Thank, live and love

Personal Response: ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ directed by Nick Cassavetes and based on novel of the same name by Jodi Picoult

After watching the film ‘My Sister’s Keeper’, directed by Nick Cassavetes and based on the novel of the same name by Jodi Picoult, I feel compelled to reflect on the troubles in my life. Sure, I have a truckload of responsibilities as a student, athlete, leader, sister and daughter; there never seem to be enough minutes in a day to accomplish tasks; and my bank account is sitting pretty with a grand total of twenty dollars and seven cents. These problems feel so petty though, when compared with those faced by the Fitzgerald family in ‘My Sister’s Keeper’. Eldest daughter Kate suffers from leukaemia and it seems as if the purpose of the whole family is to keep Kate alive- younger sister Anna is the in vitro child who provides the body parts, mother Sarah takes on the role of a caretaker and father Brian brings in the money to pay for Kate’s frequent hospital trips. The film tugs on my heart strings as I watch the family’s relationships become strained and Kate’s condition worsen. Though I suspect few have experienced an identical set of circumstances, there are an abundance of life lessons which the viewer can take away from the family’s situation and the director does a commendable job of highlighting these important lessons through expert crafting of film techniques.

With today’s society so heavily promoting individualism and personal satisfaction, the magnitude of Sarah’s selfless devotion to her daughter leaves a lasting impression on me. Cameron Diaz plays the role of Sarah Fitzgerald, a lawyer-turned-permanent-caretaker, as she desperately does everything in her power to protect her daughter and keep her alive. A voice-over at the beginning of the text informs the viewer that she quit her high-paying job as a lawyer so she could attend to Kate’s frail condition. I feel that this was a shame as she is a lawyer of decent caliber, proven by her sound knowledge of the law during the first encounter with Campbell Alexander and through the confidence and authority she portrays during the court hearings. All those years of studying and law school, just to end up as a live-in caretaker- it seems a waste of her hard work and talent as a lawyer… This trade of a successful profession for a less desirable, low-class job reflects the sacrifice made by many parents to ensure brighter futures for their children. Being the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Sarah’s decision to give up her career hits particularly close to home as my own parents performed a similar exchange in profession; my brother and I are beneficiaries of this decision because we were consequently given the opportunity to grow up in clean, green New Zealand instead of the smog-covered and incredibly competitive Hong Kong environment. As year twelves, we have about one more year before we are legally deemed adults and somehow this knowledge seems to make us think that we have walked through life so far by our own efforts. However, we forget that our parents are always the ones behind us – the ones who gave up so much for us – the ones who poured their souls into our upbringing. I feel that we should remember this when we are proud of our achievements –we would not be where are if not for our parents’ sacrifices- and also strive to become selfless parents like Sarah when it is our turn to raise children.

The director uses a close-up of a male and a female silhouette to guide the audience into a memory of Kate’s first love, a beautiful example of unconditional love between herself and a fellow cancer patient. During a routine check-up at the hospital, Kate meets a boy named Taylor who is also receiving treatment for cancer and exchange cell phone numbers, soon after which the two begin dating. While the pair is unlike most other couples in that they are bald, frequently visit the hospital for treatment and are always aware of the fragility of their existence, they do not hold back their adoration. Much like other teenage couples today, they go out to eat together and ‘compare hand sizes’; they sneak out at night and share romantic moments in the darkness; they visually document their affections. By using Kate and Taylor’s very normal relationship, the director prompts the audience to reflect on their own romances and to draw parallels between the characters and their own life. Interspersed between these happy times are a few reminders of the couple’s vulnerability, such as the scene in which Kate still has her hair and is coughing up blood in the hospital. Taylor is there beside her gently holding her hair out of the way, tenderly rubbing her back and whispering words of reassurance in her ear. This scene demonstrates that love is a universal theme which extends to all, even those who are not viewed as being ‘normal’ by society. Kate apologizes for her sickness, to which Taylor replies “Don’t be. Tomorrow that could be me”. This unconditional love really touched me as the two set aside their problems, chose to be positive and focused on nurturing their relationship. The juxtaposition between the warm moments of their romance and the cold reality of their future encourages year twelve students to analyse their own relationships in a time where such relationships tend to be casual, petty and frivolous.

