Monday, April 9, 2012

The View from Ridge Hill

The following post was originally slated to be the conclusion of my book Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions. I have since decided to use something else instead. Still, this piece has a shape of it own that may have some appeal. I submit it for your perusal. -JC

One balmy Sunday September afternoon while revising this book, I decide to take a trip to the movies. I want to see the new Brad Pitt flick, Moneyball. I don’t know much about the film, but I’ve always wanted to read the 2003 Michael Lewis book on which it is based, and consider myself a longtime Pitt fan. (Born in 1963, he could plausibly be a subject of one of my chapters, though his still-unfolding career did not get underway until considerably later than that of Jodie Foster, his nearest peer on these pages.) So I’m willing to take a flyer on the movie for what I consider a leisure excursion.
            My oldest son left for college last week, and my wife is coaching my daughter’s soccer game. That leaves my two 12 year-old twin boys, who have reached the point where they can be left home alone. But amid doubts they’d much like Moneyball, I ask them whether they’d like to accompany me.
“What’s it about?” my son Grayson asks.
“It’s about a baseball coach who uses math to win games,” I reply.
“Sounds good,” he says. “I’ll go.”
            “Ryland, do you want to go to the movies?” I shout downstairs to his brother.
            “Yes,” he says.
            This warms my heart. For years, I’ve been taking my kids to the movies—Disney movies, Pixar movies, gimmicky 3-D movies, you name it. Sometimes this is a matter of giving my wife some time off or simply to break the boredom of a summer day or school vacation (I often doze away the middle half-hour of the movie). Other times, it’s a matter of succumbing to the advertising-stoked demand for movies they hear about while watching TV or surfing the Internet. But I take my kids to local multiplexes because movie-going was one of the great pleasures of my childhood, and a ritual I want to pass on to them. I do so mindful that in the post-home video, digital downloading era, the days of theatrical release in theaters may well be numbered, and I want them to have a childhood memory of a routine with their father. So when Ryland tells me he wants to go to the movies—not asking or caring what movie, only that we will be going—I am happy that a love I’ve conveyed has taken root.
            On this particular afternoon, I drive the boys to a newly opened Cinema Du Lux multiplex a couple miles from our home. It’s part of a large new large luxury residential/retail complex known as Ridge Hill, still under construction. After parking on the bottom level of a five-floor lot, we ascend to the theater on top and take our stadium seats, the boys slurping away on a Slushie while the previews roll.
            I like Moneyball. It’s part of an interesting chain of emotionally complex choices Pitt has been making lately—I was arrested by his turn as a conflicted father in his last movie, Terrence Malick’s gorgeous, Spartan, The Tree of Life—and I’m struck while watching how much he looks like Robert Redford as he ages. But the boys, alas, fall fast asleep. “Well there goes $17 bucks,” I lament aloud, nudging them awake as the credits roll. But I am a happy man. I’ve enjoyed the movie, and the boys awaken from their nap with good cheer, basking in the gleaming lobby. Upon leaving the theater we pause before the railing outside and survey the unfinished complex, with its roads, pavilions and buildings almost complete. A departure from the indoor malls that have been a fixture of my youth, this retail mecca has a village feel, albeit one of notably affluent character. A product of growing inequality, its very bustle will be symptomatic of social decay.
            But for the moment, I do not see this space, nestled along a ridge tracked by the interstate, as a hulking ruin. I do not think of coming wars, foolishly launched by politicians hoping they will detract from the ills they’ve promised to address but are powerless to reverse. I do not fear for my childrens’ future or the futility of my attempts to prepare them for challenges I can scarcely imagine. Because, as I say, I am happy. Happy enough that had these thoughts occurred to me, I would respond with others: of unexpected resilience, unforeseen resources, or wisely conserved ones. Of valuable legacies sustained and passed on, refracted through prisms that would delight me were I alive to see them (and delight me even though I am not). Of worlds that are no less real or capacious for merely flickering to life.
            Because here, dear reader, here we are now.