A young woman watches her boyfriend move out because she is unable to say, “Please stay,” until he has already left. She’s a waitress who works wedding receptions, harassed by her boss for buttons askew, a crooked nametag. He also castigates the photographer for snapping non-traditional photographs, like the hired help clearing the dishes.
A bride gets caught in a bathroom stall, and the music at her reception is so loud that nobody can hear her. So she takes off the big dress, climbs over the partition, and falls down, breaking her leg. The doctor says no honeymoon to the Caribbean. Instead, they try a high-rise hotel in Tel Aviv, where the traffic is noisy, the rooms are smelly, and they can’t even see the ocean. The groom goes out for smokes a lot. He talks to a woman who offers him her suite, but his bride is immediately suspicious, so they have their first fight as man and wife.
A Filipino woman hires out to take care of elderly people, usually paid for by guilty adult children too busy to spend their own time. She telephones her homeland, and speaks to her five-year-old son on his birthday, hoping to send him a ship in a bottle as a present. He says he only wants to see her. The gruff old lady orders her about like a servant, gripes about her not being able to speak Hebrew very well, even though she herself doesn’t speak English, the second language of the Filipino.
Yes, it’s all very melancholy, and even symbolic, including a lost little girl whom the waitress encounters, but probably represents the waitress, as well. She is only a lost soul, looking for someone to take care of her, but terribly incommunicative. She runs away at the first opportunity while still so desperately wanting to make the intimate connection that is too fearful to contemplate.
In “Brick Lane,” a young Bangladeshi woman also wants to make a connection that is too fearful to contemplate. At 17, her father betroths her to a businessman living in London, so she is literally shipped there in fear and trembling. Her fiancé/husband is older, fat, pretentious, patronizing, and distant. They live in a cramped apartment building, and quickly have two children.
The story fast-forwards to the mail-order bride in her early 30s, having learned some English but rarely venturing out of the Bengali barrio, until she meets a young Muslim man who is preaching a fiery revolution at desperate little night meetings. The atmosphere turns even more rancid after 9/11, as all foreigners, and especially Muslims, are held in immediate suspicion. By taking in some sewing, our harried mother of teenagers tries desperately to hang on to her increasingly-Westernized daughters, her increasingly unsuccessful husband, and her increasingly precarious finances from her husband’s impulsive borrowing.
But it’s when she falls into an affair with the Muslim firebrand that she realizes where her real treasure lies. She rejects his fervent pleas for them to run off and make a life together, choosing instead to be the best she can be in the life that she was given. It sounds like a non-momentous decision, compared to say, saving the world. But in a very personal way, she saves herself, as well as those around her whom she loves, and that is all the destiny she needs.
In “Get Smart,” the American secret agents really do save the world, but it’s all a tongue-in-cheek homage to an old television show. Steve Carell does his deadpan, Anne Hathaway her sardonic sultriness, and through their bumbling invincibility they thwart the bad guy’s plot to blow up Los Angeles. The film is cute and witty, funny in a quiet-chuckle kind of way, but nothing really momentous goes on with the characters. Just walk through the explosions and wipe the dust off the still-pressed suit.
For some people, watching real life unfold is the last thing they want to do in the movies. They want to see beautiful people doing extraordinary things. For them, it’s “Get Smart.” For the rest, to “get smart” would be to see the other two instead.
Questions For Discussion:
1) Have you ever felt like one of the invisible people?
2) Have you ever felt lost and overwhelmed? Who helped you? Have you ever helped someone who felt lost and overwhelmed?
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.