If there is one criticism I have to make about the film, it would be that the conclusion is completely unsatisfying and does not wrap up what is otherwise a great story. The film’s ending deviates greatly from that of the novel in that Anna does not get into a car accident and end up with severe brain damage, which is what transpires in Jodi PicouIt’s novel. The novel version sees that unresponsive Anna’s kidney is donated to Kate, effectively saving her life. However, Cassavetes’ version concludes with Kate’s death while Anna lives. I feel that if the ending of the film had stayed true to the one presented in the novel, the director would have created a more gripping conclusion through the irony of the situation: while trying to help her sister die as per her wishes, Anna dies instead and Kate is forced to shoulder the burden of this knowledge for the rest of her life. The movie depicts Kate consoling her crying mother in the hospital, using a bird’s eye view of Kate wrapping her arms protectively around Sarah as they sleep in the hospital bed. This reversal of roles is highlighted by the strange angle from which the viewer looks down at them. Anna’s voice-over then tells us that Kate died during that night, directly after all the problems surrounding medical emancipation, familial dispute and letting Kate die had been resolved. How is it just so convenient that she dies at this exact time? And how would Sarah feel waking up in the embrace of her now dead daughter? Despite feeling as if this was a very contrived ending, I am reminded of the important lesson that life is a precious gift and we never know when it will be taken from us. This idea is so relevant to year twelve students as the whole idea of YOLO (You Only Live Once) and carpe diem is becoming such a central message in society. Knowing this, we should be encouraged to make the most of the time we have here on earth and chase after the things we really want in life.

After viewing the film, I felt obligated to try and list at least fifty things I should be thankful for and my list exceeded the target amount by a great deal. ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ reminds me of how fragile humans are and how death waits in the wings to claim every single one of us. Nick Cassavetes’ interpretation of Jodi Picoult’s tragic novel put a new (but rather mediocre, in my opinion) spin on the ending of the tale and this further emphasises the idea of human mortality. The characters and their interactions also serve to demonstrate the importance of loving others. Also, just because a person has cancer or any other illness or looks different from the normal standard does not warrant the sometimes odd looks they receive from others; the blood in our veins runs the same red and thus we should love everyone regardless of their circumstances. ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ reminds us all of these values and if we were all to learn from and act on the lessons learnt from the film, our society would be transformed into something much better.


Love: do we need it or not?

A comparative poetic essay: “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes & “A Case of Murder” by Vernon Scannell

Is love a good thing or a bad thing? Without love people become depressed and insane, but with strong feelings of love, people become reckless and hot-blooded. In ‘The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes’, a theme which is present is “Love is an uncontrollable emotion”. The poet uses techniques such as symbolism and metaphor to portray this idea. In the poem ‘A Case Of Murder by Vernon Scannell’, an important idea is “The lack of love in a person’s life can lead to violence and bad consequences”. The poet uses techniques such as metaphor and repetition to get this idea across.

In ‘The Highwayman’, the clever use of metaphor shows that love is limitless and can blind you to your surroundings. In the first stanza, the setting does a lot to hint at the romance that follows with the sentences ” The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees” “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.” The wind creates a rhythm for the poem. The sentences “Nearer he came – nearer, nearer” and ” He clattered and clashed” gives the feeling of a strong wind while a sentence like “Dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable wicket creaked” makes it feel like the wind has calmed down. The rhythm of the wind reflects the highwayman’s love for Bess and shows us love is never calm. By describing the night sky, the poet hints that love is never-ending, just like the sky. As the sky is also compared to a sea, it also show that the love they have is deep. The ocean is symbolic of a vast, uncontrollable force that is both a place for adventure and a place of danger. Just as people drown in the sea, Bess and the highwayman are in danger of ‘drowning’ in their deep love for each other. Bess and the highwayman know it is dangerous for them to meet, yet they still do. Love blinds them to the danger they are in. When someone is so focused on love, they cannot think of anything else. Love can cause people to become reckless and not give themselves a second thought. No matter what happens, their loved ones will come first. This love is like a mother’s unconditional love for her children. She will do anything and sacrifice anything to protect them from harm.

