I love writing these blogs about my favorite stories. I get to watch them again and live in them again. A good movie inspires my soul. I hope that you decided to watch the movie again and that it was a richer experience for you.
But I'd like to share some of that richer experience. What did you think about the movie? I'd love to hear back in the comment section. These are our archetypal stories -- like the ancient myths, they tell timeless stories. How did it, or maybe it didn't, affect you?
So please, make a comment and let's see what all of us story-lovers have to say. What experiences or insights did the story guide you to?
After I saw Milagro Beanfield War, we had a water issue come up in the town I lived in. Having that story as a guide, I decided to do two things: (1) write a movie about saving the water in our community--very different from Milagro Beanfield War but using the archetype of community to solve problems and (2) I became a community activist.
The kind of stories we tell ourselves are so important.
So once again - please share!
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Emerging Archetypal Themes:
Aquarius, Community & “Milagro Beanfield War”
WATER! What would we do without it? Our human bodies are comprised of 80% water. Without water, we die. When there is no water, the land dries out and turns into a desert. When there is no water (feelings) flowing between people, we are left to stand alone in the face of the vastness of the universe. The truth is, WATER IS LIFE!
Like the Wasteland of the Arthurian legends, our civilization has created a wasteland—both externally and internally. With the central pillar of our society the accumulation of profit coupled with rugged individualism, we have allowed the Earth to be raped and pillaged and the waters and air to be poisoned. At the same time, patriarchy has relegated our feeling life to irrelevancy, denying the truths of the heart. With profit as the main goal, we are too easily caught up in the old Protestant ethic: if you are rich, God loves you. If you are poor, you are a sinner. This religious belief, coupled with capitalism, creates an inner wasteland of hopelessness and fear of death.
So despite our external riches, our inner life suffers. People aren’t built to survive in the wasteland. Our souls need something more than money to make life worthwhile, otherwise we fall into depression, anxiety, fear and anger. That’s why the wasteland can only be healed by the Holy Grail, the watery feminine aspects of life, love and community.
What does this gift of water have to do with the fixed air sign of Aquarius? Called the sign of the Water-Bearer, the constellation of Aquarius is most often imagined as the figure of a man pouring water from a jar. The ancients imagined that this whole section of the night sky was a great celestial sea: Aquarius is surrounded by the constellations of the Whale, the Fishes, the Dolphin and Eridanus—the River Po. For when the Sun passes through the sign of Aquarius, it heralds the rainy season in these ancient lands. The symbol for Aquarius, two wavy lines ≈≈, seems to represent undulating lines of water.
But the astrological sign of Aquarius is considered a fixed air sign, representing rational intelligence and social interaction. Aquarius is more concerned with Ideals than feelings—the awakening of the Mind and its vast potentials, as well as the urge for true freedom. The brilliance of the Aquarian mind seems to reflect the working of the Cosmic Mind. That’s why Aquarius is so often related to the Archetypal world. Carl Jung saw the coming Age of Aquarius as an age when the archetypes are lived consciously by humanity. If this is the truth behind the image of the Water-Bearer, than we can say he is pouring out the watery contents of the collective unconscious for us to access.
Aquarius calls us to stand up for our ideals. And it does this through community. When we band together, we create a stronger energy than when we stand alone. The water of our feeling life connects us to each other and to our ideals. That’s why the symbol of Arthur’s Round Table is so apt for this sign. We are called to become a community of equals.
The Milagro Beanfield War
Robert Redford’s 1988 movie, The Milagro Beanfield War, is a poignant reminder of what we have to lose if we continue to allow profit and consumerism to displace family, community and our connection to the Earth. The movie is delightfully enchanting without being preachy, with characters you care about, music that fills your heart and images of both the beauty of the nature as well as the ugliness and ruin our modern life-style leaves behind. It is magical-realism at its best. And it certainly exemplifies the Aquarian ideal of the strength of community to combat even the biggest Goliaths.
The movie is multi-layered, thanks to John Nichols’ novel and screenplay. On the outer level, it’s a story of the conflict between a poor Hispanic town and the powerful land-developer who wants to turn the surrounding land into a high-class resort. On a more personal level, it’s about a young man’s inability to find work in his own community and how the very lack of real community makes this takeover of the land possible. It’s a story of passionate beliefs and surprising accidents which lead to the return of water in their lives. But the deepest level of this story deals with belief. It’s about belief in the powers of the unseen spiritual realities, belief in our ability to overcome tyranny, and belief in the power of community.
