1

The Naked and The Dead

Today, I went to the bank, ate a lot of cheese crackers, and went out to have a guy’s night with Shlomo at the movies. The Wisconsin Film Festival is in town, so we headed over to Hilldale to catch the only Israeli film in this year’s festival: The Farewell Party, a 2014 film directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, starring Ze’ev Revach, Levana Finkelstein, Aliza Rosen, Raffi Tavor, and Ilan Dar.

So long, farewell…

 

The film is a black comedy, dealing with aging and machine-assisted suicide, taking place in a Jerusalem retirement home. At the outset of the film, Yana (Aliza Rosen) calls upon her friend Yechezkel (Ze’ev Revach), a machinist and inventor, for a way to put her husband, Max – who is very old and very ill – out of his misery. A mutual friend, Rafi (Raffi Tavor) introduces Yechezkel to someone who can help: his lover Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), a veterinarian who has experience with sedatives and putting animals to sleep. Though initially apprehensive, Dr. Daniel eventually describes to Yechezkel the type of machine he’d need, and Yechezkel sets about to make it, a machine where pressing a button will administer a lethal dose of drugs. Yechezkel’s ladylike but dementia-suffering wife Levana (Levana Finkelstein, in a stunning performance), discovers the plans and almost blows their cover, but eventually acquiesces and becomes the fifth member of this unlikely death squad. Together, they videotape Max soberly acknowledging that this is how he wants to die, and presses the button, killing himself. To trick the nurses, Dr. Daniel briefly hooks up Rafi to Max’s heart monitor while waiting for him to flatline, and then replaces it and leaves with the rest of the group. They think that this is the end, but at Max’s funeral, a man called Dubek approaches Yana, telling her that he knows what happened (though not how) and begs for her to do the same for his ailing wife, Clara. After stalking the group at their retirement home, they acquiesce (all but Levana, who has become too emotionally fragile), and they do the same as they did to Max for Clara, who is in much better shape than they thought but presses the button anyway. Then there’s a weird musical interlude.

Meanwhile, Levana, who is frequently left alone, exhibits even more signs of dementia, doing things like putting her purse in the freezer, leaving the house with cookies burning in the oven, and eating pizza out of a garbage can. Levana and Yechezkel’s daughter, Noa, urges them to place Levana in a home for elderly dementia patients, but Yechezkel shuts her down, stubbornly refusing to see the signs of Levana’s illness until one day when Levana shows up for lunch in the nursing home dining hall completely naked. Upon returning back to her room with Yechezkel and Yana, Levana becomes hysterical, crying that she needs to be put in the home. Yechezkel then hatches a plan, taking Levana down to the nursing home’s greenhouse that night, where Yana, Rafi, and Dr. Daniel are all naked and smoking marijuana. The two join in the fun until they are caught by a security guard and warned by a social worker, who recommends that Levana go into the home for the mentally disabled.

The group unites again (sans Levana, and Yechezkel, who is taking care of her) to head to a kibbutz to use the suicide machine on their 89-year-old friend Zelda. As soon as Zelda presses the button, a fuse blows and the machine dies. Rafi calls Yechezkel to come and fix it, but since he’s promised Noa that he won’t leave Levana alone, he takes her with him to the kibbutz where once again, the machine blows a fuse when Zelda presses the button. Then after a choir sings outside Zelda’s window, she briefly reconsiders her decision before pressing the button a third time, again blowing a fuse.

We then cut to the parking lot, where we learn that the machine didn’t work and Zelda changed her mind anyway. Zelda’s brother runs out to the group in the parking lot, saying that 5000 shekel has gone missing from Zelda’s money, and though the group thinks Levana accidentally took it, Rafi is revealed to having taken it, as well as money from Max and from Clara. A furious Yechezkel wrestles Rafi to the ground, injuring himself in the process.

Soon after, Levana and Yechezkel visit the home that Noa and the social worker suggested, but find it to be a sterile environment where everyone is a vegetable. Levana reveals that this is all too much for her, and she tells Yechezkel she wants to be the machine’s next victim. Yana tells Yechezkel that he should let his wife die in dignity, with the machine. Furious, Yechezkel destroys the machine.

