Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Battlestar Galactica passes the starship Enterpirse, headed in the opposite direction

Five episodes in on the DVDs now and I'm hooked.

I'd been staying away. Uncle Merlin, a BSG fan, had warned me off. "It's dark," he said.

He forgot to tell me it's also grim.

But because I wasn't watching when the first two seasons were actually running I didn't pay any attention to the various political debates that Battlestar Galactica stirred up. All I know is that some change in the way the Cylons are portrayed riled the Right Wingers who I guess had jumped on the show's bandwagon initially because they thought it was an allegory for post 9/11 America and hating the Cylons was patriotic in some way.

There are definite 9/11 references. The white board in President Roslin's office with the number of survivors in the fleet scibbled on it, a number that goes down as did the numbers of the 9/11 dead but with dread not hope being the result of each erasure and correction. The hallway walls covered with pictures of missing relatives.

But since every episode so far begins with a reminder that humans created the Cylons, a way of insisting that humankind brought their destruction down upon themselves, I can't see how the Right Wingers, even adept as they are at ignoring the broadest hints that ideological interpretations may not apply, could have seen the Cylons as stand-ins for the Islamofascist scurge. Isn't suggesting that 9/11 or the Islamic fundamentalists' hatred for the US are in any way the result of our own doing, let alone our own fault, the talk of treasonous liberals?

Shouldn't that have been a clue?

But every episode also begins with the scene of Laura Roslin being sworn in as President in a shot that recreates exactly the famous picture of Lyndon Johnson being sworn in aboard Air Force One after JFK was assassinated. This would seem to set Battlestar Galactica in a post-Kennedy America instead of simply a post 9/11 one. Whenever something terrible happens in America pundits are quick to tell us that "Today America has lost its innocence," as if a nation founded on slavery and expanded through an attempted genocide ever had any innocence to lose. Every time we lose our innocence, however, it's somehow restored in time to be lost all over again when the next tragedy strikes.

But after Kennedy was killed there was a sea-change in the country. We did lose some quality, if not our innocence, and I think a lot of the history of the culture wars of the last generation and a half is rooted in the desire of a large segment of the people desperatedly trying to deny that loss.

Our sense of ourselves as the good guys.

Our sense of America as God's chosen country.

It wasn't the case that we discovered that we were the bad guys or that there was no moral or practical difference between us and the bad guys---which some people on the Left were proclaiming and many on the Right accused everybody to their left of believing, and they're still making that accusation.

But it was the case that we now knew, if we chose to face the fact, that just being the good guys was no longer enough.

It never has been.

Just being good is no protection from doing wrong. Harder to take is that believing you're the good guys often blinds you to your own evil. In fact believing you're the good guys makes it easier to go wrong because you've already permitted yourself everything from the beginning. We're good, therefore whatever we do must be good or for the good.

But even if you aren't blinded this way, as Commander Adama is not blind to the fact that the Cylons are humankind's own arrogance boomeranging back upon us, just punishment for our having put ourselves in the position of gods, that is of permitting ourselves anything, you're still not going to avoid evil.

Too often the right thing and the self-interested thing are at odds.

Life seems arranged to force us to make choices that are according to our own precepts immoral.

On Battlestar Galactica it seems so far that no character can make a decision that is not morally compromised.

I don't see how Right Wingers could have found any vindication of their post 9/11 world view in that.

Or am I wrong about how the political debate has spun itself out.

At any rate, I think it's a mistake to make too much of BSG as a political allegory.

If it's any good, any work of art---and The Sopranos has proven that TV shows can be works of art, not by being the first TV show that was, but by being the first that made us notice that it was, so all we have to accept for the sake of argument here is that Battlestar Galactica has, if not claims to be a work of art, artistic ambitions, at least---is a closed circle of references. I mean that it is about itself, not about anything in real life that it happens to parallel or allude to. Not that connections between the work and life can't be made or aren't meant to be made. Just that those connections aren't foremost on the artist's mind, or in the case of a collaborative work like a movie, TV show, play, dance, or symphony, the artists' minds. A work of art is more likely best seen in relation to other works of art than to real life.

Artists are more likely to be having arguments in their work with other artists instead of with politicians, philosophers, and professional moralists.

If Battlestar Galactica is about anything other than Battlestar Galactica, then, it's about...Star Trek.

If Star Trek presented us with a Kennedy-era optimism and can-do spirit projected into the future and outer space, and it did, then Battlestar Galactica is set in a dystopic, post-Kirk universe.

