21-Dec-2011 06:48 PM
Growing up in Southern New Jersey - a child of the first TV generation, I was assaulted by glamorous tales and images of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the warm, promising, and sun-drenched promised land of the American Southwest.
Earliest life for me in rapidly declining Camden NJ, was far less than what I saw on The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, or even The Waltons. My father worked hard. Mother worked outside the house maintaining the home, her sanity, and family's stability while helping Dad drag the American dream to our doorstep.
Eventually we moved a town east to realize the middle class aspiration. Stress grew as the family worked harder and harder for a bigger piece of the American Pie. A divorce split the income and nearly doubled the bills. In spite of their hardships, my parent's search for a better life was their gift to me. By today's rocky standards, my public school education was extraordinary. In today's world of poverty level pensions, inflation, and economic recession, the lessons learned from my parents has served me well in subsidizing their current lives.
I remember at four years of age, after watching an episode of The Flintstones (there were palm trees everywhere in that show) standing at the screen door of our Camden NJ home saying that I wanted to move to California. Twenty years later on the eve of actual departure, through the tear-stained eyes of a mother sending her son off into the sunset, mom swore to me that at THREE years old I had actually said "I want to move BACK TO California." "Yep," she sobbed, "I always knew you would leave to follow your dream." An afternoon later I was westbound in my old 1972 Impala torpedoing toward my optimistic-unknown. I was certain the beachy, balmy, bougainvillea, tree-lined life the post-war generation had found in Sunny So Cal would become my life too.
Why couldn't it? I had everything - I was "free, white and twenty-one' - the simple recipe I learned that contained the elements for unbridled possibilities. Success for me came in mass contentment. I loved Los Angeles - the weather, the people, the vistas, the sights, and the shadows of music legends I loved: Janis Joplin, The Mamas and Papas, The Doors, and The Beach Boys. Everything was lined up for me; my security followed. Hell, I fight for my security to this day. For those lucky enough to fall on the right side of the border we even have the world's strongest army to safeguard our dream. America is a great place. Just ask a day-laboring Illegal immigrant.
Chris Weitz' latest film A Better Life- is the story of Carlos' (Demián Bichir) fight to survive as an illegal immigrant working in the beating, bleaching Southern California sun. Through universal dreams and simple aspirations for a better life, Weitz leaves sermonizing about immigrant issues at the door. Whether we like it or not Weitz forces us to watch a life unfold to reveal the angst behind the quest for the best a man can attain. Carlos is not a man of words rather a man of staunch integrity. Through the connection of Carlos and his teenaged son, we see the potential erosion of the dream if we give into its inherent easy life. Unlike my own trek to the West, Carlos' problems are forced upon him - surviving America proves hard and intangible. He fights against the law, the language, and social walls of poverty and segregation. It's a sensitive film that jerks a tear and can change a perspective.
A well produced film changes attitudes. Looking back into Hollywood's history, Susan Hayward in "I Want to Live" melted American's staunch opinion toward the death penalty. Convicts were no longer faceless below-the-fold headlines devoid of any worthy element. Hayward brought our justice system of death to its knees - that's the power of film and the mark of an hour and forty-five minutes well spent.
A Better Life, may not end the death and heartache of those squeezing into American for a future, but it does tell their story. Ignorance does not survive in A Better Life, It can't survive in an evolved America.
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