Monday, January 13, 2014

Once Upon A Time . . . (Love Letter No. 2)

Joe Banks’ life stinks.

He works at a dead-end office job for $400 a week, in a place he hates and with co-workers who he’s sure are already dead, they look so bad under the office’s flickering fluorescent lights. He’s constantly sick and has gone through a string of doctors who never can quite figure out what’s wrong with him.

Then: Brain cloud.

It’s incurable, his new doctor says. Joe’s got maybe six months to live. “You have some life left,” Dr. Elison says. “Live it well.”

Enter Samuel Graynamore. Graynamore is an industrialist who needs the mineral bubaru, an essential ingredient in the superconductors he manufactures. Bubaru is available only on the tiny Pacific island of Waponi Woo. But the Waponis will only let him mine there if he fixes a problem: They need someone to jump into the island’s active volcano to satisfy their god. Graynamore wants to send Joe to the island, all expenses paid, promising that he’ll live like a king before he dies.

Joe decides to jump.

And jump he does – into a new life where he finds true love and, for the first time in years, meaning in his life.
He also discovers gratitude, and rediscovers God. While marooned on four steamer trunks lashed together in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with his true love unconscious by his side (a long, spoiler-filled story; I won’t spoil it for you) Joe sees the moon rise gigantic and magnificent over the horizon. As he watches the moon, he utters a prayer:

“Dear god, whose name I do not know. Thank you for my life. I forgot . . . how big . . . thank you. Thank you for my life . . . “

Joe finds life. He discovers it was his to have all along, once he got his head and his heart and his body in the right place.

The metaphor in John Patrick Shanley’s 1990 film “Joe Versus the Volcano” is clear: We don’t have to jump into a volcano to rediscover meaning in our lives. But we do have to take a leap. A leap outside of our comfort zone, a leap outside of our own self-imposed ring of misery.

Because everywhere Joe goes, he finds people who are happy in what they are doing, because they took that leap.

He meets Marshall, limo driver, content with driving a big car all over Manhattan and showing Joe an inkling of the life he could lead if he’d see happiness every day, rather than sadness. He finds contentment on “a working-man’s salary,” joy in helping others.

He meets Patricia Graynamore, sailor and daughter of the industrialist, doing a favor for her estranged father only because he’ll give her the yacht they make their Pacific voyage on once Joe is at Waponi Woo. She finds contentment sailing the seas, where she is in command.

He meets Tobi, chief of the Waponis, content that his volcano-sacrifice problem is being solved so easily.

And finally, Joe Banks meets the most important person of all. He meets Joe Banks. And Joe Banks was brave enough to leap into a volcano, and braver still to survive what came after that.

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