No surprise there when you consider that Ron Moore, the series' executive producer, wrote the screenplay for the Star Trek movie, Generations, and takes pride in being the writer who got to kill Captain Kirk.

Kirk, in all but a couple of episodes, always came up with the purely right decision in the end. Commander Adama's decisions are always tainted. Somebody has to die for others to live. Innocents have to suffer so that the rest can keep going. The wrong thing has to be done just so the ship can surivive, never mind so that the right thing can be accomplished down the line.

The ends never wholly justify the means.

Kirk could rely on the advice of his wise and upright first officer and his wise and noble ship's doctor. Adama's executive officer, although a good man, is a drunk. Tigh is physically and emotionally exhausted, worn down not just by old age and booze, but by his own bad conscience and feelings of guilt and self-loathing.

And there is so far nobody even close to being Adama's Dr McCoy.

Kirk operated on his own. He was out of range of restraining hand. He was free to make decisions based entirely on his own moral compass. He didn't have to worry about the corrupting influences of politicians and military careerists and timid civilians.

He was an independent man.

Adama is surrounded by civilians. He has to answer constantly to a politician practically at his elbow. So far he's been spared having to deal with military careerists, but I've heard that this changes when the Battlestar Pegasus shows up.

Kirk was young.

Adama is old.

And Kirk was taking the Enterprise boldy where no one had gone before. Battlestar Galactica is in flat-out retreat. Kirk was leading the way into space. Adama is running away.

Those of you who've watched more than five episodes can tell me if I'm way off.

Couple of things I like or am intrigued by before I sign off here.

I like it that the show makes no attempt to hide the fact that it's set in late 20th Century America. Most of the technological and cultural artifacts look as though they could have been bought out of a Sears catalog. People in the Twelve Colonies lived pretty much as if they were living in the United States in 1982, except that they somehow have invented faster than light space travel, highly advanced robotics, and a form of artificial intelligence that's smart enough to improve upon itself.

Of course a lot of bad sci-fi movies, TV shows, and novels are full of lame 20th Centuryisms, but in their case it's usually the case of a failure of imagination or of a low budget or a lazy contempt for the audience. Battlestar Galactica has made it a guiding aesthetic principle.

I like it that three of the coolest characters, Adama, Tigh, and the President, are over 50.

I like what they've done with Gaius Baltar. I like how charismatically self-interested and unprincipled they've made him and I like the way they've put Number Six in his head and then make him react to her as if she's really there, making him appear to be a borderline lunatic to everyone else.

I'm not sure I like the two Sharons plots.

I'm not sure I like either Starbuck or Apollo, which could be a problem if they are meant to be the two main younger heroes.

And it looks to me as if in the Battlestar universe there are three genders. Male, female, and tom-boy.

Males and females are pretty much what they are in our universe and get to hold all sorts of positions and jobs and although it appears that many of females are mothers in the most traditional sense, females can also be soldiers and engineers and Presidents of the Twelve Colonies, and males can be secretaries. But tom-boys can only be pilots.

The main difference between a tom-boy and a female is that a male is free to punch a tom-boy in the nose and can also expect the tom-boy to punch him back, harder and with more effect.

Sexuality doesn't seem to be an issue. Of the two main tom-boys, Boomer is obviously heterosexual. Starbuck's preferences aren't clear to me yet. Was she in love with Apollo's brother or were the three of them just good pals. I kind of hope they were just pals. In fact, I hope Starbuck's a lesbian. This has nothing to do with her being more macho than any of the guys around her except Helo and the Chief. I just think she looks like she'd be a lot of fun to go cruising for chicks with. A lot more fun than Apollo.

And by the way does Apollo ever get rid of that stupid pompador? It makes him look like Bob of Bob's Big Boy.

That's all I have for now. If any of you who've watched regularly can tell me what themes and character developments and plot points I need to be on the look out for, feel free to load up the comments. Don't worry about spoilers on my account, but put warnings in for others.

Thoughtful conservative Jon Swift says I have the Right Wing argument all wrong because I failed to see that it's the Cylons who are the good guys.

Seems like I'm always too late to the party. According to the Armchair Generalist, BSG's finishing up after this upcoming season.

Seaon 1, Season 2.0 (Episodes 1-10), and Season 2.5 (Episodes 10-20) are available through my aStore.

