Posted in First Take

[1996] Shine

Drive is in humans’ nature – as a quest for survival; if we don’t drive, someone else will. The degree to which our own genetics affects how we drive is not controversial, but simply unknown and mostly irrelevant. Attempting to affect the genetic makeup of a person so essentially they “try harder without prodding,” is probably more cruel than helpful, too. Drive is more importantly in humans’ nurture – as a quest to do better than our neighbors; because, rewards, earthly pleasures and money. Intrinsically, the nurture of ourselves and our kin to work harder above the average is irrelevant and misleading, but socially, in order to increase the gene pool of future generations in our species, the strong must survive. And we get stronger (and smarter) by trying harder. Succinctly, it is hard to say whether Shine‘s protagonist’s father, Peter, pushed his son, David, as he did, for on-purpose, self-actualizing, or vicarious reasons, but for better or worse Shine shows us that, at the end of all things, our choices define nothing, and that nature always wins. Shine, a 1996 Best Picture Nominee, embodies this case of nature versus nurture of the drive paradox; of the inevitability of time as sequential driver and the quest for better as disrupteur.

So why bother? It is the single most conflicting factor in our quest to be better; to move forward. We say he “was driven to madness,” but was he? Was the madness not always in him?  If we can’t drive past our own ability, no matter how prolific, and that self-actualization needs to be a natural process, why push? Because it is also in our nature to compete, on some level, with every element that provides us stimulus. It is why we have contests with ordered-prizes; permutated-lists; combinatoric groups of winners and losers; competitions with cash prizes and intrinsic accolades, like “best” and “most popular;” it is why we measure anything in the first place, because, whether we like it or not (and ironically), we measure our own self-worth in terms of others’ approval. David drove because his father demanded; Peter demanded because his self-worth derived from his son’s successes and counter-factual failures. It is again hard to say why Peter drove David into madness – or did he? – but the fact remains that through his process, the drive to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with gusto and perfection and the emotion of a man 20 times his senior and 50 his suffering, drove David past that point where he was actually able to do so. Madness enveloped him to his vanishing point. Luckily, his own drive to survive found him at the bottom of everything. He found his way back.

The meta-narrative that parallels this story is the drive to win Best Picture and its effect on how we push ourselves to create the art that creates this drive. This absurd referential loop has propped up a further meta-narrative that attempts to reconcile the gestalt with the films that represent it. Filmmakers, like Shine‘s Scott Hicks, twist narrative in an attempt to prove something, or reflect the year’s zeitgeist (hardly the only oxymoron I’ve used), in an attempt to be the best. What does Best Picture really prove? Mostly nothing, I’m afraid. As this blog has shown, the hyper-critical, politically pliable Academy will often choose the film that meets the criteria of best or politically acceptable, and so far, has been “right,” often, but not always. The drive to great success is often mired by a person with a previous success and their human drive to be better, wasn’t. It was just first. Oh well.

The year 1996 for movies will always be remembered for the well-meaning, but somewhat comical and overwrought (potentially on purpose) The English Patient. But 1996 produced, in addition to the myriad other films that drove, and eventually puttered, Jerry MaguireFargo and Secrets & Lies, which I saw much too young. The difference between the top film and these other four, including Shine, may have been a single voter with a vendetta against Joel and Ethan Coen. Though Geoffrey Rush did win a Best Actor nod with his performance as David that opens another door: the collective drive to complete something great is perhaps not greater than the sum of its parts.

 

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