Monday, January 07, 2008

How age can change a viewpoint

This weekend I watched the movie "Educating Rita". Remember that one? It came out in 1983 and was about a married lower class woman who wanted to go back to school to learn about literature, to 'better herself'.
When I saw it was 16, maybe 17. I saw it in late high school,  a few years after it had come out. I remember, when I saw it, thinking a few life changing things simultaneously. First, I thought how sophisticated this movie was, what with Michael Caine being such an erudite professor and all,  and how much I wanted to study literature as well.  Study literature, mind you, in the BRITISH way, not the boring old American way. Second, I remember thinking how OLD Rita was, how grown up and obviously over the hill she was. I seriously remember thinking how admirable it was for such an older woman to want to restart her life like that. Poor old thing. I would never do that, I was so sure where I wanted to be in life and how to go about it.
Imagine my surprise when, on seeing it after so long, I discover that Rita, in the movie, is 27 years old. Twenty fucking seven. A baby!
So, looking at that movie now, as many years older than the main character as I was younger when I first saw it, the movie is completely different to me.  Rita, my 'elderly muse' when I was 16, seems now, at my age 39, so young and confused in the film, so at odds with herself and her world. So restless and bent on achieving a dream that seems so empty. (She's also a hottie. Granted, a hottie with a really bad haircut, but still a hottie.So much for fusty old lady!)  Michael Caine, my former British sophisticate, the epitome of all I wanted in a professor, always sneaking a drink, spitting out wise bon mots and lounging about in such an intriguing way, now seems a completely sad spineless drunk who is afraid of the world and spends his time hiding behind his books.He knows the other side of what Rita wants and is helpless to make her see the darkness of it.
I did manage to realize my dream of studying literature in the British style, both in college at UT and at Oxford. I've never gotten a job using my degree, except in a very roundabout, 'yes I can write' sort of way. My surety of my future all changed when I met Rich, when I didn't get in to graduate school to study literature, when life took me in different directions, when I didn't move to New York to assume instant editorship of Glamour magazine.
 Looking back on it now, I am glad I got the degree I did, but I also sort of see the silliness of it all, the endless discussions of minutia in books that are based in dead times by dead people. What was so important to Rita was important to me then, that whole idea of understanding the unsaid bits of the book and thus the writer, but now I just read for the story and not any subtext or hidden meanings. I don't question the motivations or the meaning of the story anymore. (Hell, I read the whole 'His Dark Materials' trilogy and NEVER ONCE got the blatant anti-religious undercurrents! I just thought, Kick ass! Talking bears!)
Of course, the English major in me also understands that it was my training in thinking critically that allows me to write about this at all...and that in some wierd Karla way I am still thinking critically and always will. Just, I guess, not about literature so much anymore, but more about life.  Now, I think about life just as I did books, wondering what the subtext of this is, should I rethink this idea, and why should I believe this when obviously my gut tells me to go with that.
Hmm. Critical thinking. I can see why Caine's character drank so much.

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