Programming note: Tonight's the final episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and although I've tried to talk myself out of it, I can't do it---I'm going to handle the live-blogging one last time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Seraphim Falls and the better, and baser, angels of our nature

Third Season of Deadwood's out on DVD now and over at newcritics Al Swearengen himself's giving a preview.

So I'm not going to write about Deadwood today. I'm going to write about another western. A movie. Seraphim Falls, which stars Pierce Brosnan as a former Union officer turned trapper and Liam Neeson as a vengeance-seeking former Confederate colonel who tracks him down and chases him from the Ruby Mountains, across Nevada, and into the alkalai desert for a final showdown, and that about sums up the whole of the plot.

Still it's a good, taut, intelligent film. Nothing special but exciting. And in its own quiet, understated, symbolic way almost as cynical about the settling of the Wild West as Deadwood, though not as profane.

The characters don't curse much nor do they speak in blank verse ever. In fact they hardly speak at all.

Brosnan's character, Gideon, is the focus of the movie. He's outnumbered and outgunned, usually on foot while Neeson and the gang of bounty hunters he's hired to help capture him---but not kill him. They don't get paid if they kill Gideon. Neeson's character, Colonel Carver, is reserving that pleasure for himself.---are on horseback, and he's wounded badly in the shoulder from an ambush in the very first scene, and our rooting interest is in seeing how Gideon will stay alive for the whole movie and arrange it so that there will be, as we know there must be, a final showdown between himself and Carver.

Brosnan isn't given much to say. He's on his own for close to half his screen time and when he meets up with other characters his conversations with them are short and to the point. "I need a horse." "Water!" "How far to the next town?"

But he's very good at acting without dialog. Like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive---to which director David Von Ancken gives respectful nods throughout, including having Gideon take a plunge over a waterfall that like Dr Kimble's there's no way he should have survived---Brosnan is excellent at silently portraying inner turmoil and physical exhaustion. Gideon is a desperate man, in pain, afraid, confused, losing hope, but thinking, always thinking, so that he's always dangerous.

Brosnan's also good at suggesting an underlying guilt and an accompanying sense of resignation. That guiltiness and the fact that his antagonist is played with nobility by Liam Neeson makes us wonder if, even though Gideon is in the position of underdog hero and has captured our sympathy, he is in fact a hero and if we should be rooting for him.

Brosnan does such a good job with the guilt, condemning himself with a Serves me right look of sadness after every wince of pain from his shot-up shoulder and after every new stroke of bad luck undoes what his last careful plan of escape had accomplished, that well before Carver reveals why he's chasing Gideon we're certain there's a very good reason.

Neeson has far more to say, Carver has to talk to his hired guns sometimes, but he's also usually short and to the point. His main job in the movie is to be Liam Neeson, the good, heroic Liam Neeson of Rob Roy and Michael Collins, in order to impress us with a sense of an underlying decency in a man who is on a brutal mission, going about it ruthlessly, and is throughout all business, his business being deadly revenge.

We're never meant to believe that his character is the real hero, but we are meant to know without being told that at one time he was a hero. He's changed or forgotten that side of himself but through Gideon's guilt and Carver's own residual nobility we become convinced before we know the whys and hows that if the change in Carver isn't all Gideon's fault he is still to a great degree responsible.

What we have then are two tragic figures on their way to a confrontation that, because Von Ancken has made Seraphim Falls more visually poetic and narratively symbolic movie than the average horse opera needs to be, we suspect is going to tell us something about role of the Civil War, or war generally, has had in shaping the American character.

But because along the way Von Ancken, who wrote the screenplay with Abby Everett Jaques, is taking us on a cynic's magical history tour of the west to see some iconographic moments and archetypal characters through rather skeptical eyes, we can guess that whatever he finally has to say about the War won't be romantic or as tragic as the main characters.

Gideon himself starts out as one of those archetypal characters, the lone trapper, reluctantly blazing a trail he'd rather the rest of civilization wouldn't follow. His path of escape takes him from the isolated and unspoiled mountain wilderness---gorgeously photographed---down to a pioneer homestead where he meets a family of settlers, father, teenage daughter, young son. No mother. She's dead. It's never said specifically what killed her---disease, wild animals, childbirth, Indians, outlaws---whatever it was doesn't matter, because the real cause of her death was the frontier itself. Through the mother's absence and what the daughter who has had to take her place at too early an age goes through Von Ancken is suggesting the important, hard, and brutally dangerous role women played in the settling of the country and the price they paid for it.

