Not quite “the last lecture”: Lessons learned from life and film

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October 6, 2008

I approached this column believing that after 60 years I, like the eloquent Oprah-hero Randy Pausch, might have something useful to impart. However, all that emerged for me were: (1) Your first love is like your first kidney stone -you’ll never forget it (and they both may feel better after they pass); (2) You might consider canceling your first few engagements before committing to marriage (if I had known at 23 what I finally learned by 39.); (3) Don’t get distracted in your lectures and writings with too many parenthetical asides. (Oops! That should be #1).

Then I remembered that when I was about to turn 40, just before I came to Mills, I decided to examine my life’s lessons in a video essay, “Ten Things You Should Be Told at Birth,” based on experiences (cynical as they might be) presented as title slides illustrated with film clips.

I don’t know that I could improve on them now, so I’ll just repeat them for whatever value you might find:

ÿ1. Life Is Not Always Fair – The Purple Rose of Cairo: Celia abandons her abusive husband only to find that the Hollywood actor who promised love and wealth is long gone from her bleak little town.

ÿ2. Love Is Not Always Eternal – West Side Story: Tony is shot, leaving a heartbroken Maria, even as the rival gangs finally unite far too late.

ÿ3. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Citizen Kane: Bernstein remembers a girl from long ago; Kane, solemn at the end, when second wife Susan departs.

ÿ4. There’s No Guarantee You Can Trust Anyone – On the Waterfront: Terry and Charlie share the fatal “I coulda been a contenda . instead of a bum” cab ride.

ÿ5. Economics, Not Politics or Ideas, Govern the World -Network: newsman/prophet Howard Beale is cut down to size by CEO Mr. Jenkins.

ÿ6. Everything Is Relative – Annie Hall: “. the horrible and the miserable,” “It’s all over too quickly,” and “. sex three times a week.” See it if you need to because the explanations take too long.

ÿ7. Don’t Take Anything Too Seriously . Most of Life is Absurd – Modern Times: Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp goes nuts after being run through a conveyer belt.

8. The Best Things in Life Are the Pleasant Surprises -Star Wars, Episode 6: Return of the Jedi: Darth Vader turns against The Emperor to save son Luke.

ÿ9. Don’t Worry About the Future . Ultimately You’ll Be Too Dead to Care – Dr. Strangelove: the insane war room scene just prior to Earth’s destruction.

ÿ10. Some Things Will Always Be a Mystery – 2001: A Space Odyssey: Kubrick again, as the evolution of our species occurs in a strange transformation.

ÿIn addition to these thoughts, check out the “wisdom” of older professor characters in Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Visitor, and Elegy. It’s an interesting spectrum of how we’re perceived by Hollywood.


Not quite “the last lecture”: Lessons learned from life and film was published on October 6, 2008 in Opinions

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