Thinking Through Water BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN MINDWALK Directed by Bernt Capra MEDITERRANEO Directed by Gabriele Salvatores THE THREE walking minds in Mindwalk are almost successful in diverting us from the fact that Bernt Capra’s film offers lit tle more than three talking heads. They talk of time, death, individualism, international debt, global warming, red meat, patriarchy, Hiroshima, and subatomic particles, quoting Blake, Newton, Neruda, Darwin, Jefferson, and Lewis Carroll, among others. Most producers cannot tell the difference between an idea and a concept, but Mindwalk, like The Decline of the American Empire, aspires to an oxymoronic category the movie-of-ideas. It is My Dinner With Andre as redesigned by Jeremy Rifkin. It is, in fact, based on the work of Capra’s brother Fritjof, the visionary Austrian scientist who caught a cult with his 1975 book The Tao of Physics. In trying to translate Fritjof’s ideas into cinema, the Capra brothers consciously modeled Mindwalk after Galileo’s Dialogue on World Systems. And it has more in common with texts like Plato’s dialogues, Denis Diderot’s Conversation Between D’ Alembert and Diderot, and David Hume’s Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion than with another Capra’s It Happened One Night or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Mindwalk goes to Washington for its brief opening scene. Senator Jack Edwards \(Sam is feeling “tapped out” after losing a bid for the presidency. Poet Tom Harriman \(John living in France, invites Jack for a rejuvenating weekend visit. Mindwalk records the day the two men spend at Mont-Saint-Michel, the granite islet bathed in fog and tide just off the tip of Brittany. Mont-Saint-Michel has been attracting pilgrims to its floating church for more than a millennium, and it inspired Henry Adams, the American bard of entropy, with some of his most melancholy thoughts about the decay of medieval unity. Jack and Tom encounter Sonia cist on “semi-permanent sabbatical” from a Boston university, during their stroll through Mont-Saint-Michel. Mindwalk is a day of peripatetic philosophy exchanged in that aqueous agora. In Jack, Tom, and Sonia, politician, poet, and physicist, the Capras offer a fundamental triadthe hand, heart, and mind that would Stephen Kellman teaches comparative literture in San Antonio. together constitute a complete human being. Each comes to Mont-Saint-Michel with psychic scars: Jack’s from a failed campaign, Tom’s from a failed marriage, and Sonia’s from the sobering discovery that her research on lasers was expropriated for military purposes. Behind their encounter is a triple midlife crisis, but the film slights the personal for the universal. Sonia’s vision of cosmic evolution as “an ongoing dance, an ongoing conversation” is itself a model for the way the film is organized, except that the triangular exchange is not equilateral. Sonia dominates. Casting Ullmann, known not only for her roles in major Bergman films but also for her work with UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee, endows Sonia with a moral authority that Waterston and Heard cannot match. As a woman scientist who rejects the patriarchal predations of modern technology, a European in a world deformed by America, Sonia makes the two old pals seem callow, shallow, and terse. She suddenly materializes amid the Gothic walls of Mont-Saint-Michel to lecture them about a “crisis of perception” that must be resolved if the planet is to be saved. “We need a new way of understanding life,” she declares, insisting that we replace the Cartesian paradigm of the world as machine with “ecological thinking,” which begins with the recognition of interconnections. “The essential nature of matter lies not in objects but in relationships,” notes Sonia, who applies that insight not only to elemental waves and particles but to our moral obligations to one another and the universe. “Don’t bore him to death,” advises Sonia’s in the proceedings. Kit recognizes and admires Jack, but her mother, who does not think it worth her while to vote, has to be told who Senator Edwards is, though she is quite familiar with Tom Harriman’s poetry. She is the sort of quaint academic more likely to identify Mark Strand than Paul Tsongas. Whatever the reaction of the viewer, Jack is not bored. Sonia’s sermon leaves him speechless for much of the film, not merely because the Senator left his speechwriters in the United States. He is impressed enough by Sonia’s insights to offer her a job on his staff, but her theories leave him puzzled over praxis. “What am I going to do about this?” he asks. Defining politics as “the art of bringing people to agree on a certain course of action,” he despairs of accomplishing the revolution in perception that Sonia demands. “I can’t get too far out in front of public opinion,” explains the politician who lost his civic innocence in Chicago, demonstrating against the 1968 Democratic convention. Tom responds by reciting a long Neruda poem about casting nets to catch the wind. Tom’s powers of recall are as impressive and implausible as Sonia’s patches of oratory. What am I going to do about this?, we might ask of Mindwalk. We have to begin by accepting the dramatic contrivance of three figures thrown together to descant more than chat. As compelling as are Sonia’s beliefs, they are delivered with a sententiousness likely to weary even viewers not rooting for the arrival of Sylvester Stallone as deus ex machina to resolve the impasse over the Western mechanistic mind. Mindwalk lacks the comic selfawareness of its own goofy enterprise that made My Dinner With Andre so tonic. Tom’s conclusion that “Life is infinitely more than your or my obtuse theories about it” does frame the film, but not nearly as vividly as the fickle, fluid tide. Cr n times like these,” reads the epigraph to Mediterraneo, “escape is the only way to stay alive and to continue dreaming.” The time is 1941, and World War II imperils both life and dreams. A platoon of eight Italian soldiers is assigned to the obscure Greek island of Mighisti, to secure it for the fascist cause. After the boat that brings them sinks and their radio is destroyed, a four-month mission extends to three years. Lieutenant Montini ” misfits like myself who happened to survive” is his voiceover assessment make their separate peace in pastoral seclusion. Aside from a solitary Turk who arrives by sea with a cache of dope, the Italians, who soon shed their uniforms and their military protocols, remain isolated from the rest of a world at war. “We’re staying at the isle of oblivion,” declares one, after the group votes against commandeering the Turk’s boat to return to the front. Gabriele Salvatores, the 41-year-old director who dropped out of law school to join a politically committed theater, sees Mediterraneo as embodying the spirit of the 1960s more than the 1940s. “The film is about dreams,” he has been quoted as saying, “the dreams of a generation.” Part of a generation that dreamed of making love instead of war, Salvatores has made a film that is an adolescent male fantasy of eros undisturbed. The Germans have evacuated almost all the native men from the Greek island, and when the Italians arrive they must make peace with the gorgeous, nubile, willing women left. While all the rest of the world becomes a stage for mass atrocity, Mighisti, forgotten by the Axis and the Allies, is an oasis of sweet sanity. It is an endearing premise, one that recalls King of Hearts, Philippe De Broca’s account of the inmates at an insane asylum as more lucid than the loonies waging World War I outside.
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