Later, Yechezkel leaves Levana alone for a short time while he goes and discusses what has happened with the other three, returning to discover her in bed, unconscious. The group rushes her to the hospital, where she is revived but reveals that she purposely overdosed in an attempt to kill herself. Yechezkel suddenly sees how much his wife is suffering, and builds a new machine. In the closing scene, the group stands around Levana’s bed as she apologizes to Noa and tells her not to be angry with her father, and that she is deciding herself to die with dignity. The camera then zooms in on her as Yechezkel leans over for a last kiss and her finger presses then button and the film ends.

Shlomo and I had vastly different perspectives on the film. I mean, we saw the same points, but I saw more of the comic elements than he did. I guess I just took the movie at face value. True, the story is incredibly depressing, but the idea of a bunch of old people inventing a machine to kill people, going around and doing it, and getting naked and high along the way kind of made it feel like a screwball comedy for the geriatric. At some points, I was the one doing the dying, dying laughing, that is; Zelda’s three failed attempts at activating the machine and her comments after the room went dark, Levana putting her purse in the freezer, and of course, the naked greenhouse scene, which was actually kind of sweet, knowing that Yechezkel orchestrated it so that his wife would feel less awkward about the whole naked-lunch thing.

As I said earlier, Levana Finkelstein’s portrayal of Levana was absolutely stunning; she really wowed me with her spiral into madness. Ze’ev Revach as protagonist Yechezkel and Aliza Rosen’s tough-as-nails Yana were also fun to watch, and the playful relationship between the two widows (well, one at the beginning of the film and one at the very end) made Levana’s character all the more interesting. In terms of production values, some great camera work and excellent use of color, with whites and hospital-like pastel blues and greens contrasting with the dark shadows that the characters always seemed to be in, as if their wrinkles were intended to be accentuated at every turn.

I don’t have too much criticism for the film, even though I saw what was coming at the end. Oh, and the opening credits went on way too long, as well as the opening bit with Zelda and Yechezkel on the phone. Overall, it had a good mix of moments that were humorous and moments that were heartbreaking.

It gets four stars from me.

And I think I ate about a hundred cheese crackers as I wrote this.

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13

I Won’t Back Down

Sometimes, you have moments where life just stops you in your tracks, and I had one today.

Recently, I’ve been worrying and fretting and just being a fearful, nervous wreck about so much – school, the show, dancing, my self-image – that I just lost sight of reality, the here-and-now. This morning, I got out of bed at 11 AM, finding every excuse I could to not do anything but stay in my warm cocoon of blankets.

When I did get up, I went over to my computer, logged on Facebook, to be met with some unfortunate news; the death of my friend and fraternity brother, Brendan Conway.

I normally don’t give out real first and last names of people in my life here on That’s So Jacob, but I feel like I must salute this friend and gentleman. A strong Irishman from Dorchester, Massachusetts who could drink you under the table, he had beaten cancer once, and we all thought he’d beat it again. I knew he was in trouble, however, when he posted on Facebook a few weeks ago that he was back in the hospital, at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, and the doctors were saying “we’re trying to make you as comfortable as possible.” That is never a good sign. And then late last night, it happened; his 32 years on this Earth came to an end. I only hope it was truly peaceful, as peaceful as is humanly possible for an individual with debilitating cancer.

My first instinct was to call Dan. Dan, my grandbig, was Brendan’s big when he pledged APO, and I knew that the two of them were close. After a rapid fire texting session while I was on my way to Modern Indian Theatre class, I told him to call anytime to talk, and he said he would later on tonight. When he called I was in dance class, but as soon as class let out I grabbed my sweatshirt and phone, and we talked for over an hour, mostly about Brendan and all the good times we had with him. It’s always sad when something like this is what makes people crawl out of the woodwork and reconnect with one another, but at least we had plenty of happy memories to laugh about, which made the fact that he is no longer with us seem more palatable, and in a way, almost made it seem like he still was with us. Someone who was as boisterous and opinionated and upfront as Brendan never really dies, I suppose; his body and soul are no longer with us, but his spirit certainly is. He told it like it was, but for a big guy, he had a big heart, a servant’s heart, one that was loyal and true and really cared deeply about his friends, more than he cared about himself.

