The Ballad of Jack & Rose


Watching this movie, for me, was something like watching an exquisitely produced and gorgeously rendered slow-motion series of train wrecks. It was so beautiful, and yet so traumatic to watch. The acting, direction, and cinematography were all absolutely superb, and the characters had such great – or at least understandable – intentions and desires, but they went about them all the wrong way. And you, the audience, know the travesty is coming and are powerless to stop it.

My husband and I got two very different readings of the movie. Or perhaps, more accurately, we came away from it with two very different messages. Honestly, what he got from it was probably much closer to the filmmaker’s intent. It’s as the film wanted to say “See? This is how it’s supposed to be! Happiness is freedom from the corruption of others.”

I wanted to shout “No! You’ve got it all wrong!” Because if that is indeed what the movie intended, then I disagree with it’s basic view of human nature and the purpose and effects of human society, and I can draw evidence from it’s own characters and plot to show why I disagree.

I realize at this point I’m not doing a very good job of selling this movie. But if you like independent films, films with multiple possible interpretations, or movies that make you think about where you stand in this world, then this is the movie for you. (Highly recommended for burners, artists, philosophers, and political and literary theorists. Burners especially will relate to the difficulty of moving between an ideal world and the ‘default world’.) I don’t want to spoil any of the movie for anyone, so I won’t say exactly what happens in it. Beyond its premise, I’ll only say what it made me think about.

Daniel Day-Lewis does an outstanding job of portraying an environmentally-conscious father, Jack, who raises his daughter, Rose, on a remote island where they are almost entirely self-sufficient. They live in near total peace and happy harmony until he becomes terminally ill and realizes he must work out some other arrangement to care for his daughter when he passes away. So he tries to introduce other people to their little happy commune and trouble ensues from there. Catherine Keener, Paul Dano, Jason Lee, and Beau Bridges also star in this film.

It’s rather difficult to discuss without getting into specifics, but what I thought when I saw the movie was that it shows just how powerful socialization is in shaping us. Our parents and all the people around us have a very important role to play in shaping our beliefs, in how we interact with the world, and what we know to be right and wrong. And what I really thought when I saw it was that what is really important is to have a variety of people around us, to teach us right from wrong as well as how to interact well with others. Perhaps it’s the Buddhist in me speaking, but what I saw was a need for balance: that going too far for one ideal means sacrificing others (and in this movie, it puts you in the awkward position of facing the question: is incest wrong because society says it’s wrong, or is there something inherently wrong with incestuous relationships?). Growing up with only her father, Rose acquired all his ideals, but she also suffered tremendously because of his failings. Because he didn’t know how to communicate, she didn’t either – and her attempts at communication devolved into increasingly hurtful and dangerous actions designed to protect her self interest. I’m not saying she is wrong; only that she didn’t know better. She had only ever been allowed to be with her father, could only know what it was to love him, which led to a sexual mess when it came to any positive feelings towards men.

We may not always like what people different from us do and say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are indecent people. As different as people may be, we do share commonalities, and more importantly, there is often something we can learn from others. Ideology is important, having a set of values is what defines us as a people and as individuals, but sometimes ideological coherence is not itself ideal. Ideals taken to the extreme can lead to suffering, and ultimately undermine their own purpose.

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4 thoughts on “The Ballad of Jack & Rose

  1. I like where you are going with this. I will have to watch the movie to get a complete idea. I'll put it in my netflix queue. Its currently filled with orgo, gen chem, and algebra (can you begin to see my issues!?!)To just go by the current discussion and your reference to your own Buddhist interpretation. I will admit I personally love Buddhism b/c it takes responsibility. The Dalai Lama is not respected by all. I myself see his brilliance as well as his inadequacies. Although, aren't we all inadequate? Anyway, just one of his many profound beliefs, is that the Tibetan people are responsible for their fate by mistakingly falling their traditional ceremony. He realizes that as a people they shouldn't have spent all their time concentrating on ceremony. That they should have kept in line with the rest of society, and that if they had, than they would maybe not be in this predicament. That right there is profound. Their spirits may have been in line with their lord(s) yet, it was not useful for the reality. Very interesting. Very important. I'm very curious about the incestuous relationships dialog. My mom's father's sister, her aunt, was the only women in a house with numerous brothers and the father, and had not been allowed to go to school. This was the mountains in Virginia (?) and I visited her and she cries and moans in her sleep. I think you know where I am going with this. I would say that incest is wrong in the same way that women being sold as goats is wrong. Although, I really have no idea where you are going with this. Maybe a little TMI. Yet, I think I want to come a little "clean" so to speak. Just to better understand everything around me.

