‘Words and Pictures’ exalts the call to create

“Words and Pictures” (2013 production, 2014 release). Cast: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Bruce Davison, Valerie Tian, Adam DiMarco, Josh Ssettuba, Willem Jacobson, Navid Negahban, Amy Brenneman, Janet Kidder, Christian Scheider, Andrew McIlroy. Director: Fred Schepisi. Screenplay: Gerald DiPego. Web site. Trailer.

The call to create is a powerful force. Just ask any artist (or any devoted conscious creator), and you’ll see the passion that arises from within their souls. But what happens when those manifestation abilities come under fire? How do we carry on? Those are the challenges faced by a duo of impaired artists in director Fred Schepisi’s charming new romantic comedy, “Words and Pictures.”

Which is more powerful – words or pictures? That’s a question that artists, philosophers and academicians have debated for eons. It’s also one that the students of an upscale prep school are grappling with thanks to the inspiration provided by two of their teachers, long-tenured English instructor Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and newly arrived arts teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche). But the friendly academic rivalry stoked by these two passionate advocates tells only part of the story of their relationship; there’s a lot more going on between these playfully feisty combatants.

As the spirited jocularity unfolds, it quickly becomes apparent there’s also considerable chemistry between these two amicable foes. Despite their artistic disagreements, there’s an undeniable affinity drawing Jack and Dina together. But is that attraction enough to sustain a partnership? That’s a crucial consideration, given the serious personal challenges each of them faces.

Jack, for example, wrestles with a number of issues. Despite his track record as a published author and his popularity with the students, he’s under the microscope from the school’s headmaster (Navid Negahban) and school board chair (Amy Brenneman) for his perpetual tardiness, his sloppy handling of his pupils’ class assignments and his progressively uninspired work on the school’s magazine. And then there’s his drinking, a problem that has grown steadily worse, threatening his job security, his reputation, his judgment and his relationship with his adult son, Tony (Christian Scheider). His growing inability to write – and his diminishing desire to deal with it – test his resolve, placing his future as an author and teacher in serious jeopardy.

Dina, meanwhile, struggles to paint due to a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. It has become so debilitating that she must walk with a cane and rely heavily on her sister, Sabine (Janet Kidder), for help with even the most basic of everyday tasks. What’s more, Dina has grown progressively frustrated that she can envision what she wants to create but can’t get her body to cooperate in its execution. Having made a name for herself as an accomplished artist, Dina’s new circumstances have seriously deflated her enthusiasm for her art. At times it’s almost more than she can bear, both physically and emotionally.

Nevertheless, the friendly feud and the growing attraction that arises between the two protagonists give each of them a renewed sense of purpose, as well as a revitalized interest in their respective vocations. The question for them is, can they sustain their artistic fervor and their emerging bond in the face of their individual challenges? Indeed, will they be able to find the means needed to carry themselves forward? It all ultimately depends on what they manifest through the conscious creation process.

It’s been said that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and, for Jack and Dina, that’s very much the case if they’re to continue pursuing their respective callings. If Dina is going to continue painting, for instance, she must come up with new techniques for applying pigment to canvas, given the painful restrictions her condition has placed upon her logistically. Consequently, considering her circumstances, she may even need to devise an entirely new look for her finished works if she’s to remain viable as an artist. But, with the renewed resolve she’s amassing, she just might succeed.

So, from a conscious creation perspective, one might legitimately question why Dina has created the circumstances she’s experiencing. Given the highly personal nature of reality creation, one can only speculate, but perhaps they’re intentional to help birth those new painting techniques and artistic styles. Regardless of whether or not she’s aware of her true intents, those creations might not have been given physical expression were it not for her debilitated condition. Now, this is not to suggest that her approach is an ideal (or even recommended) way of bringing about these results, yet it is nevertheless a valid expression of creativity that’s just as viable as any other. In a similar vein, these circumstances also reflect Dina’s evolution, both as an artist and as a conscious creator. They illustrate the well-known principle that we’re all in a constant state of becoming, ever growing and changing as beings who consciously manifest our destinies.

