Tag Archives: Live and die on this day

In like a lamb

A perfect metaphor for March 1st, 2012.

Elmore Leonard’s first rule of writing advice is, never open your book with weather.  So with apologies to Mr. Leonard and his learned wisdom, I’m starting off March with a few comments about the state of the climate.  It was not that long ago that I recall temperatures plunging to the minus twenties in the middle of February, jagged sheets of ice coating my apartment windows and blocking the view of the mountains of white beyond.  I’m not going to complain about a more modest than usual February heating bill, but this is ridiculous.  I’ve had to shovel the driveway exactly twice this entire winter.  I missed doing it so much I actually shovelled both my neighbours’ driveways just to get in the extra few minutes of cardio.  My better half’s allergies have been in overdrive all season as it never got cold enough to kill off the mould and spores of autumn rot.  And we did double-takes this morning when birds started chirping outside.  The geese have figured it out – they never flew anywhere this winter.  Think there could possibly be a relation to, well, I don’t know, um, global CO2 emissions being higher than ever before?  Nah, it’s sunspots.  We’re actually in a cooling phase.   It’s just Al Gore, Solyndra and the Islamofascisocialists trying to sell you solar panels.  Think I’ll fill my Hummer with Super-Hi-Grade and then run over a spotted owl.  Suck it, Mother Nature.  FREEDOM!!!

Yep, it’s gonna be one of those days.

I love the Search Engine terms tracker on the WordPress dashboard.  It is genuinely amusing to see how people find me, and I can’t help imagining the tremendous disappointment that must occasionally result.  I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of hits from people who saw The Grey and are looking for references to the “Live and die on this day” quote – that at least relates to something of substance.  I get a few from people searching for My Little Pony, The Verve, Coldplay, other search terms that happen to coincide with some of my random word strings, like “grahams wall of sound”.  But some of these other search engine terms are just plain bizarre.  The one that really made me laugh was “kesha good looking”.  Someone on the hunt for images of Kesha for what I’m certain are nothing less than the purest of purposes ended up here?  Granted some of what I write can hopefully be very thought-provoking, but those are definitely not the thoughts I’m trying to provoke.  Eeeww.  We won’t have none of that ‘ere, mate.  Keep calm and carry on.  Besides, silly rabbit, you should know that “Kesha” and “good looking” are not terms that relate.  Ooh, how catty of me.  Thanks, try the veal.

I wonder what it must feel like to have a voice that other people love to impersonate.  Do they ever listen to themselves and think, “good God, do I really sound like that?”  My own voice is quite unremarkable, so I enjoy dressing it up with different accents whenever the opportunity arises.  The other day I was watching a YouTube clip of Michael Caine doing an impression of himself, or more accurately, Michael Caine doing Peter Sellers doing Michael Caine.  It was all in good fun, of course, but how frustrating must it be that almost everyone you meet will be some wag who thinks he can “do you”?   As I’m certain even ordinary lads from Glasgow or Belfast must roll their eyes at attempts by continentals to affect their unique, history-nurtured tones.  One of the cardinal rules on whatever film set he happened to be working was that no one was allowed to impersonate Sean Connery, which I’m sure didn’t stop them from trying to slur “Missh Moneypenny” behind his back.  That is the problem, naturally – everyone thinks they can mimic Sean Connery and almost no one can pull it off.  The same goes for John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson and most of Rich Little’s repertoire.  Voice actors, I’m told, often start from a celebrity impersonation when they’re working up a new character.  The scratchy warbles of The Simpsons’ Moe the bartender began from what his performer Hank Azaria called a bad Al Pacino impression.  Somehow I doubt anyone will ever be accused of doing a bad Graham Milne impression – except maybe myself.

So what are my goals for this month?  Thirty-one days of possibility lie ahead, full of opportunity for both triumph and tragedy.  Gonna try to keep blogging as close to daily as I can, have a new screenplay to start working on, and, because I find that putting it out there publicly is a good way to motivate myself, I’m going to begin sending out my long-gestating novel to agents and publishers.  Hopefully the response will be as promising as that which has greeted my musings here.  If all goes well, maybe, by the 31st, I will, like the lion, have a good reason to roar.  Stay tuned!

