Movie Review: The King’s Speech

I may be a bit late to the party but last weekend I (Steve) watched “The King’s Speech” for the first time. I was blown away. The acting was extraordinary, the story true but more importantly, the life lessons profound.

The story is set in England just prior to World War II. It revolves around Prince Albert who would later become King of England. Albert has a speech impediment, a severe stammer, which causes him to be withdrawn and not at all eager to perform public duties. However, since he has an older brother Edward, Duke of Windsor, Albert takes comfort in knowing he will likely never be King.

At the same time, Hitler has risen to power within Germany and its army is on the march to conquer Europe.  The stammering Prince must face the emergence of radio as a means of communication. His stammer is now for all the world to hear. Undeterred, Albert gives speeches as best he can, often so terrified he freezes up during their presentations. He has hired and fired a variety of speech coaches to help overcome the problem but to no avail. Nothing seemed to work. None-the-less his wife, Elizabeth I, remains intent on helping him and stumbles upon an Australian speech therapist who looks promising. This is where the movie begins.

Colin Firth plays Prince Albert and Geoffrey Rush the part of, Lionel, the speech therapist. Lionel is a self-possessed man who is not intimidated by the Prince. He sets the terms and conditions of therapy and demands the Prince come to his office.  He says within those walls the two would be equals. Lionel calls Albert “Bertie,” a family nickname. It infuriates Albert as do many of Lionel’s methods. Lionel acquiesces to but one of Albert’s demands: that therapy be limited to vocal exercises and breathing techniques with no delving into personal matters. This despite Lionel’s certainty that they would eventually have to get at the emotional trauma that caused the stammer to begin with, as was the case with all stammers.

Somehow, during the process of therapy, an unlikely trust and friendship develops between the two men.  Such that when their father, King George V dies and Prince Edward ascends to the throne, the unlikely becomes Albert’s greatest nightmare. His brother abdicates the throne to marry an American divorcee. Albert visits Lionel at his office and the two share a cup of tea and the soon-to-be crowned King reveals his past. A nanny who deprived him of food, inflicted physical pain and favored his brother. Further, parents so disengaged that it took them a year to notice he was emaciated. There was the origin of the stammer. Finally revealing this long buried shame, Prince Albert becomes King George VI.

There are two remarkable messages from this movie that can serve us all. Carole and I share them both here.

Steve

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins speaks at length about working on oneself. For example, he has had many clients who made fortunes only to lose them. When Robbins probed to find out why some achieved great success only to lose it, he discovered that he could teach them techniques but if the client did not make the deep and lasting changes in their thinking, success would be temporary. One example was a client would repeatedly make money only to lose it a short time later. Robbins discovered that his client had grown up very poor. Making money made him uncomfortable so he reverted to what was comfortable and what he had been, poor.

George VI knows the stakes are huge. Hitler’s Germany is on the march and many lives will be lost if the King is not able to rally his people. He must address the nation on the eve of war. Faced with the challenge of his life, George succumbs totally to the speech therapist’s direction.  He does the necessary deep work and discovers where his stammer originated. He takes to radio and inspires a rapt nation. Humility and courage. These are the tools of greatness.

Carole

Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth. The supportive strength that Queen Elizabeth provides her terrified husband cannot be overestimated. While Albert, as both Prince and King, wants to throw it all away, give up or run and hide, it is his wife who shares her own fears and secrets that give her husband the will to prevail.

The most poignant scene between the two occurs the night before Albert is to appear before the counsel of Lords to assume the naming of him as King George VI. Prince Albert slumps at his desk weeping over how little he knows of kingship and its responsibilities. He says he was not “meant to be King”…his brother was. Elizabeth wraps her arms around her troubled husband and shares that she, too, never wanted a public life. She says that falling in love with him caused her to wonder if she could survive such a marriage. But she reveals that she took comfort in the fact that he had “such a lovely stammer” she would never have to worry about the likelihood.  Elizabeth was showing him that she, too, was about to face an unintended life but face it, none-the-less, with grace.  She was his rock.

