Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Calm or Control

It's easy to be serene amidst calm, at least easier than finding calm amidst chaos. I'm usually pretty good at both but seem to be losing my touch amidst the shit really hitting the fan. Not that I'm not well practiced, but it seems worse than even my usual. Additionally, I've come to believe that, sometimes, excellent stress management techniques do nothing so much as enable us to sustain, well, more and more stress. Sometimes I think it would just be better in the long run to become hysterical, declare the vapors, fall apart, give up, lean into nothing there. I just don't know how, and can't quite forgive those who do, being also slightly outnumbered by them.

I saw Michael Clayton recently On Demand and had opportunity to discuss it in comments to Dangerblond's insightful post about the film. Carefully woven into Tony Gilroy's tense story are themes of mental health and mental illness as they relate to moral ambiguity or clarity. Tilda Swinton and George Clooney both played characters locked in morally challenging careers. Tilda Swinton's Karen Crowder drowns in evil amidst a severely misplaced Herculean effort to maintain the appearance of professionalism, of control, of normalcy; while George Clooney's title character trudges forward, losing himself completely in trying to do what's right by his ex, his child, his brother and his job. Between them is Tom Wilkenson's brilliant Arthur Eden, obviously slipping into madness and the absolute certainty it sometimes brings. Clayton, desperately trying to bring in and control his AWOL colleague, confronts him in an alley, concluding, "I'm not the enemy," to which his old friend responded, "What are you then?" Arthur understood, even in his illness, perhaps because of it, what was right and what was wrong. Michael, so caught up in fulfilling the roles into which he had become entrenched, couldn't see. I empathize with that.

Ultimately, we get up every day and try to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes mental illness comes with great clarity, other times it's more like just plain evil. There's a fundamental difference between maintaining control (or appearances) and answering chaos with calm, it's just not always so easy to know which is which.

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