What Is Love?

Love has a number of forms. There’s the love of a parent for their child. The love of friends for one another. The love of two people who are committed to each other romantically. The love of a keeper for their dog, cat, or other animal. But all of them, I think, have something in common.

Quite simply, love is the recognition and appreciation of what is beautiful in another. And just so there’s no confusion, what is beautiful in another is not only their form. It includes their actions, feelings, pain, and quirks too. Everything can possess beauty, and when we love something we’re perceiving its beauty.

One of the keys to my spirituality, if not the whole of it, is figuring out how to love everything. I want to love the flowers and the clouds and the birds and the rocks. And I want to love the beautiful celebrity defamed on the cover of the latest tabloid, and I want to love the defamer working at that tabloid. I want to love the victims of crimes, but I also want to wisely love the perpetrator.

When you really love something, when you fully see and appreciate what is beautiful about it, you want to what’s best for it. You want it to never suffer unnecessary harm, you want it to be safe and happy, you want it to get what it wants. In some sense, you want it to be protected.

And these second order out-growths of the pure thing that is love are where people get confused. For times in my life I believed that to love was to worry. That to report to your child that you really were concerned about their safety because you didn’t know where they were or how they were doing was to love them. But it’s not. That worry actually blocks the pure love which is the appreciation of what this person is and thinks is appropriate for them to do.

Don’t get me wrong, to love is to care for. And sometimes to care for is to take action to protect. You don’t care for a criminal by blithely allowing them to continue to commit their crimes. You care for a criminal and protect him from harm by teaching him why in a just society he cannot continue to commit such crimes. You don’t care for a family member prone to self-harm by allowing them to continue to do so. You care for such a person by helping them move beyond the pained psychology that makes them feel that self-harm will solve any of their problems. But you shouldn’t think that those caring actions are the substance of love, they are merely a result of it.

People get tired out by what they think love is. They get bored and frustrated with it. The idea that they could love something they don’t like feels wrong to them. But typically, they’re misunderstanding the substance of love. They’re thinking it’s about something — fealty, commitment, worry, etc — that it’s not.

You can love a lamp. You can love a dirty rug. You can love a dangerous predator. You can love your father. You can love them all — see all that is worthy and good and praiseworthy in them — and still know what they are. Love is not transformational. Love is not a reciprocal relationship. Love is not a conditional state. Love is just the purest expression of appreciation that we know how to talk about.


Review: Gone Baby Gone

Though I’m not in the habit of review relatively recent and well-known movies (that reason is articulated here), Ben Affleck’s directorial debut in Gone Baby Gone was so unexpected that I couldn’t ignore it. I, like the vast majority of people following along, have at times dismissed Mr. Affleck as a talentless hack who got lucky and didn’t deserve his fame. If Gone Baby Gone accomplished nothing else, it put such thoughts to rest in my mind.

Gone Baby Gone is about ugly things, the seedy underbelly of crime and criminality that so many people and films seem drawn to. But what exists in it is something deeper and more textured not only than I expected, but than I thought a crime movie could be.

Where it’s different than other crime movies is this: rather than giving us a clear resolution of justice or injustice triumphant, it asks baldly what justice means? Is it better, the film asks, for a good outcome that comes through unsavory means or a unsavory outcome that comes through righteous means?

And I’d have to argue, honestly, that neither Mystic River nor The Departed–both set in Boston and dealing with a similarly seedy underbelly–was so adept at raising and dealing with such important philosophical issues. Then, perhaps, they weren’t blessed with the skeptical part of my brain constantly asking if or when Mr. Affleck would make an obvious mistake.

The fundamentals of this whole conflict are hard to illuminate without exposing too much, so I’ll do my best to give you the beginning of the plot and leave aside the ending. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is a native of the depressed Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. With his girlfriend, played by Michelle Monaghan, he’s hired to tackle a missing child case. His participation is neither invited nor welcomed by the police, who seem convinced that they knows better how to tackle the case than this renegade private investigator.

But Mr. Kenzie knows his neighborhood and it’s characters better than the police, and he rubs his liaisons the wrong way on that point. Here, I must stop myself from elaborating the rest of the twisting and intricate plot.

I should also offer the warning that I’m a sucker for poetic lines. And the films beginning, a thesis statement of sorts, had me from the first beat. It’s contents:

I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in these things, like it was something they’d accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those. I lived on this block my whole life; most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the cracks and then fell through. This city can be hard. When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. “You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.”

Whether you respect or loathe Mr. Affleck, I must strongly recommend that you make sure to give his directorial debut a try. It’s not an easy or a uplifting film. It’s a questioning one, but these are worthy questions and asked by a well-executed story.

metablogging, review

Non-Review: The Departed

We were about to watch The Departed. “This is a great excuse to review something,” I said to myself. And so that’s what I was going to do.

But when it was over I said to myself, “What am I supposed to write?”

The movie is too recent for it to be socially acceptable to spoil the ending. To do that I would say we have to wait at least two years after theatrical release. And that’s only the special exception that you make for your friend who has to tell you how the movie goes because otherwise you just can’t make her stop talking about it.

But without being able to discuss intimate plot details, all I’ve got is a superficial discussion of the movies “tautness” and how “well-acted” it is. I suppose such reviews don’t feel so awkward and out of place before the majority of the country is convinced that it is a good movie, but afterward they ring hollow.

To use a metaphor not too out of place in the context of this review, it’s as if I’m arriving at the funeral and pronouncing the man dead. There’s already a consensus on this topic, and restating it would give no one any benefit.

Perhaps I could disagree heartily with the consensus. That consensus, to quote Rotten Tomatoes is that:

The Departed is a thoroughly engrossing gangster drama with the gritty authenticity and soupy morality that has infused director Martin Scorcese’s past triumphs. Featuring outstanding work from an excellent cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon, some critics say the film even tops its source material (the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs). The Departed marks a triumphant return to form for Scorsese; it’s his best-reviewed film since GoodFellas.

But to disagree with that is to fundamentally go against my personal opinion. Surely some aspects of that statement are far beyond anything I would think to say on the issue.

The fact that it was an adaptation: completely lost on me. As good as GoodFellas? Been a long time since I saw that one.

But in general I do agree with it. I might add that I was shocked when, at two hours in, I realized I hadn’t realized I was two hours into a 150 minute movie.

Thus, my review comes down to this single sentence. And though this sentence lashes the flourishes or typical reviews, it gets the job done.

And so finally, here is my review: This is good.