Much is made of the “divine feminine” aspect of God; but, much of it misses the mark. The divine feminine is that aspect of creation that supplies nourishment in every aspect of life. It is not just about child bearing or motherhood.  Whether in the bedroom, boardroom or corridors of government, the divine feminine is the support and counterbalance to the divine masculine. It is power not force. It is compassion not pity. It is the courage to be “love in action.”

Both of us

The “King’s Speech” received 12 Oscars. It deserved them all.  Of greater and more lasting importance are the life lessons learned from from two people faced with circumstances they preferred not to encounter. Courage and humility go a long way in conquering the unanticipated and the unknown. They go even further when true power is used as it was intended: as unconditional love in action.

 

 

 

The Oscars and Race

I introduced my kids to ice skating when my two oldest daughters were three and four. We would go every Saturday morning down to the Chelsea Piers Skating Rink and get our fill for the day. Eventually, they grew to love the sport and skated competitively for many years

Oscars

In order to get proficient in the sport, and then excel at it, required years and years of continual practice. The commitment was enormous, the training both difficult and time consuming. By the time they were seven years old they were training four times a week between ice skating, choreography and strength coaching just to be able to enter the arena and compete with their peers.

They were both good but my oldest daughter was exceptional. Exceptional in the sense that her talent was apparent to anyone who saw her skate. I was approached many times by coaches asking if they could train her. On one particular occasion, one of the top coaches from Russia was visiting to teach a seminar. He immediately took note of her talent. By the second day, my daughter had become his favorite demonstrator and was being used to show the other skaters the proper way to execute certain moves. Even though many of the skaters in the group were far senior to her in age and experience, she simply had more natural talent.

Given her talent and unquestioned ability, I anticipated that she would win most of her competitions, but this was not the case. Her winning percentage was at 50% even though, to the naked eye, she looked like the best skater on the ice.

The reason for this is that the sport is decided by the judges. There is no absolute objective truth in which to measure the winners versus the losers. An ice skating competition usually lasts only two minutes per competitor in which a skater performs a routine set to music. During that two minutes a skater is evaluated for only a handful of moves…such as how they landed a jump or if the skater used their edges properly on a turn.

Over time, she became so frustrated with her results that she ended up leaving the sport even though she had world class talent. One of her  longtime coaches, Christine, who had competed in two Olympics and placed in the top ten twice, understood her frustration. You see even though Christine was a top skater in the world, she would never be able to place any higher. She skated for a small country that would never achieve scores higher than the skaters from larger countries such as France, U.S., Canada and Russia. It was part of how the game was played. The sport was subjective. Judges preferred skaters from the biggest skating powerhouses which made it virtually impossible for skaters from smaller countries to crack higher than the top 10. When I asked my daughter if she felt slighted in any way, she said no. In the end, people skate because they love to and not for the trophies given.

Sporting events like ice skating are therefore always hard to evaluate with laser-like precision. This is the case with other sporting events as well, such as gymnastics and diving.  But this problem is not limited to the sporting world. The art world is much the same. The art forms of painting, drawing, film and T.V are all judged by a subjective standard.  Art critics can simultaneously love and hate a particular work depending on who the artist is. Nobody complains because we all inherently know that the work of art is being evaluated by a critic with a certain point of view.

In film, especially with the Oscars,  voter bias has always been a known factor. Big action films and comedies always fair poorly at the Oscars. Its a total outlier if either of these genres can even snag a nomination. Nobody seems to complain because filmmakers know the bias exists. The phenomenal comedy “Groundhog Day”, now considered one of the 100 greatest movies of all time, didn’t garner even a single nomination. The lead actor, Bill Murray, and the director, Harold Ramis, are highly regarded for their comedic and storytelling abilities. They, too, did not complain.

The very public groaning over this years Oscar nominations is that two acclaimed films, “Straight Outta Compton” and “Concussion” both star black actors; yet. they received no nominations. Activists and many artists claim that these works, as well as others, prove that the Oscars nominating Committee is racist. But given the Oscars penchant for voting for certain types of movies, it seemed to me par for the course.  As it is every year, there are great works and talents not recognized for their accomplishments regardless of their race.

