Tag Archive: films


Eric Goes to the Movies

I have two best friends, one is an African-American woman who teaches at Harold Washington College, and the other is my friend Eric who has cerebral palsy and lives in a group living facility called TLF, for Temporary Living Facility through an organization called the Association for Individual Development. In Eric’s case, his placement at the group home is more of a permanent housing solution rather than something temporary.

Eric and I love the movies, and we try and catch a film at least once a week. Most recently, we saw the Disney Nature film Monkey Kingdom, and before that, we went to Woman In Gold, the story of how the Nazis coopted much of the fine art that belonged to Jews in Germany and Austria. Generally, Eric is a very gracious critic, and likes most anything we watch together. When asked what he thinks about a particular film, his two standard responses are, “It’s good,” or “It was okay.” I’ve never really heard him pan a film although I have on one or two occasions caught him checking his watch. His favorite film from last year was the critically acclaimed Whiplash, about a jazz drummer and his dysfunctional and abusive relationship with a teacher who pushes him beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in order to make him one of the “greats.”

The hard part about hanging out with Eric is that I never really know how much to help him. Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder and in Eric’s case he has stiff muscles and somewhat useless legs. For someone with cerebral palsy, he’s pretty independent and gets around with the assistance of two silver arm crutches with black handles that go around the back side of his forearms. When climbing stairs, he will put one crutch in front for balance and scissor-steps to the door. When he’s just walking down the street, however, he pushes both crutches ahead of him, and propels himself forward at a pretty good pace.

Still, I’m tall and have a long stride, and I never really know if he wants to me walk ahead and get the door, or slow my pace and keep him company. For some reason, it seems more awkward to ask him what he would prefer rather than guess. Half the time I walk ahead. The rest of the time, I slow my pace.

The really awkward moment, however, used to be when we would to the movies and Eric wanted to order nachos or onion rings and two hot dogs or something equally difficult to carry when I myself wanted popcorn and a Coke Zero as well. I found myself in line sending up a secret prayer that he would get Peanut M & M’s or something else that I could easily tuck into my back pocket. A guy named Alex who works at the Regal Cantera theater we usually go to made all the difference one time when he simply asked, “Do you need help carrying your food to your theater?”

Ever since then, I simply ask for help if we need it, and I no longer have to send skyward those foxhole prayers of desperation when I worry whether I’m inconveniencing someone else. The lesson I’ve learned is to ask for help when I need it, and not to be embarrassed about someone else’s disability when he’s the one living with cerebral palsy, not me.

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In Hollywood, especially for women, there aren’t all many roles as actors age.  After being relegated to playing the part of the mother or father, there are few roles for grandmothers and grandfathers, and the role of grandparents is generally relegated to minor characters.  Male actors have more options than their female counterparts, but even so, there aren’t all that many roles available. 

No one seems particularly interested in what older characters can teach us.  It’s emblematic of the way we treat the elderly in our society.  Other cultures revere their elders, but we just shove them into nursing homes, to be forgotten rather than honored.

That’s what makes the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel all that special.  Starring amazing actors like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and their male counterparts, including Tom Wilkinson, the story proves the point that it’s okay to want more out of your life, even if you’re in your golden years.  Rather than expecting less and less, the characters plunge into a foreign culture in Jaipur, India, enlarging their experience of their lives.  They might very well have said, “My life matters, if only to me!”

I’m reminded of a quote by Emile Zola:  “If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you:  I came to live out loud.”  Like other films such as Short Cuts, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows each of its seven main characters in separate vignettes, but shows its protagonists coming together at the airport, intertwining their stories into one cohesive tale.

An interesting subplot follows Maggie Smith’s character Muriel who worked for many years as a housekeeper, but managed to stay isolated in her own, exclusively Caucasian world, and she is more than willing to reveal her extremely prejudiced viewpoints to anyone who will listen.  She has travelled to India for a cheaper hip replacement, and she is forced into interactions with Indians, and this rubs up against her xenophobia.  The story proves that prejudice, even firmly entrenched prejudice, can be overcome.  And life turns out to be about connectedness, not disconnectedness.  Rather than simply passing time until they die, the characters seek to enrich their lives.  It’s a great story, well worth telling, and well worth going to see.  Allow The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to transport you to another culture.