To Be or Not To Be

If you were like me, you had to memorize one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies in your high school English class. I chose the one from Hamlet, which begins, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” But I never got into Shakespeare much. I preferred movie soliloquies, or monologues, as we sometimes call them.

I had to learn monologues back in high school for drama. One of my favorites was King Arthur’s from the film, Camelot (the one right after the King discovers the affair between Guinevere and Sir Lancelot), which begins:

“Proposition: If I could choose from every woman who breathes on the earth; the face I would most love—the smile, the touch, the heart, the voice, the laugh, the very soul itself, every detail and feature to the last strand of hair—it would all be Jenny’s [Guinevere’s].”

King Arthur then expresses his love for Lancelot, yet the two people he loves the most have betrayed him, so he demands a man’s vengeance. But he then realizes he is not a man; he is a king. And how can a civilized king destroy the things he loves most? He concludes: “WE ARE CIVILIZED! Resolved! We shall live through this together.” It is one of the most dramatic parts of the film.

And that is what monologues do. They heighten the tension, raise the stakes, and usually come as part of the conflict’s resolution. Thus, they are the most potent parts of the movie—which is why I love them.

Here are three of my favorite movie monologues. I chose these because of their relevance to our current times. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Speaking of being civilized, Tuesday, one of the most contentious elections in our nation’s history will thankfully end (hopefully!).  In this monologue from The American President,[i] President Andrew Shepard (played by Michael Douglas) states that being President of the United States is all about character. I agree. Or at least it should be. Regardless of your values or political leanings, please put away those biases for a moment as you watch this:

Did you catch these words? “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.” Instead, we have politicians who will do anything to get elected (or reelected). And how does a politician win elections? According to The American President, by taking a problem, making us afraid of it, and telling us who is to blame for it (their opponent). Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more leaders willing to tackle serious problems and fewer politicians interested in only preserving their jobs?

Both sides of the aisle are at fault. Joe Biden wants you to fear COVID-19 and blames President Trump for the situation we are in. In turn, President Trump blames China for the virus and wants you to fear impending economic collapse by blaming Mr. Biden for wanting to shut down the country. Are they not both real issues? Instead of blaming the other side, wouldn’t it be novel to hear more details about what one side or the other will do to fix both situations? COVID-19 is real and severe, but so is the loss of jobs and the mental and emotional toil we face by shutting down large segments of our economy and sheltering in place.

We can take almost any current issue in politics and see the same thing happening. Fear the problem, and point the finger of blame. If being the President of the United States is about character, our politicians should listen closely to the words of Jean Paul Richer: “A man never discloses his own character so clearly as when he describes another’s.”

Many of you have seen the #StandUnited ads by the major parties’ candidates for governor of Utah—Spencer Cox and Chris Petersen. If you haven’t seen it, here is a link to The Today Show’s report of it and an interview with the two candidates:

Wouldn’t it be a different (and better) election if all candidates took such an approach?

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives. The virus is the stated cause of almost 230,000 deaths (and counting) in America. I honor the thousands of men and women who have risked their own lives to care for others, who have treated patients, not just the disease, as said so well in this monologue from the film, Patch Adams[ii](played by Robin Williams):

Over 1700 healthcare workers have died from COVID-19, according to the National Nurses Union—many from a lack of personal protective equipment. It’s like sending soldiers off to war without ammunition. But most went to battle anyway, epitomizing these words from Mother Teresa: “It’s not how much you do; it’s how much love you put into doing that matters.” To honor those women and men who died while helping others to live, I offer these words of Francis of Assisi: “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received—only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”

And speaking of those 230,000 deaths from COVID-19, here is one of my favorite monologues from Forrest Gump,[iii] as Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) mourns the loss of the love of his life, Jenny:

I agree with Forrest; dying is a part of life, but I sure wish it wasn’t. When a loved one dies, we wonder how our lives can continue, but somehow they do. One of the saddest parts of death for me is that the one who is gone cannot experience their loved ones growing older. When events occur—even simple ones—we pause and wish those we have lost were there to enjoy it with us. But maybe they are. And, like Forrest, we can always keep them with us in our hearts.  

We live in difficult times. But I am trying to remain optimistic. Humankind has survived dangerous times before, and we will do so again. And I see reasons to keep that optimism. For example, according to The Dallas Morning News, census statistics show that, in 1959, 22.4 percent of Americans, or 39.5 million Americans, lived below the poverty line. In 2019, those figures had dropped to 10.5 percent or 33.9 million Americans.  Thirty-four million people are 34 million too many, but at least the numbers are trending in the right direction. I wonder how COVID-19 might affect those numbers, but I am confident we will continue our progress if we choose leaders who find solutions, not blame, and a population that practices love like our healthcare workers.

I also have confidence in the rising generation. I read this morning of a 14-year-old girl from Frisco, Texas, who won the “America’s Top Young Scientist” award for discovering a potential treatment for COVID-19. And when asked what other projects she was interested in, she tells of learning classical Indian dance and starting Academy Aid, a non-profit to promote science and math opportunities in underrepresented groups of children. All this at the age of 14. Fourteen!

In closing, I offer this quote from Chuck Nolan (played by Tom Hanks) from the film, Cast Away: “I know what I have to do now; I’ve got to keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”


[i] The American President:

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, and Wildwood Enterprises
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Screenwriter: Aaron Sorkin
  • Starring: Michael Douglas, Annette Benning, and Martin Sheen
  • Release date: November 17, 1995

[ii] Patch Adams:

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Blue Wolf Productions, and Farrell/Minoff
  • Director: Tom Shadyac
  • Screenwriter: Steve Oedekerk (based on the book by Patch Adams and Maureen Mylander)
  • Starring: Robin Williams, Daniel London, and Monica Potter
  • Release date: December 27, 1998

[iii] Forrest Gump

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriter: Eric Roth (based on the book by Winston Groom)
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise
  • Release date: November 11, 1994

1 thought on “To Be or Not To Be

  1. Robert Ludlow

    Awesome post. This one got to me. I cried more than once. Thank you for posting it. It appears your remarks were prescient.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s