I talked about one aspect of my undergrad APO experience awhile back, one that was not the most positive memory, but talking with Dan made me realize something about Brendan, about friendship, and about people in general. A lot of the people who gave me a hard time also gave Brendan a hard time, and some of the more “Popular Patty” types in the chapter were less than kind to him because was unique and he did things or said things that were very honest and not always the best choices, and they didn’t even attempt to get close to him or even give him the time of day. For those of us who got to know him – we loved the guy. Honestly. Once you got to know him and understand his sense of humor, he was the perfect big brother/frat bro/drinking buddy who was always up for a party and a beer but was very compassionate, reverent, and gentle in private. For those in the chapter who didn’t get to experience those sides of Brendan, they missed out. And I’m talking about a big time missed opportunity, an opportunity to really get to experience a different kind of friendship. A Brendan Conway doesn’t come along every day. I wouldn’t say that I feel sorry for them, because I don’t, that was their choice. But if anyone asks, they just really missed out, and now his true friends and brothers, like me and Dan, get to laugh and revel in the happy and fond memories while they…well, they don’t.

So they’re really the losers here.

I like that.

But back to Brendan. One of the things I liked about him the most (and I took advantage of the most) was his game face. Being 100% Irish Catholic, he never backed down from a dare. It’s like it was coded in his DNA or something; just a complete inability to say no, no matter how ridiculous. Whenever a bunch of us from the chapter would go out to eat, I would find the grossest sounding item on the menu and dare Brendan to order it. And to my surprise, he always, always did. One time, at Panda East in Amherst, I found “sushi nachos” on the menu. I said the magic words, “I dare you,” and he actually followed through. When the waitress brought over a roll of mushy fish slathered with orange cheese, I couldn’t do anything but laugh and feel sorry for making Brendan order this failed fusion that barely qualified as food. He didn’t have to take the dare, but he’s Brendan, so no harm, no foul, all in good fun. He never backed down from any dare or any challenge in life, and I can say with confidence that he went down fighting with all he had.

This song’s for you, Brendan Conway (6/22/1982 – 3/23/2015).

Miss ya like a brotha.

4

Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like…

During dinner, we were watching the Orioles-Yankees game when it went to commercial. Commercials are against my dad’s religion, so we changed to a news channel.

Along with the rest of America, the headline hit us.

ROBIN WILLIAMS DEAD AT 63. 

I was never a die-hard fan of his, but if he was in it, it was all but guaranteed to be hilarious. From the cinematic masterpiece Mrs. Doubtfire to the farting wife in Good Will Hunting, the man had a gift for comedy. Ironic that the saddest of the tragedies would end his life. I think he would’ve wanted us to laugh at his best moments, just like he’d done for decades in his career. Let’s revisit that through some gifs, shall we?

 

Robin Williams, RIP.

0

Klallam Me Maybe

Those who say you can’t take it with you when you go obviously never met Hazel Sampson.

Three days ago, Hazel Sampson passed away in Port Angeles, Washington at age 103. This is not a surprising occurrence, given that the number of 103-year-olds that are still hanging around is relatively small. However, Sampson’s death is the end of an era. She was the last native speaker of Klallam.

klallammemaybe

 

I hadn’t heard of the Klallam language before today, nor the Klallam people. As it turns out, they are related to the Salish and their territory straddles the borders of the USA and Canada, with communities on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Like many other Native American languages, Klallam was thought of as inferior to English and survived the government’s attempts at elimination. The 1990s Native American Language Act helped the Klallam cause, gaining the interest of scholars such as University of North Texas professor Timothy Montler, who operates a compelling website for the language. According to Sampson’s obituary, written by Jonathan Kaminsky, the majority of Klallam people today do not speak their language, although due to the dying-out of speakers (Sampson, of course, being the last), has been added to the curriculum at Port Angeles High School.

Language loss is a problem, even in the 21st century. People are beginning to embrace cultures whose members are dying out and trying to recapture days gone by, when the British, French, Americans, et. al., were trying to impress their own culture and drive out anything else. Fragments and even whole books of some languages without native speakers still exist, but it’s not enough to make up for centuries of forced linguistic genocide. I wouldn’t be surprised if several languages die out each year – or each month, for that matter – and Hazel Sampson’s story is no different. Back in 2008, a similar story emerged with the death of Marie Smith Jones of Alaska ending the line of native speakers of Eyak, an indigenous Alaskan language. Even though Eyak is still spoken and taught, it is officially on the list of dead languages – a club in which Klallam is now the newest member.

