The Jungle Book: The Oddest of All Species

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I went into The Jungle Book tonight with pretty low expectations—mostly just to enjoy my popcorn and the soda I’ve been craving all week. But with delightfully re-imagined characters, a triumphant score infused with motifs and nods to the original animated movie’s music, and spectacular CG scenery and creatures, The Jungle Book took me back to the sunny afternoon when I first watched the original Disney animated film when I was four.

Particularly, I enjoyed the organic themes throughout this movie and was pleased to find it lacking the cloying “agenda” that I initially feared it might promote. Rather than promoting humanity’s supremacy over nature or over-emphasizing nature’s preeminence or even giving a sentimental interpretation of Kipling’s beloved tale, this version of the movie encouraged respect for nature, an acceptance of our unique qualities as humans, and the necessity to use these differences responsibly.

Throughout the movie, the wolf pack and Mowgli quote the Law of the Jungle (a phrase which has come to mean “every man for himself” but in Kipling’s story means the complete opposite.)

           “NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,

           And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

           As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;

           For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

King Louis tells Mowgli that it is fire that sets man apart from the animals. But he missed the larger point. Akela and Bagheera scold Mowgli throughout the movie when he uses his “human tools and tricks,” (such as using a cup to drink water); however time and again, it is the man-cub’s ingenuity that saves the day (i.e. feeding Baloo’s sweet tooth by harvesting honey comb from atop a cliff, and rescuing a baby elephant from a pit).

Fire is one of man’s tools, for sure—one that all in the jungle fear. But in the end, it’s fire that saves the day because of Mowgli’s decision to use it to defeat Shere Khan. It was Mowgli’s choice to use his differentiation for the benefit of more than himself. And it’s a good lesson to us all—to respect and realize our place among nature which, quite frankly, outnumbers us and has us thoroughly surrounded. In return, we’re bestowed with nature’s bountiful benefits—resources, food, labor, pleasure, friendship, and the opportunity for us to exercise humanity in it’s truest sense. In other words, nature lends us the bare necessities.

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I’m thankful that from Mabillda the duck to Shere Khan the tiger, God has allowed us to live on the same planet as these magnificent creatures.

This Atlantic article gives a more detailed and graceful review of The Jungle Book.

“The Jungle Book [is] perhaps the oddest of all species: a movie nearly devoid of human beings, yet one bursting with humanity.”

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“In the Heart of the Sea” Gives Us the Courage to Go Where One Does Not Want to Go

Whale Tale 3In the middle of Moby Dick, Herman Melville encapsulates the whole of his veritably epic tale: “I tell you, the sperm whale will stand no nonsense.”
This statement also, naturally, summarizes the story of Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” a rendering of the true story that inspired Melville’s classic. After an enraged bull sperm whale attacks the whaling ship the Essex, the crew fight for survival and revenge, learning along the way the virtue of humility and humanity (ironically the traits that Ahab never understood.)
For what it might have been lacking in screenplay and convincing time-period authenticity, the movie was a visual delight (and I’m talking about more than just Chris Hemsworth).
The light filters and cinematography made every frame a work of art. The sea was captured in its magnificence, as were the whales. And the story adequately kept my attention though, strangely enough, the intermittent scenes with Melville interviewing the Essex survivor, Thomas Nickerson, were the most interesting. The rest of the plot seemed a bit purposeless, the characters’ stories underdeveloped. (However, Rotten Tomatoes’ 42% seems a bit harsh, even by my sometimes overly critical estimations.)
Most satisfying (read, relieving) of the whole movie was how, um, tastefully Howard portrayed the horrifying measures to which the crew resorted in their final days of shipwreck.
Though details of the true story that the movie is based on were left out and others a bit exaggerated, it still makes me proud to know that filmmakers are willing to portray magnificent true stories that were first captured by master nonfiction writers (such as Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the nonfiction book In the Heart of the Sea.)
Because, of course, long before a book about the wreck of the Essex, and long before a movie about the book about the wreck of the Essex, there was a novel, which inducted the true story into literary history. And before the novel, of course, there was a whale.
At the end of the movie, Melville thanks Nickerson for sharing his difficult story and for giving him “the courage to go where one does not want to go.”

“The courage to go where one does not want to go.”

It was a good reminder that sometimes, especially as writers, the stories that need to be shared are the most difficult to tell. And for all of us, sometimes the most difficult tasks end up being the most rewarding.
After the movie, I found myself searching my bookshelves for the mammoth classic, dog-eared and marked from my journey—more like a plod, at ten pages a day—through its cumbersome prose several summers ago. I’m thankful that Melville persevered and produced the work now vastly disregarded for its antiquity and length. And I’m thankful that I persevered and read it through. Yes even chapter LXXIV, “The Sperm Whale’s Head—Contrasted View.”
Of all the books I’ve read, it was definitely the most rewarding.

Friendiversary

After an early breakfast at Cracker Barrel with an old friend passing through town, Laura and I headed to Starbucks to read while waiting for the morning church service. Maybe subconsciously we were drawn there, the most appropriate place to celebrate the day.

Laura ordered our coffees and came to join me at a table in the sunlight. After a moment, she handed me a card.“Happy Friendiversary, Pal!”

I opened it and read, I love my friends and I love my family . . . And I love how sometimes I can’t tell the difference. She had written, “So here we are at Starbucks, four years later, in this life so perfect simply because we’re together.”

“Where are your sunglasses?” I asked, knowing she’d catch the reference to the night we became friends at the Starbucks in Pensacola, four years ago today.

She dug in her purse and pulled out the big, fashion glasses—her bug glasses, I call them.

“I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses that night and gained my best friend,” she said, thoughtfully. “It’s symbolic, really, because they were the mask I was hiding behind before we became friends.”

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We celebrate our friendiversary every year because, well, when God answers a prayer, when your life completely changes in meeting one friend, when you have as much fun as we have, it’s kind of a big deal.

It’s hard to say how four years can be enough time to weave two lives so inextricably together. Hard to tell how a friendship with so many obstacles could last even this long. But that’s a story for another day, if you’d like to hear it.

Here’s to Starbucks coffee meetings that turn into life-changing events, to enemies becoming friends, and to friends who become family.