Friday, January 25, 2008

stream of empathy

since hearing of heath ledger's death, i can't seem to get his former fiance (and the mother of their child, matilda), michelle williams, out of my mind... i really don't know a thing about her - the first and last time i saw her was when she played his young wife on brokeback mountain.

i think i know what it's like getting that kind of news. i can still remember sitting on the floor of my drafty garden apartment, getting the phone call that informed me that my best friend and her sister had died in a fatal car accident. i'll never forget how the world stopped revolving for a moment... how in the middle of a clear, blue september day. it felt frigid and sounded dead as any midwestern day in february.

i can't even imagine how she'll explain his death to their daughter. or how she and matilda will fill such a vast hole in their lives.

i heard that michelle williams was flying to new york from sweden where she's working on a film and i was curious so i headed to to seek more info and i found that she's working on a lukas moodysson film called mammoth:

"While on a trip to Thailand, a successful American businessman tries to radically change his life. Back in New York, his wife and daughter find their relationship with their live-in Filipino maid changing around them. At the same time, in the Philippines, the maid's family struggles to deal with her absence"

one of my fave actors, gael garcia bernal, plays the american businessman and michelle williams plays his wife. of course, i was very interested to hear more about this film with filipino actors (marife necesitos and martin de los santos) and the philippines in the storyline. i read somewhere that soon after shooting in sweden, the film crew would be shooting in thailand and the philippines.

and immediately, i remembered a vacation in cebu when i was a teenager... when i met a bunch of australian men on a surfing/diving vacation... who i mistakenly assumed and wrote off as "ugly" americans. after i got over my initial prejudices, they turned out to be very friendly, outgoing, vibrant and funny. and i thought to myself that i should really be less of an ugly american myself and elongate a future trip to the philippines to include a jaunt to australia...

and so i began to wonder if heath ledger had ever been to the philippines, since according to the australian surfers i met, aussies do like to visit the philippines... and i wonder if he had ever visited, if he liked it...

i wondered if the character that michelle williams plays will have to travel to the philipines. i hope she does as there's so much to experience, see and do there... and what if, heath had actually talked about someplace or something in the philippines that might have actually affected him or his perceptions...

which made me think of grace lin, one of my favorite children's book authors, who is sort of live-blogging a trip she's on, travelling thru china. last august, her husband passed away and she mentions her loss and her grief in a recent thoughtful, heartbreaking post on her new blog:

"And it is only from this vantage point, from way above, that I see what Robert had told me about Shanghai. He had called it a modern architect's dream, a city without any rules--allowing an architect to design his/her dream. Shanghai is an enormous hodgepodge of buildings, seemingly built upon eachother. And perhaps because I know how much Robert would have loved to have seen this, it is here that I see how much my life has changed. Faster than I had anticipated, I have created a new life for myself with a future that looks different than expected.

So, strangely, the pangs of grief I suddenly feel are not for myself but for him. It is for all the dreams he had that will not come true, all the plans he made that will not happen and all the things he wanted to see but never will.

I am glad, at least, I will see some of them for him. "

it's been over a decade and i still don't think i'm "fully recovered" from the sudden loss of my dearest friend. i don't think anyone ever really does. sometimes, i feel that her presence follows me around - she's bored out of her mind but still she follows. :) sometimes, days pass and i actually feel a little guilty that i haven't thought about her, when in the early days, she was never out of my mind... not. one. second.

i empathize with grace lin's thoughts and feelings in so many ways.... while i live this "unexpected future" - in all its brilliance and mystery. sometimes, i feel especially guilty that this present even exists for someone like me - who was not as bright, gifted and/or promising as my friend. sometimes, when i'm feeling especially pensive i ask myself what she would have done given a particular situation and find myself actually cracking a smile and supressing a laugh...

i sincerely hope and pray that as they grieve, heath ledger's family and friends will feel some comfort knowing that they are not alone in grieving and that they too will eventually recognize their "unexpected future" as the present and feel at peace.


Craig said...

I was actually watching a Heath Ledger movie when I saw the Yahoo news item about Heath Ledger's death. Sky Cable here in Manila carries Cinemax and they were airing 'The Knight's Tale' while I put together the latest post for my blog. I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain, but I have seen both 'Monster's Ball' and 'The Patriot'. Those two movies and 'The Knight's Tale' were made in 2000 and 2001 and they represent Ledger's big break as a Hollywood actor. Up until then he had been an Australian soap opera actor with a few very minor movie credits.

Cast in an action film as the oldest son of Mel Gibson's character, 'The Patriot' allowed Ledger to demonstrate that he could work successfully with a big name actor. 'Monster's Ball' with Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry proved that it wasn't a fluke and that the big name actors didn't have to be Australian. There were no big name actors in 'The Knight's Tale' and Ledger was given the lead in something of an unconventional narrative. The number of people outside of English departments who have actually read any of the Canterbury Tales is statistically insignificant and the fact is that adapting Chaucer to the big screen is notoriously difficult. His narratives are all boxes inside of boxes inside of yet more boxes. Yet Ledger somehow earned 3 million dollars for that role, an amount that gave him the leeway to call himself a bona fide leading man and the leisure to shop for more suitable roles.

'The Knights Tale' is the longest and most boring of all of the Canterbury Tales. It's told by a knight, the only aristocrat on board for the pilgrimage, and it's told first because in that era everyone deferred to nobility. It is almost never read in literature seminars as it's usually regarded as PR for the established order, an overly long commercial for courtly love and chivalry. It's the only tale told about a profession that the teller actually practices. All of the other tales involve professionals maligning other professions. The only other tale told about knights is the one told by the Host, an innkeeper narrator presumed to be closer to Chaucer himself than any of the other narrators. Chaucer himself was actively involved in organizing jousting tournaments at court. The Host's 'Tale of Sir Thopas' is the shortest of all of the tales and the only one that is not concluded. The Host is shouted down by the other pilgrims and ordered to stop when it becomes clear to the listeners that his tale is going to thoroughly undermine and satirize all of the ideals of courtly love and chivalry. The leading characters in 'The Knight's Tale' are solid cardboard. You can't really identify with either of the main characters. On the other hand, you can't help but identify with the leading character in 'The Tale of Sir Thopas', but by the same token you really don't want to see where the story is going because you know it's going to get ugly. The character Ledger played for most of the movie was really far more Sir Thopas than it was the "underdog" in the 'Knight's Tale'. You don't learn that Ledger's character actually did have a noble pedigree until almost the end of the movie and by then it's not real convincing. In Chaucer's version you know the "underdog's" real identity from the beginning. The moral of the Canterbury Tales is that social mobility is wholly a figment of the collective imagination.

Angela said...

I'm so very sorry you lost your best friend and her sister, I know how it feels to lose someone very special. Heath Ledger, by all accounts he was a wonderful father and young man, what a tragic loss.

Craig said...

I'm guessing that was more than you really wanted to know about Chaucer, the 'Knight's Tale' and Heath Ledger. Sorry about that. Some of the points you raised in your post triggered a reflex.


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