Gideon---and after him Carver, always right behind him---goes on from there to a railroad camp where immigrant labor is hard at work industrializing and civilizing the country and where instead of making common cause one despised ethnic group, the Irish, take out their resentment and anger on another, the Chinese.

Gideon and Carver meet up with a band of religious pilgirms who at first encounter appear so wrapped up in their faith and their bible that reality seems to be slipping right by them and they're becoming a wandering mob of delusional psychotics but who reveal themselves to be when they need to be worldly, crafty, licentious, greedy, and dishonest, without dropping their self-congratulatory God-bothering for a second.

They come across the burned out skeleton of a covered wagon and the broken remains of a piano someone had planned to build a new home around, the evidence of the too great hopes and the unfulfilled dreams of too many people who went west looking for a better life.

And they meet up with an Indian, perhaps the last of his tribe, who because he's played by Wes Studi comes across as as noble and wise as Chingatchgook but turns out to be the first of a very different kind of Indian, the kind hucksters sell to tourists. Indeed he's set up his own little tourist trap, selling not hokey souvenirs but water. Still it's a forerunner of the shops that will someday peddle little dolls and toy tomahawks and factory-made Navajo rugs to compensate for not being able to offer tourists a real taste of Native American culture because it's been wiped out.

They never come to a real town because that would be a dramatic dead end for them. A town would have a sheriff who would very likely get in the way of the final showdown. But they do encounter the chief reason for there being such things as towns, which is that people need somewhere to go to buy and sell, what Al Sweargen would call fuckin' Commerce, and that arrives in the form of Angelica Huston as a traveling saleswoman of patent medicine appealing to the fears and baser instincts of prospective customers to sell them her snake oil.

All of this sounds more heavily handed in its irony than it plays. Von Ancken always keeps the chase and escape story front and center and moving swiftly so that in our excitement we don't notice until after Carver leaves a place or says goodbye to the characters what cynical point just got made. It also happens that people tend to behave better around Gideon and don't show the darker, or darkest, sides of themselves until they meet up with Carver and his men. In fact, Carver seems to bring out the worst in them. Just as a for instance, when Gideon is in their cabin the family of settlers treat him kindly and go out of their way to help him, even though they have good reason to think he's there to steal from them. The father deals with him fairly and the son is just a curious little kid who is both afraid of him and in awe of him as a figure of adventure and mystery. But when Gideon leaves and Carver arrives, the father is made a coward and the son shows himself up as little thief and the daughter, who was grown-up and motherly and competent around Gideon, is reduced to a helpless victim.

There is a Do Unto Others of courseness to this. Gideon treats people better because he needs them to help him, while Carver has not a thought for anything or anybody but his own mission and therefore tends to treat people more directly as means to his ends as opposed to Gideon for whom people are aides to him in achieving his ends.

And I think Von Ancken does intend a moral lesson here. But it's still connected with the cynical themes of his movie.

Carver is a former Confederate officer, after all. There's no reason for us to think that Von Ancken isn't using his main characters in the same ironically iconographic way as he uses his minor characters, so Carver is not just from the South, he is the South.

When we find out what happened at Seraphim Falls in the last days of the Civil War we understand that Carver has an excellent reason for hating Gideon. But there's something missing in his sense of justice.


What happened at Seraphim Falls was a result of a war the South started, a war that Carver as a Southern solider then ought to bear some responsibility for too. He helped cause the terrible thing that happened to him. And he doesn't see that. To him it was as if there'd been no war. It was as if Gideon and his troop of soldiers had come along out of pure malice. He puts all the blame on Gideon as if Gideon had simply decided to do him a terrible wrong for sport. His insistence on placing all the guilt on the Northerner and his refusal to shoulder even a little bit himself is even more arrogant and blind because what happened was not just a result of war, it was an accident of the war. No fighting was underway. Gideon and his men were just being careless.

A great deal of the West was settled after 1865 by former Confederates leaving their war ravaged homes to start over, but if many of them were like Carver they took with them into the West and ingrained in the Western character, which is the American character, a sense of agrievement without a sense of responsibility. Self-pity and a baseless sense of moral superiority that makes a man a hypocrite from the get-go without his having an inkling of it are the marks of an American descended from the likes of Carver.

