Movie review: View from the Top

Movie review: View from the Top

Last night we watched one of Dom’s Netflix picks, View from the Top starring Gwenneth Paltrow as Donna Jensen, a small town girl from Nevada who dreams of becoming a glamorous stewardess. I wasn’t expecting much from this romantic comedy, and was pleasantly surprised at how sweet a movie it was.

There were many moments when I expected cynicism and instead was served sincerity. For example, when the character of Donna’s mentor, Sally Weston, was introduced I fully expected that at some point she would betray Donna or at the very least burst her bubble. Instead she gracefully supports Donna and corrects her when she goes astray on her quest for happiness.

Niave at first, Donna never becomes disillusioned as she matures. Rather, she maintains a childlike freshness and in the end restores the jaded instructor, played by Mike Myers. She is able to see through his hurt cynicism.

What a refreshing change this movie was! Not a deep movie; but fun and entertaining and free of Hollywood’s darker impulses. The film says that wordly success isn’t ultimately satisfying. Rather, it is family and friends that make one truly happy. In fact, if it weren’t for the skimpy clothing and a brief hint at off screen premarital relations with her boyfriend, this movie would be perfectly acceptable for family viewing.

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  • Melanie, I think you and O’Brien are right that what is evil has been largely glossed over or ignored by modern society. I think the problem with his argument is that we cannot combat this approach to evil with absolutes (i.e. – “dragons are always symbols of evil”). Society has made stories and symbols much too varient and complex for that. I have not read any of L’Engle (I tried once in grade school and got conused), so I can’t comment on that one way or the other. But the other hot button books, the Harry Potter books, I have read and enjoyed very much. In that series, dragons are animals like any other, neither good nor bad and usually dangerous. In the stories certainly are witches and wizards and magic, like the LOTR and the Chronicles of Narnia. I guess I just don’t see how, given the diverse usage of symbols, much of any absolute could be made. It would always come down to context and purpose and intention. I think it just comes down to properly teaching our children truth from falsity and right from wrong regardless of what symbol it takes on. I think, given the diversity society takes on with regards to symbolism, it is the best way.

    I hope that made sense…my 5 month old is crying at me.

  • The comparison between LOTR, CON and HP falls apart very quickly when you ask the question “How are symbols being used?”

    Humans using magic in LOTR: bad
    Humans using magic in CON: bad
    Humans using magic in HP: normal

    Ends justifies the means in LOTR: bad
    Ends justifies the means in CON: bad
    Ends justifies the means in HP: good and bad

    Dragons in LOTR: bad
    Dragons in COR: bad
    Dragons in HP: neutral

    Humans who don’t like wizards in LOTR: normal because they think that wizards (angels) really are wizards
    Humans who don’t like wizards in HP: stupid, mean and prejudiced

  • Exactly. I don’t want to be an absolutist; but the question is, I suppose, where do you draw the line. I don’t want to be a relativist either. One thing that worries me is that there is no easy answer. We live in a culture where the lines have become very blurred. One where, in fact, many people refuse to accept that there are any lines at all.

    I too have enjoyed Harry Potter and yet can see that there are many morally problematic elements in those tales. (In Real Learning Elizabeth Foss prints a very insightful review of the first HP book written by her son who was troubled by the book.) And there are many books I’ve read and enjoyed that I’m not sure I’d let Bella read when she’s older.

    Dom points out that O’Brien doesn’t build an argument for his case against dragons. Rather, he asserts that it is so. I’d love to hear him defend his position.

    Also an interesting question that Dom raises—it is slightly tangental to the discussion at hand—is when did this shift occur. When did dragons cease to be the embodiment of evil and where did the image of the friendly dragon originate? When did the first good witch appear in fiction and what was the impule which rehabilitated her? A question that appeals to the literary scholar in me. I’d love to see some research on the topic.

  • Ian,

    There are examples of CON where human using magic is good such as in the V of the D T (Lucy reads a spell and makes those invisible visible again).

    I am not sure, it has been a while, but I thought Aragorn also had magical abilities in terms of potions and healing in LOTR?

    In HP magic can be used for good or ill. It is usual, that is correct. But to some extent, it then becomes a tool, like technology is today whereupon the characters can use it for good or evil. The magic is not the point of the books. As Dumbledore says, it is our choices that determine who we are.

    As far as liking wizards, it depends on the character in all those books. Frankly it is a bit unjust to judge humans in the HP books the same as the others since in HP so few humans/muggles (nonwizards – after all, in HP all wizards are human) know the wizards exist.

    Your comparisons are too B&W and absolutist and do not do justice to the books in my opinion.

  • Lucy’s use of magic in VDT results in problems with one of her friends and I believe that Aslan condemns her use of it.

    You will notice that in Narnia, the only time humans use magic without it doing harm is when they use magically enhanced objects that have been given to them by non-human characters. you will also notice that these objects don’t do things outside of the natural realm, they simply make a task easier.

    For example, the magic map in VDT simply does the map drawing for Caspian instead of someone on the ship having to do it himself. Lucy’s cordial is medicine. Susan’s bow shoots true and the string doesn’t decay.

    Aragorn was decended from the Numenorians – a race that came from Heaven, not regular humans. Aragorns use of potions seemed to be limited to a good understanding of the healing properties of plants. the only other use of a magical object by Aragorn that I remember was his use of the Palantir and that was certainly not portrayed as a nice healthy thing to do.

    I would recommend the Chronicles of Prydain as another series of books for young teens that has a clear understanding of the difference between humans and other creatures and the use of magic.

    My wife and I read the first four HP books and the moral relativism bothered us far more than the use of magic. However, justifying the acceptance of magic use by humans because “they’re just born that way” and the portrayal of people who know about wizards as a bunch of prejudiced idiots has some very disturbing echoes to other debates going on today. This is the same reason I’m uneasy about the X-Men films.

