Search for the self, Jodie Foster and the Beaver…

May 3, 2011 by

Search for the self, Jodie Foster and the Beaver…

Charm, intelligence and unpretentiousness matter most in a woman. This is the view of a Polish poet, Agnieszka Osiecka.  The first time I heard her speak, I hardly knew what these terms meant.  But there are moments, rare as they are, when you meet a person who seems to incarnate this ‘trio’. Jodie Foster.

An American with a European sensibility, as she speaks of herself, and with American openness. There are two kinds of people who come to speak to Yale: politicians and the rest. The former come to propagate  ideas, the latter – to engage in a search. Jodie Foster today spoke  from the heart, off the screen, off the record. There was such honesty about her that I hesitate to say exactly what she said. People laugh about Yale’s “secret societies” (even though if you see them at midnight in the library performing rituals there is nothing funny about them!), but in a way, the very privilige of  having tea with accomplished individuals, enforces a certain discreteness. Those individuals, once ensconced in a mahogany armchair, will answer any question an overly curious student might have.

A special moment for anyone, I believe, is when you hear a person speak, with conviction and sense of direction you yourself might not have developed yet, about things that matter to you, traits of personality that you share, paths of expression that you embark on  and problems that you struggle with. Jodie, with ease and eloquence, in rimmed glasses and black-and-white sneakers, spoke of things that matter to her most: difficulties in families, an acute sense of life’s injustice, emotional breakdowns, mental illnesses, and the way she approaches them: with sensitivity, linguistic precision and tact, but without sentimentalism.

“I see myself as an intellectual on an artistic journay, with both blending together. I like dissecting ideas, in language and image, thinking through people’s motivations, dealing with my emotions through articulation and sharpening of my thought processes.  However, not all is conscious, but I try to make it so, to deal with it. There are things that move me and things that don’t, and this makes a difference. If something does not move you, if a tune, a dance, a word feels forced, drop it. Seek a word, an object, a detail that is true to you.” On paper it all reads flat, as I reread it. The sentences lack her guttural voice, her sense of humour and conviction. In a way, she broke a campus and a social taboo, saying out loud a thing that most people here prefer to omit: ‘life is tough and we need to find ways to deal with it’. In our contemporary world, with pressure to “have fun” 24 hours a day, people often dread to be sad. And yet, sadness is part of life,  even if few people admit it. She did.

There are people  who come here to represent, to headhunt, to promote, to recruit, and this is fine and a privilige to listen to and be part of. But there are moments finer than that, of more immediacy, intimacy and depth. Of honesty, of life experience coming out from a mouth of an accomplished individual who fights to stay true to themselves. “Being an artist, and a human being is a constant struggle to convey meaning. The arrow never goes straight. It goes in waves, it digresses, you have to sharpen your tools, your language, your gesture, your self-awareness, to make another person come a little closer at understanding you.” For there is no full understanding, no complete communication. But there are attempts and sharing such attempts with other people is in itself a step forward, even if  in the direction of conciliation adn acceptance of certain limitations. In this way she was not a typical American, but a mature American (a European?;)

I won’t say anything about “The Beaver”, it needs to be seen. It is a strong film, eliciting not a thriller-like fear, but a sense of authenticity of suffering and struggle that rings a painfully familiar bell.

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