The star of the movie for me was the character of Amarante, exquisitely embodied by Carlos Riquelme. Along with his Coyote Angel sidekick, a tricksterish Robert Carricart, they play off each other to perfection as the old wise man and his guardian spirit. They stand for what is good and solid in life and so can see the bigger picture taking shape around them. They know what needs to happen if they’re to save the village. And these two old coots do it! Along with a little help from their friends.
Redford evokes an enchanting atmosphere from the very first frame. The desert at sunset—at its best. The Full Moon infusing the scene with magic and mystery. A strange wind comes blowing through the night, carrying with it a haunting song, which grows into a joyous shout, swirling up dust and dancing along the hillsides. There is the Trickster, playing his flute and dancing with the wind. ‘Til dawn. It’s a new day.
Our Coyote Angle is on a mission, to wake Amarante up to the dangers facing his community. Amarante is the oldest man in the village and talks with angels and the dead. He is open to the Unseen Real and so is the perfect person to listen to the call of Wisdom.
Old Coyote tells Amarante the truth: It’s your town that’s dying. Amarante treats him as the nuisance he is because of course the first time we recognize a deep truth we don’t want to hear it. It will disturb our routines.
Next we get to meet all the townspeople of Milagro (meaning Miracle), who are unique and delightful. There’s Ruby (Sonia Braga), the town mechanic and passionate energy behind renewal whose motto is, ‘Let’s get to work’. There’s Bernie (Ruben Blades) the local law officer, mediator and peace-maker of the village, who’s open to the Unseen Real himself and senses a change coming with the wind. We have forest rangers, and the old men’s brigade, local characters and Shorty (James Gammon), Devine’s gruff but kind overseer and Flossie Devine (Melanie Griffith), relegated to the role of dumb blond with a heart-of-gold wife. Not only is this story about community, it also creates community with these unique characters.
Then we finally get to meet our hero Joe Mondragon—perhaps the new Pendragon? Joe (Chick Vennera) and Nancy (Julie Carmon) Mondragon are poor, still in love and have 3 kids. Joe can’t get construction work with the new resort going up (Miracle Valley) and in his frustration and righteous anger, he kicks open the water gate by his father’s old bean field. The bean field has gone dry and brittle because the town’s water rights have been taken away—and the water diverted for use at Mr. Devine’s resort.
Joe is the only hold-out on selling his land to Devine, but out of work with a family to support, he’s now considering it. Old Amarante lives across from the bean field and seeing Joe there, begins to describe how beautiful the field used to be when his father worked it. As Joe allows himself to see the beauty of his home and the water sinking into the land once again, his anger turns to determination. He’s going to let the waters flow and plant his family’s bean field again.
Amarante heads into town to casually mention that Joe is watering his bean field. The news quickly spreads through town, causing consternation, curiosity and excitement. Ruby rushes over to the bean field and joyfully acknowledges that she always knew Joe had some greatness in him. Soon the whole town comes to watch as Joe plants his beans. The town’s energy is shifting, spiraling around the running water and the bean field.
As the news spreads to Mr. Devine, the inevitable conflict starts to take shape between the rich land-developer and the poor farmer. But first, we need more characters to help Amarante and Coyote carry the story forward. We’ve seen the waters of feeling come back into play. Now we need the head to follow suit, because we need to unite our heads and heart in order to overcome tyranny.
First there’s Charlie Bloom (John Heard), a burnt-out, retired hippie lawyer—big time progressive lawyer and crusader of lost causes—whom Ruby tricks into helping explain exactly how hurtful the resort will be for the townspeople. And then there’s Herb, an Eastern graduate student come to study indigenous people in the Southwest. His eager openness to experience is coupled with an innocence that is endearing. His journey at Milagro grounds him in his body and leads him to a belief in the power of Spirit. Herb becomes fascinated with Amarante, who prays to saints, especially to St. Jude, Patron of Lost Causes. His love for Amarante opens his mind to the power of archetypal energies. I’m happy to say both of these intellectuals do learn to think with their hearts!
And then of course there’s the villain—over and above Mr. Devine (Richard Bradford), the developer. It’s Christopher Walken as Kyril Montana, and as old Coyote tells Amarante, ‘the bogeyman just came to town’. Need I say more? He is the brains behind various schemes to stop Joe. In his marvelous way, Mr. Walken continues to portray the male repression of feelings which comes out as violence.
As Montana strategizes ways to stop Joe and Bloom from rallying the townspeople, Coyote Angel tells Amarante, ‘you’re gonna need a big sacrifice here’. The idea of sacrifice—to make sacred—is important to remember as we work to change our world. Yes, it does involve sacrifice—sometimes even a death. This wonderful story reminds us that if we stand for our ideals and aren’t afraid to embrace the sacrifice—of time, energy, vision, death—we end up succeeding.
