The Straight Line (La Ligne Droite)
Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 9:58AM
Elena Taurke in Crip People, Disability, Healing, Inclusion

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

Update on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 4:30PM by Registered CommenterElena Taurke


"No handkerchief necessary, no heroism required!"

While I reject forced sentimentality and rage against the hackneyed, I recognize there may be no force in the universe greater than earned inspiration. Not the 'cue the violins' kind of manipulation we've sadly come to expect, but rather the spark that compels a person to dance, sing or fall in love. Anything that cracks a person wide open and gives them the strength to be vulnerable is the strongest, purest, truest kind of inspiration there is. How could I, how could anyone, despise that? What you've shared is much more more inspired, much more important than any catch phase. Thank you, Elena. I greatly appreciate the reminder. All best. :)


The Straight Line and the Crooked Line

I was immediately struck by the contrast; anger and cynicism versus being touched by strangers.  I am completely enveloped by the Jeremy Lin Story and see parallels.  Here's a kid from Palo Alto who was not recruited, but after his high school team beat the Los Angeles powerhouse for the State Championship, still no one offered him a scholarship.  Only a few colleges came to him and offered a chance to get on the team as a walk-on.

So, he went to Harvard, and after four years, was not drafted by 30 NBA teams, but made the end of the bench for Golden State, was then cut by the team, picked up and cut by Houston, and now, becomes a national phenom with my beloved Knicks. 

No one noticed him.  Perhaps, in the world of the NBA, being Asian is a disability.  He shouldn't be playing basketball.  Not at this level.  He easily could have went towards cynicism and anger.  But he kept his faith, and overcame obstacles. 

And, how we are all moved by this story.  We all see ourselves as not being this, or not having that, and if only I was...., then it would be ok.  So, we need this story.  We need the story of the straight line.  We need the story of the crooked line as well. We need to be moved by people with their disabilities who use them to teach our minds and touch our souls.  Ultimately, both the cynicism and anger and that passion to challenge are both necessary parts that make us so human.

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