The Mystery of Happiness

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Mystery of Happiness

I am someone who refused to ever again wade into the surf higher than my ankles after seeing the movie Jaws. I designed my winter wedding to echo the one in Camelot. I have wept along with Emma Thompson’s Eleanor in Sense and Sensibility, shuddered at the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings, and swooned over Cary Grant in almost every movie he made. As a little girl, I thought Pollyanna was a real person for the longest time and, even now, I find it a bit difficult to look at Anthony Hopkins, so many years after his Hannibal Lecter ruled the big screen. So yes, I am well aware of the power of film. Movies are fun, and so often are we entertained and transported by their magic, I suppose it’s easy to find ourselves surprised when one comes along constructed with the sort of revelatory wings that can soar high above entertainment to enter the realms of art - art capable of illuminating and, perhaps, even redeeming, the human spirit. Director Mike Leigh seems to make these kinds of movies and his latest offering, Another Year, could well be his greatest example.

Compassionate, yet unflinching, Another Year, is a cinematic contemplation on the nature of happiness. It follows a long-married and still in love couple through four seasons of their quotidian life as they cook dinners, tend their allotment garden, snuggle, go to work and entertain friends, all the while enveloped in the quiet folds of obvious contentment. This contentment, this happiness, shines ever more brightly in comparison with the lonely, emotionally impaired lives of some of their friends and we are left with questions to ponder. How is happiness attained, really? It’s obviously important, here in the states our constitution declares its pursuit to be an “unalienable right”. But is it achieved through choice, or genetics?
No doubt, our choices are vital, for we all do reap what we sow, even though the sharpness of that truth is often hidden from us until later in life. But I have those of my acquaintance, as no doubt many of you do as well, who remain rather defiantly unhappy in spite of the good that flows all around them. Quick to point out the cloud that floats inside each silver lining, they hold so tightly to their pessimism that their gloom eventually defines them - they wouldn’t be comfortable without it.

I consider myself fortunate, for I was born with a tendency to see good. My eye seems to spot beauty just about everywhere and I hope I can always recognize what really matters. I take absolutely no credit for this way of seeing the world but this movie made me wonder - is it a bright thread woven in my DNA, or is it something I, perhaps unconsciously, choose?

Films such as Another Year are often overlooked, due, no doubt, to their lack of the sort of bells and whistles known to tickle the ears of the 21st century audience. But it would be a shame to miss this movie, for its gentle revelations place a small crack in the window of our own mysterious humanness and we catch a glimpse of our universal similarities - our pain, our kindness, our tolerance, our grief.
And we leave with questions.
Questions worth pondering.
And after the movie, later that night, The Songwriter was gazing off in the distance with a faraway look, which is not an unusual thing. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he replied, “I’m just so glad we found each other”.
One sentence.
The perfect Valentine gift.

Click to see the trailer for Another Year