  2. Wow that is a heavy queue load! I'm sorry to hear you are feeling a little blue. Maybe a little mini-break would help? I like to take long walks to clear my head. Anyway that works for you, I hope that you find a way back to inner peace again.I'm glad you'll watch the movie; it really is a great movie – even aside from all the thought and questions it provoked in me.From what I understand, one of the major foundational guidelines in Buddhism towards finding enlightenment is the principle of freedom from suffering. Unlike most other perspectives which focus on trying to get more, attain more (i.e. have more things, be more loved, do more good), Buddhism focuses on trying to shed things. The Buddha taught that the main cause of suffering and the motivation behind many human actions is layers of fear: fear of loneliness, fear of death, fear of failure, etc. He teaches that the way towards enlightenment is to learn to shed these layers, and only when you rid yourself of all these barriers do you find your core self. And then you find your core self is One and the same as the universe, therein you find enlightenment and thereby, liberation.Balance fits into this equation because, when we as humans have ideas about what is good and what is evil, we always strive to eradicate the evil (because we are afraid of it, and because we cling to our notions of good). But oftentimes, what is evil to one, is good to another, or our attempts to eradicate evil only create more problems. So the Buddha advises instead letting go; remaining attached to neither favorable nor unfavorable conditions to attain complete freedom from suffering.This is not to say incest is wrong. Examples like what might have happened to your mom's aunt and millions of others like her show how much suffering that creates, and while the Buddha says to let go of the NEED for good and the FEAR of bad, he also teaches to reduce violence and injustice by emphasizing loving-kindness and compassion; harmlessness in action and gentleness in speech; and the peaceful resolution of disputes.So coming back to the movie, if the movie's ultimate message was that their unadulterated commune was the ultimate good and all the outsiders are impure influences and evil come to visit, then I disagree because I don't think that commune was ALL good. It created a girl who did evil when faced with fear and was out of control of her own emotions. By holding too tightly to one vision of ideal, the father neglected a whole host of other dimensions where good and evil come to play. And I don't think any one person can be perfect in every dimension of morality, which is why I say we need community with a variety of influences to help negotiate our own way towards enlightenment, truth, the good, and freedom from suffering. We can't rely on community (we can only approach the world with an open mind and a questioning, curious spirit), but it helps.Which is another thing I appreciate about Buddhism: the Buddha never prescribed ONE WAY towards enlightenment. He merely said this is the way he had found, but others are free to try out and discover their own paths. I should say I am a Theravada Buddhist (predominant in Southeast Asia), a sect that adheres to the Pali Canon (the only written recordings of the Buddha's teachings, though they surfaced at least a century after he lived). I don't pretend to be any type of expert on any sect of Buddhism, but this is my understanding of it.I hope I'm not sounding like I'm proselytizing Buddhism – only trying to explain a bit more and respond to your comment.

  3. "It created a girl who did evil when faced with fear and was out of control of her own emotions."This statement is very meaningful. I will hold onto this. I think you can relate that many of us manifest our lives for self preservation. I have only followed Buddhism through Shambala Sun and 10 years of yoga classes. In present I have had a a neck injury for a few years, so, that has stopped my dialog from a yoga teacher. Basically, my understanding is transient at best, although, I have read this theory in one form or another.Reading and integration is two completely separate things. I don't know Theravda Buddhism yet, will read it just so that i am able to follow the train of thought. I have to say, Buddhism to me is not even about religion. It is a paradigm shift. It is seeing everything with a tweek of perspective. I give many hugs and kisses because presently I feel very sharing. thank you for sharing yourself. xxxx

  4. I would agree that Buddhism is less a religion (though of course it has its own religious aspects) and more a way to approach life. What I love most about it is the notion that human beings are not, as some would say, born in sin. The idea is that at our core we are good beings, but these fears are what prevent us from being good. If you have ever been to Burning Man, you'll probably have seen how incredibly giving and decent people can be on a large scale when there is an absence of want. So by finding a way to move past these fears, not only do we become better people, we become more authentically ourselves.Krishnamurti is a good teacher to look at to explain Buddhism in general. I think most major bookstores carry a book or two of his lectures.Hugs and kisses to you too!