Thursday, December 16, 2010

Michael Clayton

Aside from it starring George Clooney, I didn't know anything about the movie "Michael Clayton" when I pushed it into my laptop's DVD drive. 

As the movie began to unfold, I realized I was still very much under the influence of "A Delicate Balance".  I sensed, almost from the outset, a deep sense of dread in this movie.  And I was right.

I remember one day, maybe ten years ago, the Deke and I were shopping at Costco.  Suddenly, a ways away from us, a boy with, I think, Downs Syndrome, threw himself to the floor and started screaming in agony. 

The crowds, the piles of merchandise, the noise, the intense visual stimulation, I think, got to him and he went off.

He acted out the madness of Costco.

In movies, sometimes such a character will emerge, a character who goes mad, who is having the appropriate response to the madness in the world, who can no longer act as if insanity is sane. 

Sometimes these characters play out our dread, too.

In "Michael Clayton" this character is Arthur (Tom Wilkinson). 

Unless we, as viewers, have decided morality and social justice don't matter, as "Michael Clayton" unfolds, we feel a building dread that the people poisoning corporate chemical company U North will win the day, a dread that justice exists only as it is paid for, a dread that our lives are at the mercy of worldly forces beyond the reach of justice.

Arthur voices this dread.  He acts it out.  He begins to sabotage the U North's case, his client's case and openly voice the dread he feels for the work he's done on behalf of injustice.  He even strips himself of his clothes in a deposition hearing, as if he were ridding himself of the appearance or illusion of working for justice, eager to stand naked, to expose the hypocrisy of his years and years of work on this case.  His hands are bloody.

As I watched this movie, I felt Michael Clayton's dread, too, the dread of his failures and the dread of being in grave danger.

I kept asking myself, during the movie, how often I am capable of courage in the face of dread and danger.  I know that as I get older, it feels like my courage dwindles; I seem more prone to cocoon myself, hide away, avoid that which I'm afraid of. 

But not Michael Clayton.  He does not melodramatically assert his courage, but with intelligence and his keen sense of being a fixer, he faces the forces that have put him in danger.

George Clooney played this cool courage perfectly.

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