The Straight Line (La Ligne Droite)

So named for the challenge of running blind in a straight line, this film (at the Reel Abilities fest) features a young, rich, male runner, recently blinded, who encounters a not rich woman recently out of jail.   They are both hard and angry.  In a totally unbelievable moment, he recognizes her as kin.   He--actually his mother--hires the ex-con to guide him as he learns to run again.  Both are guarded, misunderstood, angry.  They fight, become vulnerable to each other, begin to trust.  The interfering mother interferes.   (Don't forget, when you make a movie about heroes, to include either a dead mother or an interfering mother.)   Love blossoms.  Against all odds, he wins the race.  

I braced against the emotional manipulation, my cynicism reinforced by the titles for the hearing impaired:  [soft inspirational music plays].   But gradually, my resistance weakened.  The final moment.  He says, "It was for you."  She says, "I know."  And I'm sobbing, abandoning Lawrence Carter Long's precept on disability art: No handkerchief necessary, no heroism required!   I roughly wipe my face and prepare for the Q&A with a blind iron-man lawyer, Richard Bernstein.   This is when it really gets ridiculous.  He's talking about the importance of athletics in building leadership qualities.  He's describing what it is like to swim in ice cold water (before the bike and the run), tethered to a guide, while other swimmers accidentally swim into the tether or kick him in the head repeatedly.   The audience is gasping and moaning, taken with this guy who convinces us that people with disabilities are born to be extraordinary.  "Oh, he was truly inspiring!" several exclaim afterwards.  

No, really, he was.  The only problem was that his talk made me so aware of my failure to measure up.   Ever the provocateur, I asked him about anger.  "How does it feel to be dependent?"  One thing I appreciated about The Straight Line was that it did not avoid showing the anger that dependency can elicit.  I wanted to hear him say it.  I put my rage into my running or something like that.  I even tried to lead him there.

But, no.  The answer he gave was that he loves to be touched by friendly strangers.   He experiences the kindest aspects of human nature, he said.   I bet that is really true.  Sitting in the audience before the movie, I was listening to a woman talk about how much she loved to help people.  She was loud.  She wasn't listening to the tourist she was chatting with--a lovely woman from New Zealand who kept trying to say this and that while Madame Helper interrupted with her own story or some more advice.  I almost covered my ears at one point (she was sitting almost directly behind me), and yet Mr. Bernstein said "I love your energy" and later made a big deal about how appreciative he was that this film was playing at the Guggenheim and that people turned out for it.  He commented that things change slowly but certainly, and reminded us that Oliver Wendell Holmes opined not so long ago in favor of sterilizing people with disabilities--or imbeciles as they were called then.  

Richard Bernstein loves to be helped, and he is a leader, a mover, and an inspiration.   I am in awe because I realize that he is right, even though I am hardly capable of manifesting those qualities.  I am built more like Richard the Third, enraged at the unfairness, seeking power to compensate for what I lack in ability.  I pour my conflict into dance, into investigating the question of power and help, into my breath.  I will try, after this encounter, really try, to allow myself to be helped, to experience gratitude, to see these kind aspects of humanity, even if they are wrapped up in self-congratulatory packages.  After all, their defenses are no worse than my cynicism.   We are still all in it together--frail humans looking for love.

February 2012

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