. Years of struggles seem to provide no tangible benefits. We dig our trenches deeper, we try new strategies, and we end up frustrated.
By the way, this is my Christmas week. This is Oscar week. The Academy rarely nominates, much less awards, my favorite films of the year, but I like their show as an opportunity to celebrate cinema more generally. As I type this we have 30+ RSVPs (!) for our 12th annual Oscar party that will happen this Sunday. I try to make the party special, and one part of that is coming up with outlandish decorations for the Best Picture nominees. Here Dar is standing in front of one of them…but as he does, to me, he symbolizes more.
Without giving too much away, the Best Picture frontrunner (and only film likely to win more than three awards on Sunday), 1917, is about a couple of soldiers trying to break through that Western Front…in order to stop 1,600 of their compatriots from going too far past that Western Front. The movie can be plausibly read as a comment on the horrifying inertia of the war…or as one soldier’s eventually valiant struggle against that inertia. Or a bit of both.
Dar has his own valiant struggle against the permanent inertia of his autism. Sometimes it feels like he’s making no progress, but then sometimes I am reminded that he actually has. The creation of the decoration for 1917 was one of those times. A few years back, I “borrowed” hundreds of little toy soldiers from my neighbor Nicole, whose son had outgrown them. She, uh, hasn’t seen them since. One reason I keep them is that I’ll need them; there’s a Best Picture-nominated war movie almost every year.
For the party two years ago, I spelled out Best Picture nominee Dunkirk (on a VERY large map of the right section of Normandy’s beach) with Nicole’s toy soldiers; it took twenty of them just to make the “i.” That was quite an ambitious decoration! The soldiers were all hanging on the wall via Blue Tack, and every day a few of them fell off. But one thing that never happened, to my knowledge, was Dar pulling them off.
I could never, ahem, pull off such a decoration today. Why? Dar grabs things now. He points to things he wants and grabs things he wants. If you’re almost any other parent, your kid went through this developmental milestone when s/he was no older than eighteen months. You barely noticed it! If anything it annoyed you! Stop grabbing things, ya kid! We, on the other hand, have to work assiduously and painfully for years to get something that comes naturally to 99% of people.
As I see Dar stand in front of the 1917 decoration I think: okay, he has made progress in the last two years. And I often need that reminding. We’re not entirely stuck on the Western Front.
The picture provides another tiny bit of symbolism. I knew I couldn’t put toy soldiers on the wall anymore, so I started scheming on some way to salute the film 1917‘s “single-take” conceit. Eventually I screenshotted a bunch of frames from the trailer (well, if you wanna know, I captured 19 shots for the “19” and 17 shots for the “17”) and then connected each number with this phony decorative celluloid (similar to Caution Tape) as though to say, here’s the unbroken film. But…it looked dumb. Or should I say, it looked too busy. The beefy fake celluloid on the bottom, that connected the 1 to the 9 and then the 1 to the 7, sorta overwhelmed the look of the thing.
So I changed it. I kinda kept the conceit and I kinda didn’t. I kinda kept some toy soldiers (on the right, rushing into the battle) and I kinda didn’t. I preserved what worked and threw out what didn’t. Are you seeing the relevance to Dar yet?
Some people say that the best World War I film is Paths of Glory, starring and produced by Kirk Douglas. Great film, but not sure about that title. I like 1917. It’s not about glory. It’s just saying something happened.
1917 was the first full year of Kirk Douglas’ life. He died Wednesday at the age of 103; Al Jazeera had me on TV discussing his death. Long ago, I read Douglas’ autobiography Let’s Face It, but I didn’t have to read it to know that Douglas devoted much of his life to helping people who, like him as a child, needed a lot of help in life. Douglas has raised money for at least 400 playgrounds and countless humanitarian causes. Douglas has improved the lives of people like Dar. Thank you, sir, for your path to glory there. And let’s face it: a lot of life feels like an unending Western Front. But every so often, we successfully transcend that. Every so often, Dar transcends that. They don’t give out Oscars for that this Sunday. But it’s worth celebrating.