Thanking the Will of Determination

THANKING   DETERMINATION

There are no two ways about it: Go watch Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours starring the versatile James Franco. I watched it on the weekend of its release in New York and was gripped by Boyle’s direction, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography, A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack and James Franco’s rivetting performance portraying over-confident climber Aaron Ralston. If I had to pick the two most fascinating films of 2010 so far (not counting a few indie flicks) it would have to be Christopher Nolan’s Inception (https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/inception-movie-dreamweavers/ ) and Boyle’s 127 Hours. (Toy Story 3 of course, despite being a sequel – is definitely a winner too.)

Many critics have focussed on the one nerve-wrenching gory scene of the movie where the protagonist takes the ultimate step to break free. I instead would like to focus on the strength and determination it took for Ralston to try everything for 127 hours before breaking free from the mess he admittedly had gotten himself into, but with logic, level-headedness and a cocky indomitable spirit.

It is also surprising to sometimes see some snide, bitter comments by certain readers under the movie synopsis in certain sites (including under a review in UK’s Guardian) that Aaron ‘capitalized’ on his accident or that he ‘deserved what he got’ for his climbing! Mindboggling – that people can envy a survivor because he refused to see himself as a victim and evoked inspiration rather than pity. Nothing can bring back a lost hand, and sometimes in sticky situations, it is better to lose a limb than lose a life. Perhaps the fact that Ralston went through his ordeal while on a self-chosen activity of sport, rather than for some ‘self-sacrificial’ act as a soldier in a war, is what irks those who cannot enjoy the spirit of endurance and determination it takes to be a true survivor who did not lose his chutzpah. Or who voluntarily enjoys rock and mountain climbing. As an avid mountaineer myself – I know that there are risks involved and that precautions must be taken, but you can’t stop a guy/gal out of fear and cowardice from climbing rocks and flying planes and diving deep! As Edmund Hillary had once said : “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” 

Stories like those portrayed in 127 Hours of everyday ordinary people showing extraordinary courage and survival-instincts under impossible situations ARE inspirational, because they echo our hidden inherent optimisim that at the end of all the unforseen tribulations of life, or even the risks we knowingly/unknowingly take, steely determination and clear rational thinking can truly create miracles – many more positive ‘miracles’ than wallowing in self-pity or blaming supernatural forces to ‘rescue’ or curse, instead of taking full responsiblity for your own life, your own actions, your own errors and taking steps to rectify, heal, survive and live instead of giving up. Or to put it bluntly : “Ok – I made a serious error in judgment and am in deep shit now. What do I do NOW to get out of this shit and avoid a similar mistake in the future?” This attitude works much more than ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ or ‘Woe is me’ or ‘damn ye heavenly Father!’

On that note, I am very happy to place at the end of this post a youtube copy of a unique film that I think every man and woman should see. I had written a post about it earlier in June : (https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/d-day-and-dieter-dengler/ )

This is one of those tales that changes forever the way you view life, your place in it, the stories behind seemingly ordinary folks you run into at the grocery store or walk by the street; the manner in which you perceive reality in this world, the relativity of pain and sorrow and most of all, to witness first hand the incredible human spirit of survival against all odds. Yes, against every possible odd, when death is possibly your only friend and yet you do not give up on life. The documentary is named ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’.  Directed by the unique and amazingly accomplished and talented film maker Werner Herzog. I do not think words can do justice to the experience at a deep visceral and existential level that this film produces, so remarkably engrossing it is. Both visually and audibly in its unique artfulness. With just a real life character and a few hired locals from Laos who help re-enact Dieter’s journey as he narrates it, it is still the simplest yet most profound stories on film a man can experience.

The story of a man who grew up in great hardship and all he wanted was to learn how to fly, from the day  as a little boy he caught the eye of an Allied pilot who was shooting down his house. The grandson of the only man in his entire village who had not voted for Hitler and faced its consequences. The man who ended up as a pilot for the US Air Force and later a POW in Laos during the Vietnam War. And a man who for some reason just did not give up on life. I will not write the details of the harrowing tortures he went through in the hands of the Vietcong, or the details of the horrors he himself participated in due to his actions as a US army-man. Because this is a film to be seen, not written about, even though most of the experience of the viewer is simply from the narration of Dieter talking to the camera. What struck me most was quite simply the state of being of this man who was neither bitter, neither angry, neither judgmental nor traumatized but came across as just an objective, almost obsessive observer of life and the situations and realities that surrounded him. And saw both sides without any hatred, but only an obsession to fly. And in the harshest of circumstances since his childhood still somehow found inspiration.

In war both sides are victims in the power play of leaders who use their citizens and soldiers as pawns. There are no winners. One country’s hero is another country’s barbarian and vice versa. And the torture of a Caucasian is no greater nor lesser than the torture of the Asians killed by dropped bombs. (Although you do begin to understand why the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of wars were made, in 1929 and 1949, not that they are still followed everywhere.)  As Dieter says: “I don’t think of myself as a hero. No, only the dead people are heroes.”