After the backlash subsidies, I fear the Oscar voters will cave. I  believe going forward, the Academy of Arts and Sciences that oversees the nominations  will now have to look for a Black artist to nominate every year… lest they be called racists. Taking this logic to its zenith,  Latinos, Transgender, Indians, Native Americans, and Catholics, etc.. will protest as well until all the minorities are represented by nominations at the detriment of true artistic ability.

We already have groups and organizations that have artistic awards broken down by race. For example, the B.E.T  has its own channel where they nominate only Blacks. The A.L.M.A, awards only Latinos. We are getting to a point where we will no longer have any inclusive award shows, but rather awards divided by gender, religion, race and culture lest no one be offended.

Which leads me back to “subject evaluations” in art. There are no right answers only points of view in subjective mediums. What seems lost in the discussion is that the true meaning we get from creating anything is gained in the process and the creation.  If we allow ourselves to need validation from something or someone else, we are give our power over to it or them. The Black activists protesting the Oscars are no longer content with the work, the money or the fame.  They want the nomination that Oscar voters can give them and, by so wanting, abdicate their power in the process.

No man can validate or redeem  another. Only we can do that for ourselves. What the Oscar nominating Committee does not realize is that even if every award went to a Black artist it would still not satiate the protesters. What the Black activists are asking for is something the Oscar voters can’t give: validation.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Mike, Sully and Pressing On

I just finished watching Pixar’s Monsters University, the delightful sequel to Monsters Inc.  I have to admit I was really unprepared for the  beautiful and insightful messages this movie has to offer.

monsters university The premise of the movie is that energy in the Universe is supplied through fear experienced by young children. The two main characters, Mike and Sully, go off to college in order to become “Scarers”…making them fit  for one of the most prestigious jobs in the Universe. There is much competition for these jobs as all of the energy in the Universe is supplied this way and the scare companies only hire the scariest and most ferocious of monsters.

The protagonist of the story is Mike. He’s a lovable, one-eyed, short, green round monster. He knows everything about being a good scarer from history to tactics and strategies. In fact, nobody knows more about scaring than Mike. The problem is that Mike’s not scary at all. He’s cute! His cohort in crime, Sully, is a huge blue monster with massive hands and fangs. He can scare anything and anybody half to death!  Sully’s so scary and good at what he does that he puts in no time studying his craft. And so, because of Mike’s inability to scare anything and Sully’s lack of both effort and knowledge they are both kicked out of the program.

None-the-less, they commit to working with each other. They craft a plan to get back into the program through a scare contest.  By way of  their efforts and guile (Sully crossed the line in helping Mike during the contest) they are able to win the contest and once again find themselves back in the elite program only to be thrown out yet again.  And yet they remain undeterred.

They get hired by a scare company to work in the mail-room. From there they work their way up to janitorial services, cafeteria workers, the canning room and, finally, the “scare floor.”

So with no formal education, they manage to reach the pinnacle of their profession.  Their combined energies eventually gets them to the best “scaring combination” of all time. Despite this achievement, Mike finally realizes he does not have what it takes to work as a scarer; but what he does have is knowledge of the business. He uses his loving nature and knowledge to coach and propel Sully to the highest level of his career.

How many of us in life have dreams dashed by not having the requisite skills? A perfect example is the story of Idan Ravin, one of the most famous basketball trainers in the world. Idan Ravin was an attorney who never played basketball beyond high school. He had a love for the game but not the skill set to play, so he coached in youth leagues and developed innovative ways to train basketball players. One day he caught the attention of Steve Francis, an NBA player, who hired him to work with him on his game. Steve was so impressed with what he learned that he recommended Idan to other players.  From there, Ravin went on to train some of the best players in the world…players such as Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.

Both Monsters University and the real life saga of Idan Ravin teach us an important lesson. One that is needed now more than ever as we go through such an accelerated and transitional period of economic change. We all have the right and perhaps even the ability to participate in the trade or profession of our choosing… but we have to be willing to accept that the end result might be different than what we intended.  That doesn’t mean we failed.

It just means we were needed elsewhere.