Josh Brolin, a Volvo Commerical & Walt Whitman

Okay, by now everyone knows what I am referring to – the Volvo commercial that is on all the time. My first exposure, which was a month or so ago, was while I was at my laptop and my back was to the TV, so I only heard the voice over. I immediately recognized the voice of Josh Brolin (what does that say of my intellectual life!), and the lyrical words sounded familiar. I thought initially that it was Jack Kerouac, but I knew that couldn’t be right – they were too good, too exultant. I’m not putting Kerouac down, I read On the Road and some of his other works, but Kerouac is sort of niche and before my time. The allure of heading west in a car with Dean Moriarty is a little passé.

My second guess was Walt Whitman. I checked online and also pulled out my copy of Leaves of Grass, and indeed it is he. “Song of the Open Road” is the poem. The words are captivating and memorable. I find it interesting that Whitman, who preceded Kerouac by almost 100 years, holds up — more than holds up — he has a gravitational pull. What also delights me is that my millennials – my 15-17 year olds — who watch television and movies and shows in entirely different nontraditional ways know this commercial, love it and love the words and want to know more about Whitman. Isn’t it marvelous that he is being discovered by a new generation? I think it is. I also like the fact that a car commercial is the delivery system for a poet’s discovery. Why not?

To be sure, Whitman has never been lost, he’s been popular and in print consistently – but what I hope is this new embrace is an indication of the temper of the time, or a rejection of it. I mean the free verse, the appreciation of self, the inclusivity, the reaching for transcendence is attractive to millennials — it dovetails with their sensibility. For the non-millennials he is a balm for the over-concentration on what is harsh and angry — fearful. Whitman completely turns us around, away from “ugly”, away from the status quo, and tells us to look over there — to what is beautiful, eternal, luminous.

Clare Irwin

NB, As I write this I remember that Whitman also makes a significant appearance in the extraordinary TV series, Breaking Bad. It is Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” that draws in Walter White, and it also leads to his and his family’s unraveling.

No Country For Old Men

It’s been a tumultuous 11 days for the nation, and for we, the people. I watch the news – things are happening quickly – there are many raw emotions: rancor, agitation and anxiety. Every time there’s a news development, I can’t get out of my head a particular movie and dialogue from it.

That movie is the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, et al. There are many memorable scenes, for me they all involve Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Sherriff Ed Tom Bell. His weathered-faced affect throughout is mesmerizing. It is his point of view that we as viewers watch events play out. There’s one scene where Bell goes to visit a good friend and colleague from law enforcement, Ellis, an old guy who is wheelchair bound. He had been shot in the line of duty years before. Ellis lives out in the middle of nowhere. Bell goes to see him to commiserate, as a touchstone to how things were and how they are now — to get a handle on things. The scene is deftly acted, written, and directed. It’s minimal which makes is so powerful. Bell and Ellis talk around things, or they touch upon them and pull away. Then, Ellis says, “This country is hard on people.”

That’s the line that keeps coming back to me. I am not sure why. It’s the way he says it; there’s deep meaning in those simple six words. For all the good, and there is, for all the freedom, and for all the rough edges — what Ellis says is true. He goes on to say, “You can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” He’s talking about that moment, trying to stop the relentless killing machine played by Bardem, but he’s also referring to “Life” — specifically here.

They talk about Bell’s imminent retirement, the winding down of things for him, while the past keeps thrusting itself into his present. The final scene is amazing. It is a domestic conversation between Bell and his wife Loretta (Tess Harper). Bell relates two dreams he had, both involving his father. The camera holds on him as he tells her the dreams, and he has that distant thousand-yard stare. The last line in the movie is, “And then I woke up.” The screen goes to black as we hear the kitchen clock ticking.

Clare Irwin