What My Kid Knew about Kubo

kubo[Spoiler alert: This post is about the end of the movie, Kubo and the Two Strings. However, since, I believe, the ending nearly spoils the film itself, you can read this and still enjoy the other, real pleasures of the movie.]

In the dramatic climax of Kubo and the Two Strings, our young hero defies the cold will of his grandfather, the Moon King, standing in a graveyard with nothing but his shamisen and delivering a (frankly) pretty forgettable speech about stories, memories, and identity.

His point, anyhow, is that our memories are our stories and our stories make us who we are. The ghosts of the dead rise up from the graves to reinforce this, and through some incomprehensible mechanism Kubo and the ancestors break the power of the Moon King.

In the wake of the battle, the Moon King has been transformed into an old man with no memory. “Who am I? What am I doing here?” he asks the gathered townspeople.

They quickly jump in with answers: “You’re one of the kindest, most generous citizens of our community,” they say (or something along these lines). “You’re loved by everyone.” A child adds, “And you always give children candy.” [Read more…]

Purple Light in Sarajevo

Sarajevo MountainsMy fellowship liaison, Sevko, drove, and his gaze flicked across teenagers spilling over the sidewalks. The center of town spread within the cradle of the mountains, lit by the pink and blue haze of underground clubs. Gray office and apartment buildings faced the street, many of them gashed open, levels of exposed brick and wood open to view.

As we drove, it was hard not to notice that this place was beautiful and that the air tasted like all air that lives near mountains. It was hard not to notice that the mountains were built with cemeteries, ridges and floes of graves cupping the city.

I was in Sarajevo as part of a month-long fellowship to study environmental policy. I’d grown uncomfortable with the lack of humanism in environmental debates in the U.S., and I wanted love of people and love of nature in the same breath. [Read more…]

The Iron Cross: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 1

LaStoriaI didn’t know Julia well.

The first time I saw her, she was sitting at the far end of the table around which our language class met. Although I knew the instructor, Chiara, it was my first day with this group of students who for years had gathered in Chiara’s dining room to discuss classic books in Italian.

That day I was the last one to arrive, and when I entered the room the group was already engaged in friendly pre-class conversation. As I took my seat, six pairs of eyes looked up at me, six mouths chorused “Piacere” with American twangs, and six hands reached across the table to shake mine.

But the person I noticed most was Julia, a trim woman about my age with a strawberry bob and a smile like a lamp.

Since I was new to the class, Chiara asked the veterans to introduce themselves: Filippo, Becca, Davide, Laura, Carla—all genial, interesting people who loved everything Italian.

But again, it was Julia who drew me. A psychologist with a PhD, she seemed warm, spoke Italian perfectly, listened to others with attention, as if they were the center of her world. Of all the members of the group, she was the one I hoped to make my friend.

[Read more…]

Sorting Through the Past

I’ve been cleaning out an attic—not my own—along with drawers, closets, shelves, storehouses, and barns —also, not my own, or at least not primarily. I don’t live here anymore, though I’ve always called this place home.

I’m doing these things in preparation for the sale of a farm that has been lived in continuously, and happily, for forty years. During that time, the house accumulated the contents of others’ houses, boxed up and moved in when the people who owned them grew sick and old and eventually died. Life was too busy to sort through all of it, so generation piled upon generation, like the Iron Age after the Bronze.

In the heat of a Southern summer, in the eaves of the old house, dimly lit and with little ventilation, old cardboard boxes must be gone through. They crumble and split at the touch, disintegrating like frail pastilles. The close air is heavy with the scent of insulation, musty paper, aged cloth, bitter red coins, and for some reason, the contents of ladies’ purses that I remember from my youth—the patent leather kind with hard metal clasps: Kleenex, face powder, rouge, lipstick, and mints. [Read more…]

The Narratives We Need, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

Recently I sang Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with the Seattle Symphony. In his adaptation of The Requiem, Britten juxtaposes Wilfred Owen’s poetry with the Latin mass. The male soloists sing Owen’s poem “The Parable of the Old Men and the Young,” the story of Abraham and Isaac, right up to the angel and the ram. But in Owen’s poem, Abraham kills Isaac, “and half the seed of Europe one by one.”

Turning an ancient story on its head, using a corrupted Old Testament story to represent the terror of the world wars, is horror at an elemental level. The depth of this horror shows how much our stories are knit into our bones; ripping a story apart rends us in two. How much then, must these stories be making us whole?

I believe in being intentional. But I wonder at our desire to make our own decisions about what these formational stories should be—to suppose our individual sensibilities might do better than centuries of a more collective wisdom—instead of holding ourselves accountable to discerning the wisdom in the stories that make us up. [Read more…]


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