Monthly Archives: March 2015


At first glance, “Ida” is the sum­ma­tion of a movie I was cre­at­ed on this earth to hate. It’s a peri­od movie shot in black and white*, it’s about a nun, and it fea­tures a road trip and a sax­o­phone play­er. I almost choked myself out in a rage just typ­ing that sen­tence. Nonethe­less, “Ida” held me cap­tive, and my opin­ion of it has only risen in the days since. (“Ida” wasn’t shot in black and white. It was shot in col­or dig­i­tal­ly and con­vert­ed to black and white using col­or grad­ing soft­ware. This is the case for almost every­thing released in black and white in the last decade at least. I under­stand and appre­ci­ate the rea­sons for shoot­ing this way, but the deci­sion to make a black and white movie feels arch and orna­men­tal in a way that ear­li­er direc­tors choos­ing to shoot on black and white film stock did not. While the black and white grad­ing in “Ida” is of the high­est qual­i­ty, the images bear the unmis­tak­able crisp­ness and res­o­lu­tion of the dig­i­tal era.)

Reli­gion is like a loaded gun. You don’t show it unless you’re going to use it. The gun is going to go off — the only ques­tion is will it end well or not. And when a char­ac­ter is defined by her reli­gious devo­tion, you can be that her faith is going to blow up too. The only ques­tion is will it end well or not. When we meet Ida in Poland in 1962, she a week from tak­ing her vows to become a nun. She vis­its her Aunt Wan­da — home she’s nev­er met before — and learns she is actu­al­ly a Jew. This kind of plot wal­lop usu­al­ly bores the hell out of me, because it means for the next 90 min­utes, I’m going to be sub­ject­ed to end­less ver­sions of “who am I really?’

First, “Ida” is only 80 min­utes long, and sec­ond, while it feels almost like a folk tale at times, the film is very aware of itself. That aware­ness man­i­fests itself in what “Ida” doesn’t do : it doesn’t ask ques­tions like “who am I?” and it cer­tain­ly offers no answers. It is more of a reflec­tion on the lim­its of guilt and anger and accep­tance. The film is made with long, still takes where the cam­era seems to resists mov­ing and instead set­tles itself into the scene at hand. Dra­mat­ic sto­ry points are treat­ed almost as an after­thought, but sus­pense and desire build as the cam­era remains on Ida and/or on Wan­da longer than we are used to, longer than we expect, and the ten­sion con­tin­ues to build when they leave the frame : we see only ner­vous fin­gers stick­ing out of win­ter coats as relics of grief and tragedy are pulled from the ground ; lat­er, in the most mem­o­rable scene of the film, Wan­da puts on some music on the phono­graph and movies in and out of frame with a fran­tic ener­gy . She returns with so much verve that when she leaves the frame the last time, so casu­al­ly and ter­ri­bly, we are com­plete­ly emp­tied. It’s this self-imposed set of bound­aries, struc­tural­ly and the­mat­i­cal­ly, that allows “Ida” to become tru­ly cinematic.movies-ida-050214-videoSixteenByNine540

And that’s where the two Agatas come in. Aga­ta Kulesza plays Wan­da per­fect­ly. Oth­ers have said that the film should be titled “Wan­da” because she is the more ful­ly drawn and com­plex of two char­ac­ters. When she first invites Ida into her kitchen and asks her what the nuns told Ida about her, she’s relieved when Ida tells her that the nuns didn’t say any­thing. Wan­da is disheveled, wear­ing a night gown and smok­ing a cig­a­rette, and she has a lover who is get­ting dressed to leave, so it’s easy to imag­ine, stand­ing in for Ida, that Wan­da is a pros­ti­tute. That she is a once respect­ed judge who turns to drink­ing and sex to stave off the shame of her fad­ed career is only one sur­prise about Wan­da that makes her a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter and the per­fect guide for Ida through the land­scape of Poland and of sin.