Gideon is compassionate because he is guilty. He is always reluctant to presume upon others because he cannot forget that at bottom he doesn't deserve special favors. Which says a lot about the importance of having an oppressed and oppressive conscience. But it has its drawbacks. In general, Gideon would rather retreat than stand up for himself and when push comes to shove he almost can't bring himself to defend his own life.

And if a lot of Carvers went west after the war so did as many Gideons. There are two strains of Americans then, according to Seraphim Falls. Neither one of them is pure of heart, neither one of them is clearly and cleanly heroic. But one knows itself to be guilty and is therefore inclined to stay its hand, to think before acting, to doubt its own motives and to try to make sure it's right before it sets out to do anything, while the other is self-righteous, certain, angry at heart, quick to lash out, unable to forgive, and brutal when it decides it wants a fight.

In the end, the Carvers of the world never know themselves to have been beaten, only wronged, while the Gideons never feel they've won or deserved to win and so can't press their advantage, and while the two might be walking side by side in the same direction, trying to cross the same wasteland of history, they aren't walking together.

Seraphim Falls. Directed by David Von Ancken. Screeplay by David Von Ancken and Abby Everett Jaques. Starring Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Wes Studi, Angie Harmon, and Angelica Huston. Icon Productions and Samuel Goldwyn Films. 2006.

Please help support this blog. Buy the Seraphim Falls DVD at Mannion at the Movies or click on the link to purchase Deadwood: The Complete Third Season.

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The terrible loneliness of being free

In the opening sequences of Moscow on the Hudson, flashing back to his life in Russia, Robin Williams' character, circus musician Vladimir Ivanoff, remembers risking being late for work, putting his job and his upcoming, much looked forward to trip to New York City with the circus in jeopardy, to jump into a long line outside a store to buy...he's not sure what. Toilet paper, he hopes. Whatever they're selling, he knows that.

In the Soviet Union, you see a line, you get in it, because everything's so scarce, store shelves are usually so empty, what's available is usually so expensive, that odds are whatever is on sale at the end of the line, you need it.

Or you can use it.

What's at the end of this particular line are men's shoes. Vladimir buys two pair, neither in his size, because there are none in his size, all the shoes are the same size, a size too small for most men. Vladimir doesn't care. He can sell the shoes at a profit or use them as bribes.

The privation, the corruption, the paranoia, the dullness, the way everybody lives on the borderline of poverty, how the consumer goods and the small luxuries that separate them from the truly poor are no compensations because they are ugly, badly made, cost too much in time and effort and rubles to obtain, how every relationship, friendships, family life, love affairs, marriage, is reduced to a business deal---we see a society and an economy horribly crippled by the fear and corruption and purposeful bureaucratic inefficiency necessary to keeping its own evil regime in power and our first thoughts are naturally, Three cheers for capitalism and How did we ever see this sorry nation as a threat to our way of life?

The answer to that second thought is that the Soviets had nuclear weapons and men as crazy and as soulless among their leadership as we had among ours.

Still, you wonder how our saner leaders didn't look at what was going on over there and think, We can outlast them, we can out sell them.

This isn't the place to get into the old containment vs confrontation debates or look at what a lot of our leaders were really looking for as an outcome to our rivalry with the Soviet Union---safe markets not new democracies.

As for the first thought, director Paul Mazursky more or less responds, Are you sure you want to cheer that enthusiastically? Maybe you should wait and see.

Mazursky takes a long while to get Vladimir to the United States where we know he's going to defect and where we expect the real plot of the movie's going to unfold, testing our patience, because he wants to show us something else about life in the Soviet Union first.

The way people cling to each other.

Despite the corrupting influence of money, actually the lack of it, on relationships---a marriage proposal, even a sincere one inspired by love, is phrased in starkly economic terms with a list of material benefits that would result---and the fear that any person you know and are close to and trust could turn out to be a KGB stooge---at one point Vladimir is given a choice, spy on your best friend and inform on him, or your beloved grandfather could wind up in a "mental hospital"----the people grab hold of each other, literally, and hold tight, because their only joy in life and their only solace is love.

In Sartre's No Exit, Hell is other people. In the Soviet Union, says Mazursky, all there is of heaven is other people.

With that established, he finally sends Vladimir to New York where he defects in Bloomingdales.

And for the first few scenes after he defects, the movie really does allow us, encourages us, to give three years for capitalism and the USA.

This really is a wonderful country.

Seeing it through Vladimir's eyes as he takes it all in for the first time choked me up.

