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Sunday, November 19, 2000

After the disenchantment I felt with the two movies I watched yesterday, I was prepared to like You Can Count On Me, which Mom and I saw at the Rialto today. Have I mentioned (often enough) that I like quirky character studies? And that I have no use for a film that doesn't have characters I want to spend time with?

Well, I did like this movie. It explores the complex relationship between a brother and sister, and how the family ties that bind us together can also make us place burdens on each other and disappoint each other. The people we know the most intimately are not only the ones whose flaws are most evident to us, but they're also the ones whose flaws we find ways to overlook, or at least deal with, and forgive.

The problem with viewing art as a guide to life is that in a film you know what's important to know about someone, because everything you're allowed to see — every shrug, every hesitation, every arched brow — is important. And it's all there to see without looking for it, in the lighting of a scene or the swelling of the music score.

As complex as the characters in a movie can be, they're not the whole package. All the complications of real life can be assumed by the actors and the audience, but what's portrayed on the screen mostly skims the surface, plumbing the depths only when it advances the story.

A novel can take you inside a character's head and show you the muddle of roiling motivations that keep a person going through life. At the same time it can show you how much there is you can never fully comprehend about people you think you know (let alone every stranger you see on the street, and the billions you'll never have a chance to meet).

With our prejudices and labels and snap judgments, it's almost a necessary temptation to turn the people in our lives into dust jacket blurbs or movie trailers. We can never know more than abridged versions of one another, formatted to fit your screen. But that doesn't give us an excuse to objectify people.

I'm thankful for my family and the few friends I've had that have gotten close enough to show me more of who they are, and to know more of me, than any of us reveal to the world at large. There's a lot of what goes on inside a person's head that no one else can ever know. But just realizing it's there, however unknowable, should be enough to make that person seem real and valuable.

The more widely we can apply this concept, the easier it is to accommodate our differences. That's not just how family works, but also how society works.

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