Aga­ta Trze­bu­chows­ka is the 23 year old star of the film. She has nev­er act­ed before the direc­tor Paweł Paw­likows­ki dis­cov­ered her in a café, but she was the per­fect choice for the old of Ida. Wrapped up in her gray habit for most of the film, Ida’s expres­sion­less face must tell a sto­ry with­out being a blank slate. Like every­thing else in this film, what’s beau­ti­ful about Ida comes from our inabil­i­ty to know if her calm expres­sion is a sta­sis of oppo­sites that can­cel each oth­er out, a bal­anced uni­ty of her many con­tra­dic­tions, or just a bull­shit mask that she’s dying to take off. And Trze­bu­chows­ka is so great at car­ry­ing all these pos­si­bil­i­ties in her stun­ning, love­ly face and in her per­for­mance that it isn’t until after the film ends that we real­ize the answer is D all of the above. The final, hand­held, shaky track­ing shot of Ida walk­ing in the mid­dle of a dirt road, her eyes full of every­thing — an unknown future, a past either rec­on­ciled or roil­ing, a heart either full or bro­ken — while the head­lights of pass­ing cars throw dull halos across her face, is the kind of thing I was put on this earth to love.

Mea Culpa

I am a reformed anti-vaxxer. My old­er boys were vac­ci­nat­ed in the late 80s and ear­ly 90s, but when Oskar was born in 2002, our pedi­a­tri­cian dis­cour­aged us from vac­ci­nat­ing. He cit­ed the increase in the num­ber of vac­cines as well as the dan­ger of side effects, etc. and we went along with it. I also had my old­er sons cir­cum­cised (despite their mother’s protest), and by the time Oskar came around, I had come to see the error of my ways, so I prob­a­bly con­sid­ered my ear­li­er atti­tude toward vac­ci­na­tion to be part of my cave­man ways that need­ed to be reformed. I’m a smart guy, but I admit that I didn’t do my home­work or even con­sid­er things like herd immunity. 
Oskar got whoop­ing cough last year when he start­ed mid­dle school and since then he’s been vac­ci­nat­ed for every­thing except HPV and menin­gi­tis. The menin­gi­tis vac­ci­na­tion comes in high school. I have done much more research and have come to real­ize that I was very wrong. It’s impor­tant to be able to admit your mis­takes and change when you can, and it’s just as impor­tant to speak out when what each of us does can affect all of us. 
I live in the heart of the anti-vax move­ment (San­ta Mon­i­ca), and our pedi­a­tri­cian, Jay Gor­don, has been at the white hot cen­ter of the debate for years. But when I sched­uled vac­ci­na­tions with his office, they were very hap­py to pro­vide them. They real­ize that the risks are high and real (though they prob­a­bly don’t acknowl­edge their role in cre­at­ing the risk through the years). 
There are no intel­li­gent argu­ments against vac­ci­na­tion for peo­ple with healthy immune sys­tems. Zero. There is no point in pre­tend­ing both sides of this argu­ment have good points. They do not. Those who argue the sci­ence isn’t in on vac­cine safe­ty do not under­stand vac­cines. Live virus/bacteria vac­cines do not make you sick. They are atten­u­at­ed, which means they are not vir­u­lent but they are alive. This allows your body to devel­op immune respons­es with­out hav­ing to get sick. Like any­thing else, there are poten­tial side effects, but the com­mon ones aren’t seri­ous and the seri­ous ones are sta­tis­ti­cal­ly very rare. 
Some­one above post­ed that doc­tors came to her 24 hours after the birth of her child to vac­ci­nate her baby. That doesn’t make sense, and I can under­stand why that would be extreme­ly upset­ting. Your baby is brand new in the world and is per­fect. Babies also have their mother’s immune sys­tem for sev­er­al weeks, so there’s no need to act that fast. I’m sym­pa­thet­ic to par­ents who want to pro­tect their chil­dren and not just do every thing doc­tors say to do with­out ques­tion­ing. I was like that and I still am to a degree, but not about this.
When Oskar got whoop­ing cough, though, it was incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to watch him suf­fer, know­ing if we had vac­ci­nat­ed him, this wouldn’t have ever hap­pened. Night after night, he woke up ter­ri­fied and pan­icked, unable to breathe, mak­ing that awful ‘whoop whoop” sound that just breaks your heart. He missed weeks of school, he had a high fever, and even after the worst of it passed, he had a raspy, wet cough for more than three months. And if he had it as a baby or a tod­dler it could have killed him. 
I’ve come to real­ize it is the height of irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty bor­der­ing on crim­i­nal­i­ty to not vac­ci­nate our chil­dren. The state can­not and should not com­pel peo­ple to do it, but the prob­lem with schools refus­ing to enroll unvac­ci­nat­ed chil­dren is that schools are not equipped to be pub­lic health police. They don’t have the resources. And that doesn’t address home­school and pri­vate school students. 
This is where it real­ly does take a vil­lage to raise every child. Each child is impor­tant to all of us, and her wel­fare is in our best inter­est as well.