God, I love this country!

But it is not a paradise, it is not heaven on earth, and it is not without its own forms of hell, even for the lucky like Vladimir.

First, there is just the overwhelming fact of freedom itself. To be able to go where you want, do what you want, be what you want to be---all those choices, all those decisions, all those problems that follow and all the more choices and decisions that have to be made after the first ones! Where do you start? How do you start? Why bother to start?

And having all that freedom to make choices doesn't necessarily mean you have the means to follow through. In America you are free to want everything. You can only have what you can afford.

Or what you know how to ask for. One of Vladimir's friends on his first job in America, washing dishes, is another recent arrival to America, an astrophysicist who has to work in a kitchen because he doesn't speak English well-enough to get a teaching job. He's worried that when he finally does master the language skills, his other skills as a scientist will have become out of date.

All those choices can be depressing too. Just because it's not as bad as it was back in Moscow doesn't mean that it's not dispiriting. Vladimir literally faints when he walks into a grocery store to buy coffee and faces an entire aisle full of fifty brands of coffee to choose from.

Not being able to choose is not as sad as having no choice, but the result is the same. You go home empty-handed.

Freedom means being able to rely on yourself, to not have to ask for favors or make deals just to get through a day (Which inspires the question, how free are any of us?), and that means people don't need each other as desperately as they did back home. Vladimir finds that all his new friendships are much looser than they were in Russia and likely to be temporary.

And the freedom to be your own self, to live your life your own way, to be the person you want to be, can make people jealous of themselves. It can make them resist any claim you might make on them, even the most well-meaning and caring claims, even the claims of love and affection. They will see it as an attempt to control them, as an attempt to steal from them a part of themselves.

On the day Vladimir's new American girlfriend, the Italian sales clerk under whose skirt he hid when he was fleeing his KGB handlers in Bloomingdales, played by Maria Conchita Alonso, becomes a US citizen she turns immediately cold and sullen. She finds a far corner to be alone and away from her family at the party celebrating her citizenship. She pulls away from Vladimir whenever he tries to hug her. She provokes a fight. When he storms off she looks triumphant.

It didn't help that he picked the moment she wanted most to be alone to propose and that he put his proposal in the old, Soviet-style way, as a matter of economic convenience to both of them, making her afraid that all he wanted out of her was a nicer apartment and his own path to citizenship smoothed out. And she's terrified of her new freedom as well. It has sunk in what it means to be able to call her life her own---she is on her own in a way she has no idea yet how to handle.

But what's really upsetting her is that now that she is truly her own person she doesn't want to share any of her new-found self with anybody else. She wants to enjoy it all to herself. She is, understandably, feeling extremely selfish---self-ish---and here's Vladimir trying to claim a major piece of her self away from her.

It isn't long before they break up.

This is how it goes with all of Vladimir's American connections. All his new friendships turn out to be transient or illusory or unreliable in some other way.

The only friend who sticks with him is his lawyer, Orlando, merrily played by Alejandro Rey making the case with his infectious grin that as miserable as life can be here, anywhere, there is still always much to enjoy and love, and Orlando isn't sticking because he likes Vladimir, although he does, very much; he's sticking because he's his lawyer and he's being paid to stick.

The crisis Mazursky has brought Vladimir's story to is spiritual. Freedom has come at soul-crushing price. For Vladimir, being an American, being a New Yorker at any rate, means being all on his own, which is to say, being terribly lonely.

His best friends have wandered away, paying in their way the prices of their own freedoms. The woman he loves wants nothing more to do with him. He will probably never see his family in Russia ever again. There are millions of people all around him but they are strangers and pretty much all of them are content, eager even, to remain strangers.

He is part of a crowd and apart from it. And what he must do is find a way to live with himself as his own best company, figure out how to use his freedom to make himself happy...or at least not miserable.

Thus the last scene of the movie. Vladimir, having found work as a musician again, sets up on a street corner to play his saxophone. Most of the passersby ignore him, but a few pause, listen, applaud, drop some coins, make a connection, a temporary one, and move on, leaving him alone in the crowd, playing his music for himself, making himself happy by himself.

Moscow on the Hudson. Directed by Paul Mazursky. Written by Paul Mazursky and Leon Capetanos. Starring Robin Williams, Maria Conchita Alonso, Alejandro Rey, Cleavant Derricks, and Elya Baskin. Columbia Pictures. 1984.

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