Live and die on this day

“Once more into the fray, into the last good fight I’ll ever know.  Live and die on this day.  Live and die on this day.”

One of the many drawbacks of our culture of 24-hour celebrity news is that it often becomes difficult to separate our perceptions of actors as people from the roles that they play.  Whether deliberately or not, our ambient awareness of their personal lives always affects our appreciation of their performances.  Brad Pitt’s passion for Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is undermined by our knowing that off-screen he’s shtupping Angelina Jolie.  Mel Gibson remains a talented actor, director and storyteller, and yet, rightly or wrongly, his career has been tainted by the public face of his personal demons.  So too does the tragic real-life death of Liam Neeson’s wife Natasha Richardson following a skiing accident in Quebec a few years ago play subconsciously in our minds as we watch him as a broken, despondent and suicidal man in The Grey.  But on this rare occasion, the tragedy of the real man only deepens the emotional impact of the story.

Liam Neeson’s career has seen him play a string of men of uncompromising integrity on both sides of the great moral divide.  He has a fatherly screen presence that has led to his frequent casting as a mentor to the movie’s true hero – as Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace, Godfrey of Ibelin in Kingdom of Heaven, Henri Ducard in Batman Begins, Priest Vallon in Gangs of New York, Zeus in the remake of Clash of the Titans.  Having once turned down the role of James Bond, the actor who embodied Oskar Schindler has in recent years begun to reinvent himself as a big-screen badass in the mode of early Clint Eastwood, in movies like The A-Team, Taken and Unknown.  The trailers for The Grey lead you to believe that it leans more toward the latter, that the big Irishman will be doing bare-knuckle battle this time not with white slavers or international assassins, but with those most vicious of Nature’s killers, wolves.  Not so.  There are wolf fights in the movie, but they are not its raison d’etre.  Rather the story is more of a solemn meditation on the inevitability of death and our free will in deciding how we will meet it – as exemplified by the poem above.

In a rare, precious world teeming with life, humanity has, ironically, spent a great deal of its existence in an obsession with life’s end, questioning what comes beyond, and sadly, crafting inventive ways to hasten its arrival.  There will be a moment in everyone’s time when he will speculate about his death, what form it will take, and whether he will go out in the archetypal blaze of glory or in quiet, frightened solitude – as though the meaning of the entirety of one’s life can be encapsulated in and defined by its final moment.  Liam Neeson the man may have pondered this question before, but certainly has had greater cause to dwell upon it since the loss of his wife – much as for me, death was only the thing that happened to the bad guys in the movie, until my father passed away.  I’m reminded of the scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan when the elder Ryan turns to his wife and pleads with her to assure him that he has lived a good life, that he has been worthy of the sacrifices made by others so he could go on.  It’s important that we ask ourselves that question not as the end nears, but every day, even in the moments when death is the furthest from our thoughts.  Are we the most of what we can be?  And when the end does come, will the course of our individual history enable us to stand proudly against it, or will we let silence slip over us without resistance, in quiet shame and lingering regret?

The final line from the poem in The Grey is the most telling and the most interesting since it is misquoted on the movie’s poster.  Where the poster asks “live or die on this day,” the true line is “live and die on this day,” suggesting that the moment we face our death is the moment, and the singular chance, to appreciate life in all its magnificence.  Liam Neeson plays a man who is willing to let death take him as the movie begins, and by the end, is alone, forsaken by man and God, but, having come face to face with the depths of his soul, is now raging against the dying of the light.  It is a cathartic journey to be admired, as we watch a man strip away the layers of doubt to discover the purest truth of who he really is, crystallizing at the moment the screen cuts to black – a perfect, if controversial ending to this tale – for we, the audience, cannot know another man in the way he knows himself.  That question is up to each of us as individuals.  That’s our choice, our challenge.  To live and die on this day.