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Movies offer insight into why U.S. is at war

Our history is replete with situations wherein we chose the road less traveled in search of liberty and justice for all. We are a country of principles, regardless of support or opposition. But we often second-guess our journey until we acquire hindsight. Such is the case with Iraq.

Just as we sought out Noriega, tried to bring order to Somalia and were peacekeepers in Kosovo, we again seek to delete an international threat. Although the threat is not in our hemisphere, the Monroe Doctrine no longer protects us from aggression. Technology has made a good defense obsolete.

Glued to our televisions and radios we gobble the minute-by-minute updates from the war front. We are regaled with the prognostications of amateurs and bored with the talking heads who know less than most of us. In anticipation of domination we are disappointed when we do not prevail in 48 hours. And all the while some of our own condemn us for supporting our government and our troops. That is America, home of the brave and land of free speech.

Amid this scenario we are like an acorn on a tree — unable to impact the tree, but without the acorns the tree would have no purpose. We feel the normal stresses and then the additional worries brought on by war, a poor economy and our country's direction.

When stressed, many take to the movies. No kidding. Studies show that anxiety is lessened by distraction, and our distraction of choice is the theater. Movies, like a good book, do more than entertain, they enlighten. In some cases, movies change our perspective of history and people. Soon, one will shape our view of the Iraqi war.

Movies often mirror current predicaments in ways that aren't always apparent. Several recent movies talk to us about who we are and where we are going, as a nation and as individuals.

In "About Schmidt," Jack Nicholson is a retired insurance actuary. While Schmidt has spent a lifetime plotting other people's longevity, life has passed him by. In retirement, he realizes he has no life and asks "Who is this old lady who sleeps in my bed?" as he realizes his wife of 42 years is a stranger to him.

After his wife's sudden death, Schmidt undertakes the inevitable parental journey to save his only child from marrying a lout who sells waterbeds by day and get-rich-quick schemes by night.

During his excursion, Schmidt encounters a world that has evolved sans his participation. He realizes that isolation deprived him and those he loved of a fuller life. Schmidt ponders the eternal question of whether he has made a difference in this world. His answer comes through an act he performed without thought but was not so insignificant to others.

Like Schmidt, America cannot justify isolation nor idle immersion while others suffer. We feel compelled to act, even if alone.

As Schmidt ponders the question of mortality from atop his motor home, George Clooney ponders it from a spaceship. Little seen "Solaris" is a slow-moving psychological metamorphosis. This movie takes our concept of what immortality means and dissects it through flashbacks and discussions of a destiny unconstrained by temporal values ascribed to a divinity. This plodding yet thought-provoking movie probes the limits we place on ourselves that restrain our acceptance of others and of what might be.

Like Schmidt, Clooney's character cannot accept what he cannot visualize. Ultimately, he must act contrary to his beliefs to realize his salvation, or is it? Risk is what life and maybe the afterlife are about, so says this movie. Choosing to go it alone, in space or in war, is a lonely road traveled with trepidation.

William Hurt, in "Tuck Everlasting," sums it all up when he says, "Be not afraid of dying. Be afraid of the unlived life." The unlived life is one without peril. War is perilous.

Unlike linear movies, humans are unpredictable. Sometimes we venture down the path less traveled just to see where it goes. Sometimes we seek greener pastures without knowing why, yet feeling it is time. It is our nature to take risks and leave the comfort of the known for the anxiety of the unfamiliar. Change and challenge are different sides of the same coin and resonate with turmoil.

The path less traveled is often lonely and scorned. That doesn't mean it is wrong. Regardless of the menace or majority sentiment, nothing risked is an unlived life, an unfulfilled destiny.

Justice and peace are not obtained without self-peril. Risk-takers bring harmony and exude hope. In a world so precarious, we cannot afford to be timid. We cannot allow others to determine our destiny.


Editor's note: This is the last installment of Mike Martinez's weekly column.

Utah native Mike Martinez, an attorney in private practice, is active in Hispanic affairs. He has previously worked in the Utah Attorney General's office, the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office and for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington D.C. E-MAIL: mmartinez@prism.net