I was working in my first job in treatment, basic staff in the West Detroit detox facility, three years into recovery.  Green would be the word. The tri-county detox was just taken over by the main treatment agency in the county and that Executive Director, Jim Balmer, was a mentor to me.  Six months into the job, I was out at the main facility for a meeting and after, I went down the hall to get detox mail. I was in a little acoustical pocket where you hear other offices and before I knew it was listening to his manager complain about me (I’d made some mistake or other, I cannot remember) and I heard Jim, my mentor say, “No No you don’t touch him, he loves addicts”.  And I thought, “Doesn’t everybody?”

Two key points from that were;  A) No everybody does not love addicts in fact most everyone most definitely hates addicts, and  B) Eventually I realized my instinctive stance is; I love the underdog.  The one who appears to be losing, the one who’s down. The ones who society scapegoats and thinks of as less than. Because that is what we do. We need to point the finger, we need a dog to kick.

I suppose it’s genetic, I was born with that love of the underdog but recovery definitely embedded it deeper. I was “losing” and once in recovery I began “winning” and that became one of the great spiritual lessons for me. Everybody loves the winner and nobody likes the loser and yet there can be a fine line between the two. In the Olympics it can be as fine as 1/100ths of a second.  Shakespeare, a practical psychologist at heart, said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”  Which to me means maybe “losing” is a roll we need to play as much as any other. A spiritual saying for this is; there but for the Grace of a Higher Power go I, which speaks to me of the fallacy of all judgement.  With this theme of quotes going, a favorite comes from non-violent communication teacher Marshall B. Rosenberg, “Every criticism, judgment…..is the tragic expression of an unmet need.” And how about one last quote from Shakespeare, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”  Of course, I believe in re-incarnation, so I get many chances. 🙂  But I don’t want another chance at addiction, I learned that lesson. A primo lesson of recovery is:  No one can take it from me. I can give it away but no one can take it, it is mine forever.

So what, you ask, does all this have to do with my review of the movie, “The World Made Straight”? Sometimes I perceive movies as underdogs and it’s my duty to champion them. They get lost in the shuffle, nobody sees them and they are diamonds a bit in the rough. This one clearly fits the bill. Its pedigree is strong and it brings me pleasure to help it along. Its life’s little pleasures that are best.

What bowled me over, beyond the movie itself, which is set in North Carolina,  was realizing it came from a novel of the same name, written by Ron Rash. He’s a North Carolina native son (though born in S. Carolina and we won’t hold that against him), an accomplished writer and professor at Western Carolina U.   His bio states, “Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Finalist and New York Times bestselling novel, Serena, in addition to three other prizewinning novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; three collections of poems; and four collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. Twice the recipient of the O. Henry Prize, he teaches at Western Carolina University.”

I love the mention of the Faulkner award because it gives me the opportunity to include a favorite Faulkner quote which is what the story strives (and succeeds) to portray, “The past is never dead, it isn’t even past.”

The story line goes, “A young man in Appalachia finds himself caught between vengeful pot farmers, a violent legacy from the Civil War and his own unpredictable future.”

Someone wrote, “It compares to “Winter’s Bone” for mountain rawness.”

It deals with loss and “failure” and “success” while weaving Civil War history into the story in what to me was a relevant and believable way. The story circles around the Civil War as it was fought in the North Carolina Mountains, “where brother against brother was far truer than perhaps any other place”.  Violence can bind us to the past. In the present tense, there is some addiction and even sex trafficking involved so it’s a bit painful. It is completely pertinent and not gratuitous.  I appreciated Steve Earle’s turn as a bad guy. Successful musicians often want to be actors, and vice-versa, and it usually does not work. A man openly in long-term recovery, Steve is one of my favorite singer-songwriters and he does a very credible job.

I do want to talk about the fact that as I grow in recovery a fair amount of movie violence I simply cannot watch. I have grown more sensitive in my life and it is too painful to see. Heck, it’s painful to watch the news so I’m choosy in my films. Movies are filled with the glamorization of all that’s dehumanizing to the point that I want to pick on some of the more egregious offenders. So, I hope it’s clear that when I recommend something that’s more R rated it is my feeling that it’s truly worth the effort. But hey each of us has to decide for ourselves. This movie’s painful, but captures some of the greatness of the human spirit in the harsher of circumstances and comes from a good heart toward the Appalachian experience, I feel.

While we’re at it, a couple of short reviews:  Calvary and Top 5, two very different movies.

“Calvary” (http://www.calvary-movie.com/) – a poignant, touching, beautiful, stark stare into the abyss, also quite painful in parts but wonderfully done. A priest in Ireland has to deal with the consequences and fallout of pedophile priests. A morality play, with comic moments, a treatise on what virtues like integrity look like day-to-day,  the roles we play and another look at the past playing out in the now plus the ever-important solution,  forgiveness. Brendan Gleeson is perfect as the priest and ably supported by an excellent cast including a favorite of mine, M. Emmet Walsh.

“Top 5” Chris Rock wrote and directed this commentary on show biz careers. It’s a really great script with Rock up to his best film form. I’m new to this whole movie reviewing thing so unsure still how much to reveal. I do have to say the movie ultimately pivots on the character’s fear he won’t be funny/relevant now that he is sober. My understanding is that is a true fear for artists of all stripe going back to the early jazz greats. “How will I live sober?!” I can relate. There are numerous funny and revealing parts but to me the best was his fairly restrained take on reality show culture. I am not a fan of more laws, I actually believe we need less laws and more common sense restraint. Freedom demands responsibility.  But maybe we could actually banish all reality show TV?  What do you say?  Let’s start a(nother) movement. 

Meanwhile, today’s acronym for the list:  TBFTGOAHPGI: there but for the Grace of a Higher Power go I.