  • CeciliasMommy,

    I do urge you to read SDG’s whole article, but re Lucy this passage is particularly relevant to the discussion at hand:

    The chapters in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that give us Narnia�s lone good wizard also noteworthy because they contain the only scene in which any of Lewis� protagonists is seen (rightly) casting a spell (although not in our world): Lucy uses Coriakin�s book of spells to make the Dufflepuds visible.

    It must be noted that Lewis balances this exceptional scene with a cautionary note, having Lucy succumb to temptation by using the selfsame book to eavesdrop on two of her peers from our world. By this Lewis suggests that the sort of power represented by Coriakin�s book, while it may be appropriate for him, isn�t for weak vessels such as ourselves. The same might be said for Digory�s ill-advised ringing of the bell in Charn; he may have used Uncle Andrew�s magic rings rightly, but he too succumbed to temptation and was seduced by magic.

    It�s also important to note that Lucy, like Digory and Polly, doesn�t go on to study magic or become a sorceress. While she goes further than they in actually casting a spell, it�s an isolated event in her life (and her concommitant misstep perhaps suggests what would have happened to her had she gone further in that direction). Neither Tolkien or Lewis ever gives us, even in their magical realms, a protagonist who engages in the pursuit of magic; which is of course precisely what J. K. Rowling has given us in Harry Potter.

  • Ian,

    no, Aslan condemn her envy of Susan but commends her bravery. As ar as using magically enhanced objects, does that go for wands, etc. in HP? Invisibility is outside of the natural realm IMO. I don’t know which problem with which friend you are referring to?

    I agree there is too much moral relativism in the HP books, but that is not dependent on the fact they use magic. As far as the muggles who are prejudiced against wizards, who are you thinking of BESIDES Harry’s Aunt, Uncle and Cousin, who, let’s face it, are rather repulsive no matter how you slice them?

    I have one other question for you – what difference does it make whether the human uses magic in the book or not? I mean, magic, dragons and spells are magic, dragons and spells no matter who uses them. There is the Wicked Witch of the West and there is Glinda the Good Witch but which witch is which depends on what each one does. I guess I don’t see why it matters very much whether humans are doing the magic or any other creature does it. It is still magic in a book being used either for good or evil. I should think it would depend on how it was used. I mean, in the medieval ages, exorcisms were regarded as magical.

  • Melanie—

    Honestly, I haven’t read Wrinkle in Time in a million years (not since I was twelve, anyway).  So I can see the disturbing element in the quote you cited, but it never struck me that way while reading it.  Then again, I may have understood the Echthroi as a metaphor for something like conformity (i.e., a lack of self), rather than a metaphor for something like an evil spirit.  But the memory is quite fuzzy.

  • Kate, I seem to remember that too – that the Echthroi were a metaphor for conformity or other such convention, but I remember thinking it might be an attack on the Church (yes, I did think such things when I was little).  When Meg couldn’t free her brother by praying the Our Father (it was too rhythmic, according to L’Engle) I began reading with more caution, and ultimately stopped reading L’Engle’s books in favor of the Narnia tales, which never raised any red flags in my mind as i read them.

  • Well, I take that back.  When I read The Silver Chair I did think that maybe I was not old enough to read it yet.  It seemed to have an undertone of sexuality that I was not comfortable with when I read it.  I was probably 10 at the time, and couldn’t quite put my finger on what danger I sensed.  There was never anything explicit in the book, of course.  I just thought that maybe it was about something other than just the prince being kidnapped. 

  • Kitty—

    I wonder (again, haven’t touched the book in ages) if the Our Father being “too rhythmic” is an attack on rote prayer, on chanting habitually without considering what the words mean?  I could be wrong.

  • Yes Kate, that could be, but to a child reading the book, what sticks in the memory?  That L’Engle cautions against not paying attention to what you are praying, or that the Our Father (the one prayer that Jesus gave us directly) doesn’t “work”?  I would argue that if L’Engle were really saying we should know what we’re praying and not just spout words, then she would have had Meg stop, think about the words of the prayer and say them as if she were really talking to God.  Come to think of it, in these books, the children rely on their own strength, not that of God.  It could be argued that this is a fictional story about kids with special powers, and not really supposed to be religious.  To which I would answer: Then why did the author bring the Our Father into it?

  • If memory serves, though, Meg starts saying the OF rhythmically because of the rhythm of the Echthroi (I have a vague memory of a giant pulsing brain—maybe I need to reread this book!).  In which case, the example still stands that even good can be corrupted by evil.  Which, symbolically speaking, could be powerful, since corrupting the OF (by saying is backwards) is historically a mark of witchcraft.

    My mother endorsed these books when I was young, and she taught this one to a fifth grade class.  If she can read it over and over without detecting a problem, I’m not going to worry too much about this book.  I wonder if we’re overthinking and searching for problems where there are none.

  • Ok, Kitty,
    I’ve gone back through both A Wind in the Door and A Wrinkle in Time and I can’t find any passage where the Our Father is mentioned at all. Nor do I remember it from reading the books previously (and I’ve read them dozens of times). What book did it happen in? Are you sure it was in a book by L’Engle? Can you give me the specific page numbers and quote the passage? Cause I can’t discuss the pros or cons of a passage I haven’t read.

    re the passage I quoted from O’Brien about the Echthroi, I’ve gone back and re-read it and discovered that reading it in context it feels very different than in O’Brien’s excerpt. For one, it is preceded by a long poem in which Meg names everything, reminiscent of one of the psalms or canticles. And the spacing of that passage marks it as part of that poem.