Monday, February 14, 2011

The Mystery of Happiness

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


  1. Dear Pamela, I think that I have seen all of Mike leigh's films to date, but I have yet to see and am greatly looking forward to 'Another Year', even more so after reading your review. For me, his films are often bitter sweet, so like life, but there is always the spirit of hope running through them. I feel that he is an incredibly talented director and his films are a legacy to the way in which he can capture Life's greatest moments with a minimum of special effects. This does, however, as you say here, mean that his films do not always get the accolades that I certainly feel they deserve.

    Happy Valentine's Day to you and the Songwriter!

  2. Dear Pamela,
    I have been watching Mike Leigh's films since 1977, when I saw Abigail's Party, a play that was on stage first and then made into a film for television.There have followed so many other gems from Mike Leigh including Grown Up's, Career Girls, Vera Drake, Happy Go Lucky, Secrets and Lies (that was filmed near to where we live), and, my absolute favourite Nut's in May. All of his fims are wonderful stories of life and it's up's and downs. Mike Leigh has been recognised in the past and has won BAFTAS and the Golden Palm at Cannes amongst quite a few others. It is a shame that it is usually the big, special effects type of films that get the accolades but, that is all down to money and politics.
    I loved Another Year as much as I have loved all of his films and, I can't wait until his next one.
    Happy, happy Valentine's Day to you and The Songwriter. Do Edward and Apple have a special treat on this day of love ? XXXX

  3. I am looking forward to seeing 'Another Year'
    Your songwriter seems like a romantic. I know one when I read about one. I am also very fortunate to be married to a romantic. It gives the rainy days a silver lining.
    Happy Sweetheart's day to you!

  4. Looks like a great movie! Thanks for the link.

    You're right. That is the perfect Valentines gift. Have a wonderful time!

  5. Looks wonderful... I just checked out the trailer. Looking forward to seeing it, thanks for the tip!
    And have a wonderful Valentine's Day with your songwriter!

  6. I aw the trailer to this and it really looks terrific. I trush your taste on these things Pamela. Have a beautiful Valentine’s Day

  7. Hello Pamela

    Hope you and the Songwriter will have a very special Valentine's Day!

    Tracy :)

  8. I really enjoyed todays' post. I am going to make it a point to watch it. Today is a perfect day for a love story.

  9. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that some people remain defiantly unhappy. I an sure that these feelings of self worth are formed very early in life and are difficult to change.

    Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours.

  10. I too, have pondered how some see the beauty and others dwell on the negatives. And many of us flounder between the two... What a difference it makes when a word is fittly spoken, like apples of gold. We walk away from a conversation feeling uplifted or weighted down... Oh how I want to be one who carries HOPE in her pocket and shares it.

    You do this well Pamela. And I do want to see that movie, thank you!

    ~ Violet

  11. Thank you for an exquisite post, Pamela.

    I share that same bright thread in my DNA,too. My nickname in high school really WAS Pollyanna!

    My twin sister, alas, didn't get that shining thread, and when we talk about our childhoods, it is as if we were from different families.

    Not sure I can see the movie, though. My twin's husband of 25 years was just diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, and right now I'm wishing there might be a silver lining to that very dark cloud.

    Maybe, like the songwriter, I can help her to see the joy in having found each other at all.

  12. I intend to see it when it comes this way Pamela - too many films are about sad things or bad things -

  13. I have loved every single Michael Leigh film I have seen...can't wait to see this one!

    Pollyanna was one of my favorite books as a child...before Haley Mills 60 I still find myself playing the Glad Game...

    Happy Valentine's Day to you and Edward!

  14. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one.
    Thanks for sharing the trailer :) x

  15. Sometimes the small sentences speak the most.....Lovely post Pamela.....xv

  16. A beautiful post, and so true.
    Happy Valentine's Day,

  17. Introducing 'Another Year' to me is the perfect Valentine's Day gift! I have admired his work for years and look forward to sharing this movie with Steve. Thank you for another thoughtful post.
    Happy Valentine's Day to you and your Songwriter.


  18. I saw the trailer recently and know I must catch this one soon!
    Hope you and The Songwriter are enjoying today - I just know it's been a romantic time.

  19. Dear Pamela,
    Love your sentiments about movies and your own life!
    I always learn something, reading your posts!
    I have not heard of this director,perhaps I have seen some of his movies?
    I am going to see...
    Much love on this day to you both!

  20. The movie sounds wonderful, I truly look forward to seeing it, and soon! Your insight into those that see the good and those that don't struck a strong chord as just today I was having a conversation about the exact same topic...those that somehow are unable or unwillng to see the good that surrounds them and choose pessimism over joy, it's quite sad really (and frustrating!), and it completely baffles me.

    Your sweet Songwriter's gift was so touching...words such as these bring love into life.
    Hope you 'all' had a lovely Valentine's Day.
    xo J~

  21. Oh Pamela I'm longing to see this film! I love Mike Leigh films, and had already seen the clips, and even from those your heartstrings are pulsing.

    How wonderful those words of The Songwriter were..better than any diamond!

    Hugs Jane

  22. Beauty by words - you painted another masterpiece with your magic way. I have not seen that movie, but will now.
    Your gift from the Songwriter touched my heart.
    xo Isa

  23. oh I absolutely must see this film.

    I really enjoyed this post - I too often wonder what is it about a person that allows them to see good in the smallest things? You know, we all have our tales to tell of the things in life that have not treated us so kindly, and yet I too can wake up after a period of sadness, see a duck sitting on the jetty waiting for breakfast and be filled with such gladness for life. For beauty. For love.

    Life is beautiful, even when it's not, and I too just feel incredibly lucky to have something in me that allows me to see good.


  24. That was the best movie review done yet Pamela. I guess I always thought how we looked at life was the result of how we were raised. I had never considered that it could be through our DNA. I will be buying a ticket to see this movie, thanks to how you presented the premise of how we obtain happiness.

    I hope you and the song writer had a lovely Valentines Day. What he said to you was worth more than red roses.

  25. This is the best piece of prose I've read in ages.Impressed!

  26. I love this! Really enjoyed reading this and also familiar with Mike Leigh's work, they mimic real life and he is quite talented and maybe because he doesn't buy into the Hollywood bureaucracy he is not the main street kind of director we hear about but he is no doubt gifted to those that do know him. The first film I ever saw of his was a tragic comedy, Life is Sweet.
    With regard to the question of happiness, are we born with the happy gene and do some forever try to attain happiness but is it always just out of reach. I think it has something to do between your DNA and your natural temperament. I am very positive and optimistic and think its reflective of my happy go lucky personality, my desire to see the good in every one and everything. Happiness is vital in my life, just like breathing. For others it is a luxury that they are lucky enough to encounter here and there...for me its what sustains me. I seem happiness whereas some stay back and wait for it to find them. Its an interesting question and I am glad that you too seem to have found it as well as a wonderful love!

  27. I do think that finding your perfect partner is an (unrivalled, perhaps) blessing.

    Funnily enough, my husband and I tried to see Another Year last week at our (small) local theatre. It was brought back on "popular demand," and sadly, it was all sold out. Maybe I should invest in the DVD.

  28. I am SO happy you directed me to this posting I missed, Pamela. Wonderful, wonderful writing. And oh, such a movie!!!!


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