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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Blind Side

The best stories in life (and film) have simple plots and complicated, inspiring and intriguing characters.

Disregard your preconceptions, look past the simple plot, and go see "The Blind Side".

A wealthy, white mother and career woman takes in a homeless, hopeless, black teenager from a gang-ruled housing project in Memphis. Although she knows nothing about him, and fully expects him to steal what he can carry, she breaks through his wall of silent despair and begins to care for him as her own child. He completes high school and wins a scholarship to play football for University of Mississippi, "Ole Miss".

The film is based on a true story told by author Michael Lewis in his book, "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game", 2007, W. W. Norton & Company.

I want to see the film again, and I want to buy the video when it becomes available. Here are two reasons:

I Don't Like Football

I've never understood the strategy, except "throw the ball and catch it, or try to stomp on any one on the opposing team." I admit that's a shallow understanding of the sport, but that's where I was, before I watched "The Blind Side" last night.

Sandra Bullock plays the mother, Leigh Anne. The film opens with her giving a play-by-play color commentary of a real football game, focusing on the role of one of the defensive linemen, the left tackle.

For the first time I understood one of the basic strategies of football. The left tackle protects the blind side of a righthanded quarterback, who must twist slightly to the right before throwing the football.

This has been a relatively new development in football strategy, and made the position of left tackle hugely important, earning nearly as much money as that earned by the quarterback, the highest-paid position on the team.

I just might watch a football game this weekend. Even if I don't, this new awareness of how football works, or at least, how a part of it works, inspires me to see parallels in other parts of my life:

Violence cannot be judged on appearance alone. I cannot blindly look at the crushing, brawling conflict of a football game and lightly dismiss it as foolish, or wrong, or useless. There is a reason for it, a need for it, a moral necessity even.

This idea impacts today's issues of gun control, military interventions, community police departments...even child discipline. The motive for an act, the results of an act, must be discerned before the act is judged right, wrong, useless or worthwhile.

This film made me think about that.

Sandra Bullock's character was a bitch, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Please, before you angrily, righteously, shut down your computer, open a dictionary and look up the meaning of "bitch".

Bitch: The female of the canine kind, from Anglo Saxon, "bicce" (1949 Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary). By the 15th century the word was used to describe a bad woman. Why? It is helpful to look at how dog breeders and trainers regard the word, "bitch". Here is an exerpt from an article that focuses on the differences between male and female dogs. (My comments comparing the description to the mother in "The Blind Side" are shown in italics):

Male Dogs vs. Female Dogs

A Guide to Dog Behavior, by Mary Stasiewicz

In some ways, choosing between male and female dogs is a matter of personal preference. However, there are some characteristics which are common in bitches and other characteristics which are common in male dogs.

The following characteristics often apply to bitches:

Independent

Bitches tend to want to be in control of the entire situation. They may come to their owner when they are seeking affection but will often move away when they have had enough.

The mother, Leigh Anne, is an interior designer, shown in the beginning of the film on the phone, dictating requirements of a project to a supplier. She sounds firm, knowledgeable and in control. She makes decisions quickly, she sees the big picture, and she's obsessive about quality and appearance, in life and home.

There are scenes in the film in which the phrase, "Guess who wears the pants in that family?" comes to mind. Although Sean, the husband, is shown later in the film as part of the decision-making at home, and Leigh Anne depends upon him for guidance and support, he also admits to his children and her, that "What she wants and what will actually happen...are usually the same thing."

Leigh Anne is the one who takes Michael, the forlorn black teenager, into their home. She insists that he allow her to buy him new clothes. She confronts Michael's old friends when they threaten him. She pushes the high school football coach aside to forcibly impress upon Michael and his team (grabbing by the shirt, pulling on the helmet, and slapping on the butt) the facts of football. Leigh Anne's first response, in almost all situations, seems to be one of taking control and solving the problem by moving and shaking.

Stubborn

In many packs, a bitch is typically the Alpha dog. Female dogs crave more control of situations and are quick to respond to perceived challenges with fierceness.

