Find your own way...
I start off this month’s blog with a disclaimer. I have never thought very much of Nicholas Cage...well, not as an actor I should say. I have no idea what kind of person he might be in real life but as a star of the silver screen I conclude he is a talentless schmoe who makes one horrible movie after another, for no other reason than the money. This is of course just my opinion and anyone is entitled to disagree.
With that being said, there was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!
The movie is filled with dozens of historical inaccuracies and technical gaffs. It was never nominated for nor did it win any awards. And for the most part it has gone to that place where all mostly-forgettable movies go...into the overflowing trash bin of Hollywood crap!
The movie cost a staggering $57 million to make and barely made that back in international and DVD sales. But for some strange reason Captain Corelli’s Mandolin struck a cord with me.
Now granted, Cage was his usual oaf-ish, over-emoting self in the movie, but it somehow worked this time. Perhaps, because he was playing opposite Penelope Cruz and John Hurt, both stellar actors in their own right.
The storyline takes place in the early years of World War II...1941 I believe. Italy and Germany have formed their short and ill-fated alliance against America and the rest of Europe.
Italy’s army invades and occupies Greece, a much weaker and impoverished victim of the war. Captain Corelli, played by the goofy guy, is not a professional soldier, rather he is a musician who has been conscripted into Italy’s military and is, for reasons never explained, made a Captain.
He is sent with a contingent of men to a remote Greek island to set up an Italian artillery garrison. His assigned mission is to win the hearts and minds of the Greeks and to maintain order.
Captain Corelli, who wants little to do with the war and more to do with his music, does his best to placate the locals, who by the way, resent the very presence of their Italian occupiers.
In true Hollywood fashion, the movie becomes a convoluted love story when Corelli falls in love with beautiful Pelagia, played by Cruz. She is the daughter of the only doctor on the island, Dr. Iannis, well played by Hurt.
The plot is multi-layered, out of necessity I would guess. You see, Pelagia has a lover, played by our latest overly opinionated and Trump-hating actor, Christian Bales.
His character is a poor (and handsome) Greek fisherman who has decided to leave his tranquil village and his beautiful lover behind, to take up arms as a partisan and disappear into the mountains to fight whoever is up there! Whoever it is, is not clearly explained!
I will spare you the rest of the movie summary because it is not a true story, rather a screen adaptation of a much more interesting and well-written novel by Louis de Bernières.
But I will take you to that certain part of the war, in 1943, when Italy...realizing Germany will lose the war, changes sides and joins the Allies against Hitler.
Well...Italy didn’t actually change sides voluntarily. They surrendered to the Allies and as part of an agreement to remain a sovereign nation, were given the opportunity to join the fight.
Captain Corelli and his men now find themselves defending the Greek Island against the very army they helped occupy it.
Now you are probably wondering why I have changed gears to do a Rotten Tomato-ish review of a bad movie. Well you should know me better than that by now. There is indeed a method to my madness.
Watching the movie made me dig deeper into what really went on in Greece during World War II. You see, I often dream of leaving Italy, with Diana and Meg of course, and heading to a quiet, peaceful, sun-drenched life somewhere in those Greek Islands. And in the course of investigating both, I ran across a story that ended up in one of my journals. I have chosen to resurrect it and share it here today, ergo my method and its accompanying madness...
During the Second World War, German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme, the islanders met them bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. The consequences of their resistance were devastating.
True to the ruthless nature of the German military, the residents of entire villages on the island were lined up in front of freshly dug trenches and shot in the back...men, women...young and old. Even children!
Today, overlooking the airstrip in Maleme that was originally built by Nazi engineers, is an institute for peace and understanding.
It was founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous was just six years old when the war began and somehow, he and his family avoided execution and the Germans for an entire year.
But eventually the Germans got around to them. His home village of Lividas was destroyed and he, along with hundreds of others, was imprisoned in a concentration camp.
When the war ended, he became convinced his people needed to let go of the hatred the fighting had unleashed. He studied theology in the Orthodox church and in 1965 opened an institute designed to promote peace and reconciliation.
One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture at the institute, Papaderous was asked that singularly eternal question...
“What is the meaning of life?”
There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderous did not hesitate for a moment to answer it. Standing before a full auditorium, he took out and opened his wallet. From it he removed a small, round piece of mirror. Holding it up for everyone to see, he began to answer their question...
“During the war,” he began, “I was just a small boy. While walking along a dirt road outside my little village I happened upon a motorcycle wreck. There was a good deal of blood on the ground so I reasoned the motorcycle had belonged to a German soldier who'd been shot by a partisan and whose body had obviously already been taken away.
I saw pieces of broken mirror from the motorcycle lying everywhere on the ground. I sat down, as any curious child would do, and tried to put them together. But I could make no sense of the many odd-shaped and different-sized pieces.
I heard the sound of a truck approaching from somewhere down the road and became frightened. So I took the largest piece I could find and ran back home.
For days afterwards I scratched my piece of glass against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. I used it as a toy, fascinated by the way I could make light shine into holes and down crevices.”
The day soon came when young Alexander became swept up in the war and along with many other Greeks, he was sent to concentration camp on another island, where they all remained until the Germans were driven out of Greece.
Before he was taken away, he wrapped his round and smooth piece of mirror in a cloth and hid it amongst the rocks behind his family home.
The first thing he looked for when he arrived home again when the war ended was that mirror. And sure enough, it was right where he left it...
“I have kept this mirror with me as I've grown up” he says to the audience, now mesmerized and hanging on to his every word. “Over time it has come to symbolize something very important to me. It has become a metaphor for what I have done with my life.”
He paused again, as if recalling a most private memory...
“I am but a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know,” he continued. “Nevertheless, with what little I have, I can reflect the light within me into the darkest spaces of this world...into the black places in the hearts of men. I have even been successful in changing a few of those hearts.”
He stepped away from behind the lectern and walked out into the room...
“Perhaps others, like yourselves, may see what I have seen,” he said rather solemnly. “Perhaps you will do likewise, perhaps you won’t. But this is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”
What Papaderous was saying that day is the same as what I am telling you as you read this. He, like myself, had no idea what the meaning of anyone else’s life might be. He, like all of us, knew that we each must search for and find our own meaning.