This marvelous movie speaks to all of us who want to change the way the world works. As Ruby says, “What good is a hometown when everyone you know is gone”. Aquarius speaks to our need for community. And it also speaks to the need to open up to the archetypal forces of Spirit. As Amarante explains to Herb, “People have forgotten how to talk with angels, who have time to spare.” The Milagro Beanfield War reminds us of the important things in life.
Mr. Redford is a well-known environmentalist, a true Bard in the old sense—the storyteller and wisdom keeper of the tribe that has a responsibility to comment on the welfare of his people. The Milagro Beanfield War is Mr. Redford’s love-song to the Earth and to the beauty of the human spirit. It’s a moveable feast of sensual delights, feeding our ears, our eyes, our hearts and our spirits. I think this is his best film.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
January is often a dark, depressing month. It doesn’t have the anticipation of December or the hope of February. January is also when we’re deep in Capricorn’s territory. Just remember that the old sea goat enjoys both the high snowy mountains and cold, dark depths of the ocean.
There are many themes associated with Capricorn. The sign of Capricorn symbolizes worldly power and our collective structures: government, finance, law, education, the environment, corporations. I thought about finding a movie that fit those themes, and the list is extensive when it comes to Capricorn’s shadow side: “ambitious, materialist, power hungry. . . . Calculating, manipulative, quick to exploit any weakness…the epitome of slick, insidious opportunism.” (Steven Forrest, The Inner Sky, p.81) Network, Wall Street, and Erin Brockovich are all find examples of Capricorn’s shadow. Or just look at what’s going on in our society, especially since Pluto entered Capricorn in late 2008, exposing the corruption in our social system. There are great documentaries made in the past five years about the negative impacts of our social system, from food to fracking to waste and water.
The deeper truth of Capricorn is that it represents our inner freedom to act according to our own nature and contribute that nature to our society. In the East, it’s called Dharma. “Dharma is to cultivate the knowledge and practice of laws and principles that hold together the fabric of reality, natural phenomena and personality of human beings in dynamic interdependence and harmony. “ (Wikipedia) When our inner life and our personal values shine through our public life, we achieve Capricorn’s goal. Capricorn is where our destiny shines.
But for us to accomplish our destiny, we need good role models. And the most important role models are our parents. So I decided to look at another aspect of Capricorn we often neglect to mention. Just as Cancer symbolizes the Archetypal Mother, Capricorn is the sign of the Archetypal Father. Just as the “archetypal Mother is the matrix—the form into which we pour our experiences, the archetypal Father represents the dynamism of the archetypal, for the archetype consists of both form and energy.” (C.G. Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, p. 101-102) Mother and feminine consciousness comprise our being, while Father and masculine consciousness make up our doing.
Like the Tarot card of the Emperor, the Father archetype stands for law, order, authority and the world beyond the home. The Father stands for the rules of our society, the structures that support our community. He is responsible for teaching his children to respect and obey the rules of his society so that they can take their place in the world. Under patriarchy, the Father rules supreme. In many societies, it’s his ‘way or the highway’. The rules are what’s important, not the individual emotional body (the Mother, feminine consciousness). At his best, the father serves as the bridge between home and society, and the self and our life purpose. Instead of telling his children what they CAN’T do, a great father finds out what his child needs to do and helps him/her to do it.
As fathers go, one of my film favorites is Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a sense of strength and morality that shines through his role. But the film that really expresses for me what the great father can do to help his children is the film Fly Away Home.
Fly Away Home
The 1996 movie, Fly Away Home, is a gem of a movie. Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin play Tom and Amy Alden, an estranged father and daughter who are reunited after many years when Amy’s mother dies in a car crash. It’s a wonderful story about how our kids teach their parents to grow up.
The movie begins in the rain. Anna and her mother are driving home together in New Zealand, and we can see how connected they are as they laugh and discuss their day. And then suddenly, the car is forced off the road. Anna wakes up in the hospital with her father by her side, come to take her back to Canada now that her mother has died. Tom tells Amy, “I’ve come to take you home.”
Neither Tom nor Anna know what to do with each other. Tom is an artist, a metal sculptor, and a bit of a rebel. He tells Amy ‘I’m going to be busy. I have a lot of work to catch up on.’ Her answer is, ‘ I’m not a baby. You don’t have to hold my hand.’ They are definitely prickly with each other. Anna retreats into herself, not wanting to be there at all.
Tom seems to be one of those men who never grew up, what Jung would call a puer. He’s constantly trying to fly with his own home-made wings. The first morning in Canada, Amy wakes up and watches her father’s attempt to fly, which ends with him crashing in the field. As Amy watches, he slowly gets up and starts laughing like a lunatic, without any thought for how Amy might feel seeing her only living relative crash and perhaps die.
