what i'm watching: adapt to survive

Life is change. We are, all of us, in a constant state of flux, no matter how stable our lives appear to be.

It often seems to me that the people who are most successful at living are those who are most adaptable. By successful, I don't mean materially, or even recognition in a chosen field. I mean, rock-bottom success. People making the most of their circumstances, whatever they are, shaping what's there and creating a new reality. For some people, success might mean nothing less than survival itself.

I recently (within the past few weeks) saw two movies that illustrated this dramatically. The subjects were polar opposites, but I found a common theme.

"Nobody Knows" is a Japanese film about four children, siblings, who are abandoned by their mother in a tiny Tokyo apartment. The children adapt to their new circumstances, then adapt again and again, as their world becomes increasingly desperate. It's a sad movie, but totally unsentimental, with a patient, everyday quality, more quietly sad than brutal.

The acting is extraordinary, especially Yuya Yagira and Ayu Kitaura as the two oldest children. It's written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.

The second movie couldn't be more different in subject matter: "Carandiru", written and directed by Hector Babenco, based on a book by Drauzio Varella. Carandiru was the nickname of a huge, overcrowded prison in Brazil, Latin America's largest detention center, the scene of an infamous massacre (by police). The story is told through the eyes of a doctor doing prison AIDS prevention work; the book is Varella's own story.

The men incarcerated in Carandiru also adapt to seemingly impossible circumstances. They form a community with its own set of morals, rules, comforts and punishments. It's a very violent world, but it's also built on fierce bonds of friendship, loyalty and love.

"Carandiru" is a very good movie, although if you're highly sensitive to violence, it's probably not for you. Most of the violence happens off-camera, but is clearly suggested, except for the final, climactic scene, which is graphic.

The connection between these disparate movies was instantly apparent to me: adapt and survive.

I spend much of my writing life listening to, and telling stories about, people who have adapted to - and transcended - circumstance to form new realities. In 15 years of writing about disability issues, this is the greatest lesson I've learned. Many able-bodied people look at disability and see tragedy - and any disability may have been started out as tragedy. But every one of us has only the hand that's dealt us (to use an apt cliche), plus our own brains, creativity and flexibility, with which to shape it into a life.


David Cho said...

Very nice movie reviews indeed. I will add those two to my Netflix queues. Your movie recommendations have worked very well so far.

David Cho said...

BTW, just checked my queue, and I'm Not Scared is on the way. I wish I could note somewhere who recommended it.

laura k said...

Your movie recommendations have worked very well so far.

I'm glad! I'm Not Scared was (in my opinion) the better movie of these two. The young actors are fantastic.

One of these days I should post about Zip.ca, the Canadian version of Netflix. They're improving it now, making it more Netflix-like. (Netflixesque? Netflixular?)

David Cho said...

Netflix so far has not worked out so well.. In the last 90 days, 4 of 14 movies had to be reported too damaged to play. And I had to suffer through all the pauses with many. There is nothing wrong with my DVD player. The problem could be reproduced with another player.

Oh well..

Andrea said...

want to see that japanese movie so badly but i cant until i get back to canada, no english subtitles here and my japanese is very weak

noone said...

I would like to see your articles on disability issues. Is there anywhere I can purchase them?

Also, have you contacted Abilities Magazine? http://www.abilities.ca/abilities/

laura k said...

Netflix so far has not worked out so well..

Wow, that really sucks! I think in the whole time we belonged, we received maybe two damaged disks, ever. Once in a while we had one that skipped, but the problem could be solved by rinsing off the disk.

That is crappy service. What a shame.

laura k said...

I would like to see your articles on disability issues. Is there anywhere I can purchase them?

Thank you for your interest! You could start by Googling my full name (Laura Kaminker) and the word disability or wheelchair. There are several things floating around the web, although most is print- only.

I've written for New Mobility, the premiere magazine for people who use wheelchairs, since 1995. I used to be a contributing editor and columnist. I mainly wrote about wheelchair sports, but also women's issues, artists, a wide variety of topics.

I've also written wheelchair sports stories for lots of mainstream newspapers and magazines, including covering the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. I got tired of that, though. Editors just want the same old "comeback / triumph over adversity" story and that gets so old.

You can also click on the "Cool Kids" link to the right - that's Kids On Wheels. This post is about the book, other posts about KOW are here and here.

And lastly, if you have a special interest in this and you'd like to read a bunch of my clips, email me your address and I'll send you some. (NO pressure, you don't have to want them!)

Also, have you contacted Abilities Magazine?

I know them well, but I write for the competition. :-)