I have amongst my friends a few who were former US marines, corporals, officers and pilots. And an older lady who had fled Vietnam during the war and is a well established painter in America now. The marines I knew had entered the force more out of financial necessity. The lady had fled on a boat from Vietnam and would end up as a prominent painter and anti-war activist in the U.S. They had stories that were remarkable  and poignant. They had told me tales of their experiences and their views on war. The ways in which they perceived the world after that. How sometimes simple joys such as even lying back on a mound of grass and watching the sunlight filter through the veins of a leaf was a profound source of pleasure. This film only reinforced the point even more.

This is a documentary that despite picking up several awards is not something that has been shown around with great fanfare or publicity. There are no glamorous posters, and the online videos are insufficient. And though it was remade as a full length feature film later in Hollywood, the latter did no justice to the real thing. Dieter Dengler in real life with his ordinary looks and captivating thickly accented monologues is ten times better than any Hollywood actor playing his part. But every person who has seen this documentary knows that it is one of those rare gems that changes  your life forever. That makes you view every moment of freedom, every meal, every drink, every warm bed as a gift. And makes you thank your lucky stars for the gift of life and comfort. That makes you question why people get into wars over ideologies and religion. And most of all, gives you the courage and determination to overcome every little hardship in life without complaining. A truly remarkable testament of the human will, of luck and of optimism.  As one reviewer wrote on the IMDB site – ‘Cancel your shrink and watch Little Dieter.’

Stories like those of Dieter Dengler and Aaron Ralston are fascinating because they stand as testimonials that if they could survive and not lose their determination and spirits despite impossible circumstances, what excuse do we have? (especially if we are healthy, with adequate financial acumen and mental stability, and are lucky to live in countries with far better infrastructures and freedom.) As the holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, I think we have much to be grateful for…..and on watching Dieter’s story, much to thank for – everytime we have a warm meal and a comfortable bed, besides the love of true friends and families. (If only one complaint, I wish for turkey-eaters, there was a more humane way in which these birds give up their lives for this ‘holiday’- or that all turkeys raised would be cage-free and free-running. Or the ‘tofurky’ would improve its texture and taste.)

Oh well! All wishes don’t always come true….and after seeing what Dieter Dengler went through, the scene of Herzog’s camera showing the close-up of a dining-table feast takes up a whole new meaning!

Here it is. I would prefer you rent the DVD, since the youtube version is low resolution. 

Little Dieter Needs to Fly


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Watch ‘Dieter Dengler Needs to Fly’ in better quality than youtube on Daily motion here:  http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3zw7g_little-dieter-1_news

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Sidetracked Alert: Some fun facts of the origin of the word ‘turkey’ – that denizen on your Thanksgiving dinner plate  (http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=117173) :

From the Ayto Dictionary of Word Origins: “The term turkey was originally applied to the “Guinea-fowl”, apparently because the bird was imported through Turkish territory. When the American bird we now know as the turkey was introduced to the British in the mid 16th century it reminded them of the “Guinea fowl” from Turkey and they called the bird a Turkey bird.”

In French, turkey is called “d’inde”, or “from India”, either because it looked similar to the guniea-fowl or female peacock – a bird found in East India, or perhaps because French explorers on finding this bird in North America thought that they had reached the east. In Hebrew, however, the turkey is called “hodu”, which is the Hebrew name for the country of India. Another coincidence: The word “hodu” (=Hebrew name of turkeys, country of India) is related to the word “hodaya” meaning “the giving of thanks” (the Hebrew name for the holiday of thanksgiving is “chag ha-hodaya”.) It seems that Columbus’s interpreter for the expedition in the new world Luis de Torres was a Jewish man baptized shortly before the fleet had set sail.

The word “turkey” is connected to India in the following languages:

Arabic (standard) – turkey is diiq hindi, or Indian rooster.
Azari – ‘hindishga’, that’s something related to ‘Hind'(India).
Basque – “indioilar” or “indioilo”
Catalan  – “dindi”.
Hebrew – “tarnegol hodu” or “Indian rooster”
Polish – indyk, or more specifically indor ‘male turkey’, indyczka ‘female turkey’ from the name ‘India’.
Russian – indjuk_(male), indjushka/indejka  (female).  As food, the turkey is referred to by the term indjushka. In sum, it’s the “bird of India,” as in French.
Turkish – ‘hindi’.
Yidish – “indik”.

In Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian, it is associated with a town from the Malabar coast in southern India.

3 thoughts on “Thanking the Will of Determination

  1. This is certainly one of the most unique blogs I have ever read through. You have got mad talent here! I just hope you simply don’t lose your style. Please keep it up mainly because the web wants someone like you spreading the word.

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