The Portrait of Jennie

The Portrait of Jennie is a black and white movie made in 1948 that I saw recently. It is about an artist finding his inspiration for his work through an imaginary love in his life. The voice-over goes “the winter of the artist is not the cold in the wind but the cold in the indifference of the people towards the beauty around them”. Then there is a tag-line by an art dealer “… an artist must find something he really cares about…”. The movie is about the soul of an artist and the struggles he has to go through to create the divine spark in him.

The movie has some interesting characters Mrs. Spinney an old lady who trades with portraits and sees in Eben her onetime beau, the painter Eben Adams who struggles to find his spark, follow his soul and make a living at the same time, the mechanic Guz who admires Eben and tries to give some pragmatic help. And of course there is Jennie herself played by the great Jennifer Jones who is an actress I like the most. She is awesome when she plays the role of a poignant naive girl who has in her demeanor something deeply mysterious about her. She plays a very similar role in the movie the Song of Bernadette.

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In this movie she appears as the ghost of a dead girl whom Eben Adams falls in love with, completely enamored in her naivety and the timeless mystery that shrouds her. The first time he meets her she is a little girl out alone in the dark and she sings in the most captivating poignant voice “Where I come from nobody knows and where I am going everything goes… The wind blows, the sea flows nobody knows… and where I am going nobody knows” no matter how many times I see this, I feel like I am seeing it for the first time. It is just so full of simplicity, sadness and mystery.

The little girl asks him if he would wait for her to grow up so that she can marry him and then she runs off leaving him wondering how funny the little girl was. He goes home and draws her portrait as a little girl. He captures the melancholy and mystery about the little girl. Mrs. Spinney is impressed.

Now, Eben meets the girl again suddenly she had grown too quickly. They talk and then she goes off only to come back a few days later much grown, grown enough to be married. He draws a portrait of hers and falls in love with her. She goes off again, now he decides to track her and realizes that she had been dead for many years. He goes searching for the place that she got drowned to seek and find himself there as he was lost without her, his inspiration was gone.

The portrait that he does of her is the “Portrait of Jennie”. Mr. Mathews an art dealer comments that it was a stroke of a genius where the essence of a woman had been captured. The essence of a woman says Mr. Mathews is her mystery and timelessness. When Eben and Jennie part for the last time, Jennie tells Eben that his portrait of hers should hang in a Museum which many other girls would come to see her and so it was

In the beginning of the movie, when a disgruntled Ebens tries to sell his passionless paintings to Mrs. Spinney, she tells him “… Andrea Del Sarto drew a perfect hand and Rafael drew a formless claw, Andrea Del Sarto had everything and nothing but Rafael loved his work… poor Andrea Del Sarto (didn’t) …” then she continues “there isn’t a drop of love in any of these (paintings of yours)… an artist must have something he ‘deeply’ cares about” and then buys from him a painting worth less than $2 for $13. When Mr. Mathews questions her as to why she did it, she says that it was not because of what the picture was worth but because of what Eben Adams was worth. In spite of his loveless creation she was able to see something in him that could be unlocked by love and so it was. She tires her best to help him.

Eben has another helper, a mechanic friend Guz who is a kind of a pragmatic philosopher, though that is more of an oxymoron, who empathizes with Eben saying things like, “if there is star-dust in your head, there is a jumble in your soul” and in a way understands and respects the kind of agony Ebens undergoes. Guz gets him a contract to paint and make money, Ebens completes it and gets more fame, a heavier pocket and an empty soul. Guz realizes that he cannot help Ebens much.

There is only one person who can uncork Ebens and that is Jennie or rather the timeless love of Jennie. The movie is a depiction of timeless love in which the pair defy time and space. Unsure of what is to happen of their love, Ebens says ‘the greatest distance I fear now is the distance between today and tomorrow’. It is this ageless romance that kindles in him the flame which would capture that mystery and timelessness of the ‘Portrait of Jennie’.

I LOST and realized it takes courage and confidence to loose

In the debate competition in our company, my team reached semi-finals but couldn’t reach the finals. We lost today. I seldom loose debates, debates are my life-line. I felt the judges were not really fair. I almost laughed aloud when one of the judges said that I was speaking too emotionally and that that was a negative for debates. I couldn’t understand how he thought that I was an emotional speaker, I did not cry neither did I make an attempt to narrate something so poignant so as to make anyone’s eyes wet. I was not emotional, but I was passionate, the judge unfortunately couldn’t differentiate between someone making an emotional speech and someone making a passionate speech. A few folks came and told me that the judgement ought to have been in our favour.

Nevertheless, my team lost. I lost. It was a shock to me, because I never thought I would loose this debate. There haven’t been many things in my life where I really wanted to win but lost. In this debate competition I really wanted to win the finals. I was too passionate about it. I believed I could do that. And the loss in semi-finals, after what I thought was one of the best debates, having to defend the British idea of Monarchy, came in as a rude shock to me.

I was there thinking…

It was then I realized that it takes a lot more courage and confidence to loose in something that one yearnestly wants to win. The courage and confidence to accept oneself even after having failed. The courage and confidence to look at peole and say ‘Yes I lost, but still I am looking you in the eye. Yes, I took a punch, but still I stand ready for the next.’

Just as I was thinking about this a note sent by our HR person in charge of sending out reports about debates made a special mention of our team with the note “Every loss makes the bone as flint, the gristle into muscle and man invincible” made me glader.

In spite of the fact that I am sad that I lost what I passionately wanted to win, I am somehow glad that I ‘experienced’ defeat. Somehow through this loss I as a person am more invincible than I was before in that I can loose something I most yearnestly want to win and still smile 🙂 I thank God for this experience.

Man ‘blinks’ at his Happiness

At a time when all stocks are falling in the US because of the recession induced by the sub-prime fiasco that is getting the US economy by the balls there is one stock that has risen 40% year on year . That is the stock of Netflix, the postal movie rental service.

As people keep loosing jobs, seeing their retirement saving erode, experiencing foreclosure of their homes and their net-worth going down, they still want to keep doing more of one thing which is watching more movies. This again proves the cliché that Hollywood is recession proof.

Here is depicted a need for man to escape reality into a world of fantasy. Why does man want to make this irrational jump? After all he will only live in the real world, he knows fantasy is vanity. After a two hour fantasy ride, he has to come back to the real world and face it brutality.

Of course, generally speaking, movies have the artistic and the entertainment appeal to many folks depending on their (finer) tastes. But the reason for people wanting to escape into fantasy at such times as this belies something more fundamental about human nature and that is man’s yearning for freedom to be happy.

As man finds himself more and more constrained and determined by the happenings around him, he seeks a world, fantasy as it may be which will cater to his sense of freedom to be happy – freedom from having to think and deal with the depressing reality around him, the freedom to plug into the fantasy world and feel as happy as one needs to feel.

There is nothing wrong in employing the creative abilities of human kind to pep up ones spirit. But when this becomes an obsession and an escape route from reality, it would result in a kind of imbalance which would have disastrous effects on human kind’s ability to live a real life. The distinction between the real and the unreal blurs. Even as we analyze our lives there is an eerie feeling that life is getting less and less real.

When Nietzsche said ‘modern man would invent happiness… and then he blinks’, in a sense he foresaw this state of man in which man invents happiness in his fantasy world and then he looses grip with his real life and then once life is does away with all that signifies the real, he ‘blinks’ not knowing what he has to do with happiness anymore now that he isn’t sure what is real and what is unreal.