Just like peoples and cultures die out, I suppose that languages have lives too. Klallam has served its purpose, and now is a language of the heavens, along with millions of others. However much we may have of it, we’ll never have a native speaker, someone who learned it first, before any another language; someone who can compose love songs and secrets; someone to think and to dream in it.

Rest in peace, Hazel Sampson, and rest in peace, Klallam. Or, as Hazel might say,

húy̕ kʷi nəsčáʔčaʔ

(Goodbye, my friend.)

Works Cited

Kaminsky, Jonathan. “Last native speaker of Klallam language dies in Washington state.” Reuters.com. 6 Feb 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/07/us-usa-klallam-death-idUSBREA1605W20140207&gt;.

1

On Dying Young

Earlier this week in class we discussed the short but meaningful and interesting life of playwright Lorraine Hansberry. She was a playwright who is responsible for A Raisin in the Sun, a key play in the history of American theatre. Tackling topics such as family, faith, loyalty, truth, gender roles, Pan-Africanism, and the generation gap, it was a hit on Broadway and is studied in schools and universities all across America. Unfortunately, Hansberry never had the chance to shine again, as her star flickered out in 1956, when she died of pancreatic cancer at age 34.

Her life was short, but it contained the depth that so many other people’s did not, and for that, it is a shame that she died so young. It leads you to ask yourself, “why? Why did Lorraine Hansberry have to go? Was this her only purpose in life? And why did we lose her when so many awful people are still sticking around?”

My views on death have changed over the years. Today, the rational part of my brain says that biological things are strictly biological, humans can be victims of spontaneity, and that everyone has to go sometime – if that didn’t happen, the world would be overpopulated with centenarians, or folks even older. When an older person dies, it seems more appropriate – they’ve had chances to make mistakes, have successes and failures, have relationships and children, and if they’re lucky enough, leave this world in the comfort of a bed, either a hospital’s or their own, regardless of whatever mental/physical conditions they may be suffering from. But the one thing that always stops me in my tracks is when I hear about someone young being killed or dying of disease. Especially someone my age or younger. I always ask myself, “why am I still here when so many promising young people aren’t anymore?”

One of my earliest memories of someone my own age dying was in elementary school. A news story came on one night about a local girl who’d put an ad in her apartment complex’s newsletter with her name and number, offering babysitting services. Upon arrival at the home of what she thought was a family hiring her for the night, it was all a hoax, a set-up for this strange guy, who had no children, to murder her. I don’t remember her name, but I remember the freckled face and long blonde hair that stared at me from inside the television set, and her list of accomplishments: straight As, basketball and soccer player, beloved neighborhood babysitter, and overall, a “good girl.” She was “good people.” Since then, so many people that I know of (or in some cases, know personally) have left us at a young age. To cite some recent examples, whether it’s teenage makeup artist Talia Castellano succumbing to cancer, or thirty-something-but-playing-a-high-schooler actor/singer Cory Monteith overdosing on drugs, the reaction’s always the same.

“What a shame.”

But is it really? Realistically, some people do die young, with or without their consent or control. Death is final and it’s always horrible when it occurs, and sometimes it’s not preventable. I’m not saying that people who died young deserved to die, but in my opinion, maybe it was their “time.” Maybe their death is a way to remember them at their finest moments, and that had they lived any longer, they might have caused pain or hurt to others. For example, the babysitter could’ve grown up and blown up her college campus or assassinated a politician, and Cory Monteith could have been killed in a back-alley drug deal gone bad, or murdered someone under the influence of drugs. Then again, it could be the complete opposite. We will never know what they would’ve done, and we’ll never find out. And I guess that’s the way the world works, the way that God works. He shields and protects us all our lives in so many ways, from allowing us to digest food without choking, vomiting, or exploding; allowing us to get from point A to point B safely, whether it’s on wheels, air, sea, or our own feet; for having that car come to a juddering stop when you run across the street at the last minute, or having you step out of the way just before the piano falls on your head. In a sense, maybe death was a way of protecting them from having a worse fate, or from harming someone else later on down the line.

