Personal Journeys with Gramma

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“Beauty is truth; truth beauty…”

“Beauty is truth; truth beauty…”

(by John Keats)

These days, you don’t have to look at Facebook or Instagram to know people are feeling like unmatched socks in a clothes dryer. They’re weary of restriction and direction and so much that seems like an ugly mash-up of science fiction and nonsense. Emotions are raw, so many are subject to depression or fury or wild conspiracy theories. We yearn to sort life out as we sort laundry—dark to dark, light to light. We long for predictability and sense. However, current events make sorting difficult if not impossible.

Recently, my husband and I watched a Netflix DVD of a German film called NEVER LOOK AWAY. Impressively, I couldn’t look away as the 189 minutes unwound through a layered depiction of Germany during and after WWII, a story inspired by the life of artist Gerhard Richter. The central character named Kurt enters the narrative as a ten-year-old boy with large, wondering eyes. In defiance of the visual propaganda of Nazism, he is introduced to the “decadence” of modern art by his 18-year-old aunt, Elizabeth. Later, when young Kurt sees Elizabeth playing the piano unashamedly naked, she tells him he must never look away, because everything is connected. Therefore, everything is beautiful. Unfortunately, she is diagnosed as being touched with schizophrenia, a reality good Nazis deem an abomination, regardless of her intelligence and beauty.

As a young man after the war, when Kurt discovers a fellow art institute student named Elizabeth who is as beautiful as her murdered namesake, they fall deeply in love. He paints social realism which extols only selfless workers as is required to please the Russian authorities, but one aspect of the film is the process Kurt traverses to become a true artist, free from dictates and the imposition of trends. Anyone who has been interested or has dabbled in such a process of searching for truth beneath the superficial will be fascinated by Kurt’s realistic expression of such a journey—its agonies and ecstasies.

Beyond art, the film exposes the juxtaposition of what appears to be good over what is evil and the lies and secrets invented to protect power. On this level, we recognize how fluid the slide between one imposed certainty and another can be and how readily righteous bigots can reframe their zeal to suit their survival. Human life is easily disposable when the victim in question doesn’t meet promulgated standards. Even family ties can be abandoned so control is sustained. Around us today, we see those who are prepared, even anxious, to sacrifice undesirables such as the elderly, poor, or members of alternate cultures, races, or religions. Mobs try to rule from their simplistic views of unambiguous dark and light. (Note: The basic inanity of blind prejudice and hatred is revealed in the film JO JO RABBIT.)

NEVER LOOK AWAY asks that we remain unblinking. It dares us to stop madly sorting and look at the jumble encompassing all there is—the good and the evil—to see the interior patterns, the web of connections, the ultimate beauty in the whole tapestry. Young Kurt stares transfixed at the American bombers flying in formation overhead with their contrails behind them on their way to destroy Dresden. Mature Kurt paints blurred images of his lovely lost aunt with Nazis who blithely ordered mass death. He finally expresses who he is and his comprehension of life.

2 comments on ““Beauty is truth; truth beauty…”

  1. Frances Sullivan
    May 10, 2020

    … and so, if “…beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (Margaret Wolfe Hungerford) truth is subjective. According to my understanding of this thoughtful piece you’ve written, our task is to allow others to find their ‘truth’ while we seek our own. I have to admit, I turn away a lot these days which is okay – so much hurts my heart. The trick is to not judge, yes? Still working at it. 🙂 Gorgeous writing – again. Your sentence structure and word use blow my mind. I need you to tutor me!!

  2. I share your angst about those who would blithely do harm to others. I’m too empathetic to walk away unscathed. This film reminded me to appreciate truth, as purely as we can perceive it, even when it’s not pleasant, because it’s all germane to our experience of life. We learn best when we don’t look away from truth, and learning and enjoying are our missions, aren’t they? You write so beautifully, you don’t need my tutoring.

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