Leigh Anne packs heat. She never pulls her gun out of her purse, but her strong words and "in your face" confrontation with bad-side-of-town tough guys who threaten her son leave no doubt: She's going to do whatever it takes to protect her own.

Territorial

Female dogs mark in the same way male dogs do. A spayed female may continue to mark for her entire lifetime regardless of when she is spayed while most males will cease marking behaviors shortly after they are neutered and the testosterone levels subside.

Leigh Anne's home is visually stunning, with beautiful furniture and art placed intimately and comfortably. She has a place, a room, for every purpose, designed and furnished for that purpose. From landscaping to the laundry room, and from great room to guest room, Leigh Anne's esthetic marking behaviors are clearly seen.

Reserved

Bitches are generally less affectionate and friendly than male dogs. This characteristic is noticeable in puppies and becomes more pronounced with age.

This is an interesting generalization. Discussing it with my wife, we couldn't definitely agree that this was true of Leigh Anne, or of women in general. In many senses, this is true, and not true, of men and women. It seems that women tend to be nurturers, quick to provide compassion and affection, while men often are "bottom line" problem-solvers, rather than empathizers. However, women who are leaders also place a higher priority on the need for analytical, aggressive and decisive behavior.

Leigh Anne did show several aspects of making problem-solving a higher priority than compassion and affection. Her first reaction to seeing Michael with her young son was one of suspician and doubt. Later, finding Michael alone on the street, in the rain, wearing only a T-shirt and gym shorts, she wasted no time probing for problems or giving a motherly embrace...she ordered him into her car and directed him to stay the night at her home, no back-talk or excuses tolerated.

Months later, after Michael had become a permanent house guest, he asked her to help him get a driver's licence. She was in the middle of organizing her sewing room, and quickly dismissed his request as unnecessary: he didn't even have a car! But Leigh Anne's compassionate side kicked in...she stopped what she was doing, looked Michael directly in the eyes, and softly asked, "Why do you want a driver's licence?" He shared something from deep inside himself, she listened and gave him warm support.

Leigh Anne's daughter, Collins, was shown suffering silently from teasing and ostracizing at school because of her family's relationship with Michael. Leigh Anne detected Collins' anxiety, and confronted it as a decision-maker, asking Collins to describe her relationship with Michael. When Collins dismissed the situation as inconsequential, Leigh Anne shifted her priority, placing empathy and compassion above solving the problem. She spoke as a mother, inviting Collins to share what she was feeling, affirming her support and understanding.

The film offers a good representation of the complexity of human emotion and ambition. There were definitely instances when Leigh Anne demonstrated a business-like approach to solving family problems. However, Leigh Anne also showed a compassionate side, a weaker, softer, needy and caring side.

Changes in Mood or Behavior

It is also important to note that if you do not spay your bitch, she will come into heat at approximately one year of age and approximately every six months thereafter. During this time, there will be some bleeding as well as a change in mood or behavior. Keep this in mind when you adopt a puppy and make the decision of whether or not to spay her.

I laughed when I considered comparing this characteristic of female dogs to women. The classic descriptor of a women enduring her monthly cycle of menstruation, or the hot flashes and moodiness of menopause, is the rough, vulgar term, "bitchiness". Cute bumper stickers and T-shirt slogans testify to the reputation that hormonal changes in females is cause for extreme wariness for all that may consider interacting with them.

The film included no scenes that implied that hormones were involved in any of Leigh Anne's actions. But with a pistol in her purse, I would indeed tread softly if I were anywhere near her when she feels her pups were in danger!

Go see this film.

It will give you an itch to watch a football game this weekend. It will make you want to redecorate your living room. It may even inspire you to reach out in love to someone completely different from you, just for the joy of it!

Links:

  • Male Dogs vs. Female Dogs: A Guide to Dog Behavior, by Mary Stasiewicz
  • Review, cast, and trailers
  • "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game"
  • Tuohy family helps Sandra Bullock research film