The use of connotation in ‘The Highwayman’ portrays the theme that love is the ultimate sacrifice. In this poem, the colour red is used to describe many things. His “claret velvet coat”, Bess’s “dark red love-knot”, the Redcoats and Bess’s body “drenched in her own red blood” all symbolize either passion and romance or sacrifice and hurt. As this poem is passionate and dangerous at the same time, the colour red is perfect for the mood of the poem. In the first stanza, the poet writes “ The road was a ribbon of monlight looping the purple moor” The road is described as a ribbon because it shows that no matter how far apart they may be, they will still continue to love each other. The ribbon ties the lovers together and connects their strong feelings. The unravelling of a ribbon can symbolize the “unravelling” of your life because of an event. The love that Bess harbours for the highwayman is so strong that she gives her own life to save his later on in the poem.. Humans will do anything to protect their loved ones from danger. In the recent Japanese nuclear disaster, many selfless workers are risking their lives for their country. They know of the danger they are in, yet they continue to work. How many of us would sacrifice ourselves for the ones we love?

In ‘A Case Of Murder’ , the poet cleverly portrays the theme that neglect and the absence of love can deeply impact a child with the technique repetition. The first four lines of the poem hint that something bad is going to happen as the boy is left alone. The word ‘alone’ is repeated four times in the first five lines. The repetition of the word emphasizes the fact that the boy does not interact with anyone very much. The repetition also seems like an echo, highlighting the boy’s loneliness. This ‘echo’ shows how truly lonesome the boy is and how his life is empty and without meaning. In the lines “He watched it sit”, “…. and the way it sat” and “He sat and watched …” the word sit is repeated. As stated in line three, the boy is nine years old and at an age where he should be playing outside with his friends. Instead he is sitting with an animal that prefers not to move from its spot. The lack of fun and action shows that his parents don’t care about him enough to find ways to entertain him. The lack of care impacts the child so much he becomes emotionally distraught. Children who have parents that neglect them become lonely and often worried. Neglected children sometimes become mentally unstable and this can lead to suicide. No child should be unloved. Parents must do their best to show affection to their children and create a safe and peaceful environment where they can grow up happily.

Scannell uses characterization to show the theme that people do to others what has been done to them. In line 18 of the poem, the poet writes: “So he took Daddy’s stick and thrust it in”. The child is young – only nine. He should not be having any violent outbursts for no good reason. The fact that he associates the stick with violence tells the reader that the boy has seen it being used in a bad way. As it is “Daddy’s stick”, the reader knows that the boy’s father has used it. This implies that his father is a violent man who could have been hurting him or someone else. All the pent-up negative feelings then lead to the boy’s troubled psychological state. His father’s anger has bred more anger and the boy in turn feels angry. The poet then describes the scene of the cat’s death. He writes “slammed fast the door”. The cat is then described in a gruesome way, giving the impression that the boy really wanted to hurt something. The child has learnt to hurt others because he has been hurt. When a child comes from a violent background, children sometimes develop violent tendencies, as this is what they are exposed to at home. Later on in life, this anger will cause trouble for them. If the parents have showed their children that hurting others is alright, then the child will adopt their way of thinking. Instead, parents should set a good example for their children so that the kids can learn to be gentle and positive.

In the poems ‘A Case Of Murder’ and ‘The Highwayman’, an important theme for the poems is love. The poets use literary techniques to help the reader understand the theme. Because love is abstract, connotation is used so the reader can make associations for themselves and interpret the poem int heir own way. The use of characterization tells us a bit more about the characters in the story so the reader can create an image of the character in their mind. Figurative language is used in these poems to compare things so the reader will know what is happening and what the objects being compared should look like. Metaphors are used in poetry because of the way it can create rhythm and because it can enhance the poem with comparisons to the world we live in. Repetition is very useful in emphasizing points and helping the reader to gain a better understanding of the poem. When used well, these techniques can create a beautiful and meaningful poem that has a deep message. These two poems are good examples that love is not an easy road but without the presence of love, humans would not be humans.

First actual post 😀 Sunshine and Rainbows ~
Excitement aside, this was an essay I wrote last year, when I was 13. This was the first time I wrote a ‘proper’ essay which incorporated poetry techniques and essay structuring. Also, this was the very first essay I wrote in Pakuranga College. ~_____~ Back in Intermediate, none of my teachers decided to teach how to write an essay == So much of preparing us for College. Sorry about the spelling – I don’t have Microsoft Word or any other Spell-checking software ^^;

I got a 6+ for this 😀 Quite proud of it ^^ Hope you like it too