To be sure, it can become discouraging when we try to continue pursuing our interests when impediments pop up in our way. Maintaining motivation and passion can be incredibly difficult under those conditions. So it’s under those circumstances where the impact of catalytic sparks can play a crucial role. These influences inspire us – sometimes even compel us – to forge ahead, no matter what obstacles may appear. They prompt us to take a good, hard look at what we create, perhaps in new and different ways, thereby not only allowing us to continue engaging in those pursuits, but also to expand their range of expression, taking them into previously unexplored territory.

Catalytic sparks can come in a variety of forms, too. On the one hand, they can be intangible, taking the form of ideas or theories, propositions that prompt us to ask “what if?” On the other hand, they can be wholly tangible, taking the form of people, events or other physical phenomena. In the case of Jack and Dina, they serve as catalysts for one another, their playful combativeness pushing one another to continue creating, despite their impairments, if, for no other reason than the sheer enjoyment that each of them gets out of the act of manifesting their artistry. Their personal attraction for one another reinforces this effect, too, the flames of their creative passions fanned by their smoldering romantic feelings. And, thankfully, when confronted with the personal difficulties each of them now faces, Jack and Dina have been astute enough to draw such motivating influences into their lives when they need them most, urging them to continue using their talents, to continue doing what each of them does best.

In their own way, Jack and Dina also symbolize the elements that we each draw upon when practicing conscious creation. Jack, as a writer, symbolizes the intellect, prompting thought through the words he uses as tools, while Dina, as a painter, represents the intuition, evoking feeling through her finished works. Yet, as anyone who practices conscious creation can attest, we need both of these influences if we’re to create successfully, since both are integral to the formation of the beliefs and intents we draw upon for manifesting the reality around us. And, even though advocates of each element like to believe they can get along with one and not the other (just as Jack and Dina sometimes do during their more combative moments), they truly need both if they’re to realistically achieve success. Just as it takes the cooperation of two individuals to make a relationship work, so, too, does it take the influences of the intellect and the intuition to make effective conscious creation function. Jack and Dina symbolize these respective notions in all their glory, but their pairing clearly represents the fusion of these elements. And, while watching their interplay on screen, one can’t help but hope that they succeed in their efforts – on all fronts.

“Words and Pictures” is a charming romantic comedy that’s intelligent and witty in many ways, a true cut above most of the offerings in this genre. The natural chemistry between Owen and Binoche is undeniable, with both leads playing this material for all it’s worth, evoking genuinely heartfelt feelings as their story unfolds. And the paintings depicted in the film, created by Binoche herself, are quite a sight to see, an added visual delight to the picture’s pleasantly appealing cinematography.

With that said, however, the film also comes up a little short in several regards. The subplots featuring Jack and Dina’s students (Valerie Tian, Adam DiMarco, Josh Ssettuba) generally bog down the flow of the central narrative, and the storyline involving Jack’s son contributes so little that it could have been left out entirely. Some elements of the main story (such as those related to Jack’s drinking) are a bit clichéd as well.

As for the core feud between Jack and Dina, some viewers have contended that it’s too rhetorical and academic to be believable, and, to an extent, I can see the merits of that argument. However, for my part, I’d much rather that the film overstate a point like this than exalt the kinds of utterly mindless material that so many other pictures do these days. I’ll gladly support a movie that seeks to elevate its viewers’ thinking rather than dumb them down with jokes about bodily functions and other inane topics, and “Words and Pictures” scores big on this front.

Creating a piece of art, a written work or our reality aren’t always the easiest undertakings we face in life. But, when we revel in the process and the finished results, we feel ourselves swelled with pride and satisfaction for a job well done. “Words and Pictures” reminds us of these truths, especially for those times when we’re on the verge of losing faith in them. The joy that comes from such efforts, not to mention the love and admiration that inspire them, are something to behold, something that even words and pictures may be inadequate to express. In such cases, the results speak for themselves – and they often do so in volumes.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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