Jung spoke about the Puer aeternus, which is Latin for eternal boy. In Greek and Roman mythology, the term designates a child-god who is forever young. Psychologically, a man who is a puer typically leads a provisional life, fearing to be caught in a situation where he might not be able to escape, such as marriage or a regular job. He covets his independence and freedom and tends to find any restriction intolerable. He chafes at boundaries and limits because his emotional life has remained at an adolescent level. We would say he had a Peter Pan complex. He loves to fly.
I think Tom has a bit of the puer in him as most of the baby boomers do who seem determined to act young until they die. But he makes a successful landing when his daughter comes to live with him. He begins to grow up and take responsibility, even though he doesn’t know how. He’s one of those self-centered artists, living alone although his lover Susan comes and goes in his life. He later admits to Amy, when she asks him why he rarely came to visit her, that he was afraid and angry for letting her mom and her go, and besides, New Zealand is far away. He was an absent father because he couldn’t find the father within himself. But now with Amy living with him, things start to change.
As a puer, the idealist and rebel in Tom has been focused on his concern for the environment. His love of the land is one of the things that ties him down to Earth. There is a developer who illegally tries to bulldoze some land near Tom. While Tom and Susan hurry off to a Town Council meeting to protest the project, Amy wanders the land. She comes to where they’ve bulldozed the trees and discovers an abandoned nest with eggs. She takes the eggs back to the barn in her old ‘snuggly’ and hides them in a drawer, wrapped in her mother’s old scarfs that she discovers in the barn along with her baby carrier. Unbeknownst to Amy, in saving the eggs, she begins to reclaim her mom.
Soon all the eggs hatch, and Amy discovers that she’s become mother to a flock of Canadian geese!
Geese are interesting. They attach themselves to the first moving thing they see. If the mother or father goose is not there, they bond with whoever is. And so Amy becomes their surrogate mother.
Symbolically, geese are found in a number of fairy tales, such as The Goose Girl and The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. There is something magical about them. They were sacred to the Roman goddess Juno, goddess of marriage. Perhaps you remember the Mother Goose Tales? Stories and imagination seem to be part of their mythology. And their migration patterns gives them a solar aspect (the golden egg), disappearing south in the autumn and returning north in the spring.
Even more interesting is the fact that in Celtic lore, the goose symbolizes parenthood and the responsibilities of raising a family. Geese mate for life and both parents raise their young. The geese perfectly symbolize the lesson Tom is learning about being a father. It is by example that they teach their young how to migrate south; it is by example that we teach our children to succeed.
As Amy becomes more and more connected with her geese, Tom begins to take more of an interest in Amy. And as Amy begins to mother the geese, she influences Tom, her uncle David, Susan and even Tom’s flying buddy, Barry. Her mothering changes the whole feeling of the household. You can see the love growing.
Here is where Tom develops into a great dad. Realizing that the geese won’t be able to migrate without their help, Tom and his friends devise a plan to lead the geese south in a small plane they build. When Amy wants to keep the geese with her in the barn all winter, Tom asks her if she thinks that’s fair for the geese. They were made to migrate and be free. And so he offers to lead them south. But when they keep following after Amy, Tom realizes that she’s going to have to do it. He respects her enough to give her the opportunity to spread her wings and help these birds that she loves. He’ll build two planes to fly with her as she leads her geese south.
Meanwhile, the local animal officer, while speaking out on behalf of the wildlife in the area that was bulldozed, is too ready to obey a set of rules that would imprison the geese instead of setting them free. Just before Tom and Amy plan to lead the geese to a bird sanctuary in North Carolina, he steals them from the farm. And so they steal them back and head out on their journey.
As they fly south, they are forced to land at an air force base, then fly over open water and even through a foggy city. It isn’t a surprise that the media picks up the story. People know they’re flying south and watch for them to fly overhead. At the bird sanctuary, people gather to await their arrival, while a developer also waits to bulldoze the area if no birds make their home there by November 1. That’s one of the reasons for bringing the flock south—to save the sanctuary. Just before they get there, Tom’s plane goes down in a field and Amy has to fly the geese there alone. When she tells him that she can’t find her way without him, Tom says he knows she can do it. She’s strong and brave like her mom.
So Amy and the geese arrive just at sunset and save the sanctuary. Her geese know how to migrate and they have a home. And now so does she.
Fly Away Home is a beautiful movie about how a father can help his child follow her vision and her bliss. As more and more fathers take a bigger role in raising their children, I can only hope that they remember that their job is not only to protect and provide for their families, but also to guide their children as they make their way in the world.
From the Bard’s Grove,