Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Good Year -- winning, losing, and forgotten memories

Director: Ridley Scott, 2006. (PG-13)

Good wine matures with age to become a fine vintage. The best vintage heralds a good year. This film is more like a Trader Joe's "two-buck chuck". It's OK but not great. It is indeed "A Good Year" not a great year.

Ridley Scott has directed some classic films in a variety of genres: sci-fi (Alien, Blade Runner), road-movie (Thelma and Louise), war (Blackhawk Down). Some of his best films paired him with Russell Crowe: Oscar-winner Gladiator, Body of Lies, and his latest Robin Hood. Here Scott is reteamed with Crowe but with less impressive results. Not quite a traditional rom-com as the romance takes too long to develop, it is a a mix of drama, comedy and romance.

Crowe plays Max Skinner, a cold-hearted British bond trader. He lives to work, orchestrating the deals for his team (referred to as his "lab-rats"). He has no morals or qualms: he is not afraid to cross the line and break a few rules, as long as he makes a buck or two (or multiple millions). When his old Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) dies intestate, his winery and estate in Provence falls to Max.

Much of the first part of the film shows Max's childhood (Freddy Highmore as the young Max), with summers spent with his uncle in France. It is there that he learned to drink wine and play chess and tennis. It is there, with this effervescent but commitment-challenged old man that Max learns lessons that carry over into his adult career.

One of his lessons concerns winning: "You'll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, uh . . . how much more enjoyable it is to win. It's inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it." This is sage advice. We often learn more from our failures that our successes, not least of which is humility. When we win too often and too easily we can become proud and arrogant. We come to expect it and see it as a result of our own skill and strength. But success and victory are gifts, and "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (Jas. 1:17).

The older Max seems to have forgotten this lesson, and does not entertain losing. He wants victories and money. So, when he goes to France to see his inheritance his focus is on a quick trip and an even quicker sale. He has forgotten the charm of the French countryside and the charms of his old uncle. But places trigger memories, good and bad. One woman asks him, "Are your memories of my father [Henry] good?" and Max replies wistfully, "No they are extraordinary. My uncle loved women, although no one for a long time, and he never married. He loved England, yet lived in France. He was an adventurer, yet all my memories take place within 100 steps of this spot."

Locations lock in memories. When we visit them these memories can come back in a flash flood, wanted or unwanted. That is often why we avoid going to places where we have suffered; we don't wish to remember. But Max had forgotten, and so do we at times. The gift of memory is another of God's precious gifts to us. Even if we need triggers to bring them back to mind.

Max's journey to the vineyeard in his miniature yellow smart car causes him to unknowingly almost run into a beautiful French woman, Fanny Chenall (Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose, Inception). When they later meet, she makes an impact on him. So, too, does Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish), an American who shows up unannounced and claims she is the illegitimate child of Henry. She becomes a competitor, vying for the inheritance. But, unlike Max, she knows vineyards and cares about them as a source of a great vintage not just a great sale.

Of course, as Max falls for Fanny and fights against Christie, both work subtly to cause him to see what is important in life. All his brokerage deals and opportunities in London are balanced against what Provence has to offer. Cash and a prosperous future versus a cafe and a quiet life, Max must make a choice.

A Good Life makes Max and us see that winning and success are not as important as finding love and satisfaction in life. What is a good life without someone to share it with? All the deals we cut will pale and be forgotten, leaving a mouthful of dry ashes instead of delicious wine. What is important in life? In your life? Is it the relationship you have with your spouse? Is it the relationship you  have with God? Or are you driven by your career to climb the ladder of corporate success? Will you be triggered some day by memories of better days once forgotten? Let's hope it is not a death of a relative that causes you to waken to what is really important in life.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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