15 October 2014

Art and Exploration: Discovering the Weeping Women Within Our Very Own Soldiers

Art is one of few entities possessing the utter capability of pulling us from the problems and fortunes of our lives, tying our hands in order to let us grapple with the alternative perspectives of a diverse people and charging us to actively exert ourselves to mend the misfortunes that we detect within our immediate communities and beyond. Transcending boundaries of geopolitics, socioeconomics, and time, it allows us to connect to the dilemmas and strives of one another, preaching empathy for human beings we’d otherwise never genuinely understand.

Take Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man, for instance. In this film, Eric Lomax, decades after his service in the British Military during World War II spent primarily incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in Singapore, realizes that in order to finally commence his overcoming of a lifelong buildup of hatred and begrudgery, he must leave his wife, Patti, behind as he ventures on a personal journey to the location of his torture, in which his captor, Takashi, maintained him in excruciating pain, chastising him for constructing a radio from spare parts—the only device he owned that bore him hope from the outside world.
Quintessential to Eric is nothing in the film itself, but the decades of inner torment prior to his eventual journey back to Singapore, for Eric, by no means, pursues his captor years later for mere retribution. He regresses to his militaristic temperament because he never abandoned the agony from imprisonment in Singapore; it stays with him until he decides, decades after the completion of World War II, that the moment is ripe for him to wrench the weeds from the soil within the garden of his mind and begin to bask in sunshine once again.

But gardens do not inaugurate as natural beauties. And for the viewers’ embarkation of this treacherous cognitive journey, The Railway Man grabs them, pushing them into a muddy, Singaporean pit in which the only escape routes are through entrenching themselves in bitter empathy for a struggling man who toils in the labyrinth of war, exclusively retaining his steadfast determination from an organization seemingly absent from his life, the British military, or denying the inherent disgust of their dilemma until they resort to their only choice: the former. There is sunshine, though, in this odyssey, and it is ever-present after viewers take their final steps in their climb through the mire before reaching solid ground; for the understanding of a soldier’s haunted perspective, the comprehension that within every figure in war are Pablo Picasso's Weeping Women, regardless of his or her military or civilian status, and the knowledge that, despite one’s potential disagreements with the institution for which any soldier has fought, overwhelms anyone, cornering each and every person into at least a limited respect for the misfortune of one another. And the sunshine of this perspective will always evade any cloud, regardless of geopolitical origin.

Most importantly, the mutual understanding—if not esteem—for one another preached by The Railway Man stands tall within any social dimension, specifically those in which people are most downtrodden. Along with other artworks transmitting emotions from the painful agony of anticipation in Christa Wolf’s Accident: A Day’s News, to the staggering distress of Percy Aldridge Grainger's “Lincolnshire Posy, Movement III: Rufford Park Poachers,” to the dolor in Martha Graham’s “Lamentation,” The Railway Man whispers to all viewers, through the anguish of Eric’s story, the gravity of treating all human life with the omniscient perspective of seeing everyone as an individual, troubled in his or her strives for perfection, as emulated in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol, Movement II: Variazioni (Andante con Moto).”

In the end, The Railway Man preaches human empathy and the passion to utilize it for the betterment of humanity, as, at the end of his visit, Eric wields his once tied-down arms to embrace Takashi, a man who would later transform himself into a lifelong companion of Eric, presently indemnifying Eric and eventually revolutionizing their conflicted psychological histories into a unified sense of global belonging, taking the spare parts of their rapport and forming them into a radio incomparable to any other. And just as Eric acquits Takashi, so may we absolve ourselves from all of our begrudgery. Just as Eric clings to the perpetrator of his abuse in the very canal in which they once drudged, so may we lie down in the gardens of our minds, absorbed in the sights and smells of our lives’ beautiful creations, fully aware that the harsh winter of our lives has passed and the allure of spring is neverending.

Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) walks along the railroad he had labored with his fellow soldiers to build decades prior.
Image Courtesy of Lions Gate Entertainment

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