My list of top-ten favourite movies has evolved over the years, but since 1994, the number-one spot has been held by a title that’s unlikely to ever move from that spot. The movie is “The Shawshank Redemption”, based off a Stephen King novella by a similar name. Stephen King movie adaptations are very hit-and-miss, especially as SK is known for giving movie rights away to aspiring film makers for $1. The good ones get proper treatment though, and it doesn’t get any better than this one. If you haven’t seen it — just do. Don’t Google it, don’t preview it, don’t research it. The less you know, the better it’ll be.
I’m going to talk about one particular scene… and don’t worry, this doesn’t spoil anything. In this scene, which takes place in Shawshank prison, a particular prisoner gets hold of a record player and some vinyl. The record happens to be from Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro”. He starts playing it, and quickly realizes he’s in the same room from where the P.A. system for the entire prison is operated. He flips on all the amps and starts blaring this beautiful duet to every corner of the prison.
The movie is narrated by a character named Red, played by Morgan Freeman, and he describes it like this:
“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't wanna know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared, higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”
I had the experience of seeing this opera in Italy, and experienced something I’d never seen… after this particular aria (an aria in this context is a little song within an opera), the applause was so thunderous that it brought the performance to a halt. The applause turned into a standing ovation, and the chants of “Brave!” — side note, the plural of Bravo is Bravi — but when it’s feminine, like if you were applauding a single female, you’d say Brava!, but the plural, as would be appropriate in this duet sung by two women, is Brave. Anyway, the chants of Brave turned into “Encore!”. Typically, of course, an encore comes after the performance, not during it… but technically, in French, “encore” means “again” — and that’s what the crowd wanted. And that’s what the crowd got, much to their rapturous delight. The performers and musicians turned back a few pages, rewound 4 minutes, and did the aria again. Very powerful.
The aria (“Canzonetta Sull’aria”) comes along at the perfect time in the movie, and its effect on the audience is similar to what Red describes in the prison. Again, very powerful. Red doesn’t know what the aria is about, but I do, so I’ll tell you… these two women are scheming… one of them is a Countess, and she’s dictating a note to her maid… because, as it turns out, the Count is sort-of into this maid, and the Countess is trying to catch him cheating. So, she’s dictating to the maid, a note… a sort of “Meet me later tonight out by the bushes” sort of thing… where she (the Countess) intends to dress-up like the maid and catch him red-handed. Good stuff — not anywhere near as pure and powerful as Red may have interpreted it, but at least it’s intriguing.
And that’s sort of what this is about… when Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message” back in 1964, there was no Internet. People’s present-day information came from 4 sources.. TV, radio, print and word-of-mouth. The stakes back then were much, much higher. The words of Walter Cronkite were gospel; indeed, he was known as “the most trusted man in America”. Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Anarchists…. whoever — they may all have vehemently disagreed on many things, but they all listened to the same source. And perhaps that’s the fundamental issue; broadcast news went from boring to entertaining when competition came in… 3 major networks (and 2 here in Canada) were the critical mass… “real” news could survive in that environment. But beyond that, if you wanted to grab those advertising dollars, you’d better have had a competitive product… and that’s clearly when things went downhill… down to where we are today, where it isn’t news that people are after; it’s easily-digestible content confirming what they already believe, or want to believe, disguised as news. And the social media platforms welcome those clients with open arms, spoon-feeding them curated “news” that’s right up their alley… click-click-click… $-$-$.
The education that’s necessary that I spoke about yesterday… it has to begin at an early age, and it has to begin with critical thinking. Someone who can’t think for themselves will welcome the spoon-feeding that comforts them. I don’t want to think, I don’t want to change my mind… I’m happy with my beliefs, and look, a lot of other people think the same way. We can’t all be wrong. Gimme gimme gimme. Feed me. Om-nom-nom.
In the movie, Red is a convicted criminal with a grade-school education. He’s touched by something he doesn’t understand, but at least manages to guess the language correctly, and knowing full-well he can’t understand a word of it, comes up with an interpretation that suits the moment. There’s a huge difference between “this is what it says” and “this is what I hope it says”, and knowing when and how to apply that difference… that is the key for an educated, peaceful and harmonious future.