On the opposite side, some young people shouldn’t be alive after what happened to them, but my some miracle, have remained alive, to serve another purpose. Their time isn’t quite done here yet, and they’re the living proof.

Case in point: Malala Yousafzai.

On 9 December 2012, she was traveling home from school on the bus when two men from the Taliban stormed on, shooting her point blank in the face as well as at her other friends. Miraculously, her friends escaped mostly unhurt, and Malala herself lapsed into a coma, during which time her life was in the balance, with things going either way. She woke up in a hospital in England some time later, and slowly regained her strength and mobility to a full recovery. After she resurfaced, she resumed her activities as an activist for education and peace, and was reportedly a nominee (and a favorite) to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

She didn’t win, but she won her life back.

I watched tonight’s 20/20 special on her and her story, and she said something akin to “death didn’t want to take me yet.” While I wouldn’t put it quite as bluntly as that, she’s right. There’s gotta be something more in the works for her. If she was meant to be some sort of child martyr, it would’ve happened. Children have died before, whether they were activists or just your everyday kid on the school bus.

But Malala didn’t. And that’s a fact.

No matter how murky the story may be, or by whose account was most accurate, the proof is right there in the flesh. Malala didn’t die. It was not her time. Nobody knows if she’ll live to be 19 or 90, but there’s a reason that she’s made it to 16 with all of her faculties, and only some internal and external scars on the way. Just because a person has a strong personality, doesn’t mean that their body chemistry and all their cells and organs are strong too. No matter how strong your will is, you can’t take that force and say “hey bones, tissues, organs, cells…heal up, because it’s time to save the world!” What your body does is not up to you. It is beyond human control and moreover, human comprehension.

When a disaster happens, a common sentiment that arises is that “because of X, I can’t possibly believe that there is a God.” But not enough people look at a situation like Malala Yousafzai and say themselves, “because of this, I can’t possibly believe that there’s not a God.” I am of the latter opinion. Looking at pictures of Malala, reading about her story, and seeing her on my computer and TV screens, makes me think of nothing other than this: God is. Growing up, I learned not to image God as an old man, an old woman, a king, a queen, any person or thing, so I wondered – who is God, if we don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t know what God looks like? I also grew up in the 90s, so my mental playlist is totally queuing up Joan Osborne hardcore right about now, but to get back to the point, I just think that God is. Not exists, but is. In outer space, right here on my couch in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, or just somewhere. Existence is a human concept. Talking about religion is something pretty personal to me, because I’m still figuring things out myself, and I don’t like to impose my views on others, but I feel like I want to make some sort of statement. Something like…even if I can’t see, I believe. Because…why not? Cold hard facts aren’t changed by belief, At the end of the day, Malala is still standing, still speaking, and still working for what she believes in.

Malala Yousafzai comes from a world that is further along in time than Lorraine Hansberry, but less advanced in terms of wealth, rights for women, and educatoinal opportunity. But the facts are the facts. Something was meant to happen to Lorraine Hansberry that was not meant for Malala.

Lorraine Hansberry, your words are an incredible inspiration for us all, and I am so grateful that at least we have that extant sliver of your intelligence and creativity. Even though you died young, you did more in that short time than some people who manage to live into old age.  You must have been destined to do just what you were sent here to do, and then rejoin God to give a full and thorough report.

Malala Yousafzai, your words are an incredible inspiration for us all, and I am so grateful that we have only seen a sliver of your intelligence and creativity. You are meant to do more, and now you have that chance, so go do it. Don’t stop for anyone or anything. Make the world a better place because that’s what you’re here to do. I know you can. I wish I had the courage, strength, and drive that you have, and maybe one day I’ll get there myself. You survived what should have been the end, so pick up where you left off and keep going. I love you, the world loves you, and somewhere out there, a force – called God, if you like – loves you too and sent you back on a mission. You are destined for great things with this great thing called life and free will to do with it what you wish, so make the most of each day.

That last sentence isn’t just for you though, it’s for everyone who’s reading this.

Oh, and Malala – if somehow, God, or the universe, or the force, could send you on a mission to end to all the conflicts in Israel, the Middle East and South Asia,  that would be nice too.

And if God could send you on Ellen along the way, that would be even better.