Tuesday, May 27, 2008
On the ship to America
Around a century ago, the place to be for impoverished Europeans was America. And so many of them sold all their belongings to buy tickets to board the ship that would take them there--never mind that stepping on the ship didn't equate to living in America eventually.
Ellis Island in New York was the gateway--which explains why the famed Statue of Liberty turned out to be such an icon. Once you see Lady Liberty, you know you're in America--and if you were one of those going to America for a better life, imagine what the statue would have meant to you.
Which brings to mind one unforgettable movie I saw a few months ago. It's called The Legend of 1900. It's a film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (the film genius behind Cinema Paradiso!). In the film, a genius pianist called 1900 (played by Tim Roth) was born in a ship--one of those that brought Europeans to the States--and practically lived his whole life on the ship, while it went back and forth across the ocean. He didn't have a birth certificate and no records at all--no citizenship, no IDs, none of those tax things we work to submit on time every April...which is why the movie is called a "Legend."
So here was a guy who, in the midst of all that rush and urgency to get from point A to point B, was staying where he was. He stepped out of the ship once, but he went back in not 30 minutes on stable ground. And all his friends, who knew so well he'd make it big in America (because he's a genius pianist), were just shocked.
In one of the last scenes, 1900 tells his best friend Max why he stepped right back in for another voyage the very day he decided to finally leave the ship. 1900 tries to describe the ENORMITY of it all:
Take piano: keys begin, keys end. You know there are 88 of them. Nobody can tell you any different. They are not infinite. You're infinite... And on those keys, the music that you can make... is infinite. I like that. That I can live by...
You rolled out in front of me a keyboard of millions of keys, millions and billions of keys that never end. And that's the truth Max, that they never end. That keyboard is infinite... and if that keyboard is infinite, then on that keyboard there is no music you can play. You're sitting on the wrong bench... That is God's piano.
Christ, did you... did you see the streets, just the streets? There were thousands of them! Then how you do it down there, how do you choose just one... one woman, one house, one landscape to look at, one way to die...? Land? Land is a ship too big for me, it's a woman too beautiful, it's a voyage too long, perfume too strong... [quotes from imdb.com]
Too...emo, perhaps? But true enough, in life, there are so many choices people can make. To choose the right one, one needs some sort of limitation--a way to discriminate bad choices from good. Whether it's morality or religion, discipline or just simple rules, guides simplify our life by narrowing our choices.