Jun 26 2010

10 Virtues of Summer – Summer Vacation Movies I Love

maureen
Things change in the summer. Students graduate. Kids go to camp. Families take vacations together. We leave our routines and embark on new adventures, visit new places, and meet new people. We have time to step back and evaluate where we are and where we want to go in our lives. Summer has the potential to work change in all of us. Our time away is often the time we grow as individuals and a time our relationships with those around us deepen. Here, in no particular order,  are 10 of my favorite vacation movies and the virtues I think they reveal.

Stand by Me (1986) Gaining perspective. On the last weekend of summer 12-year-olds Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern set out the find the dead body that is supposed to be hidden by the railroad tracks. They are about to enter middle school and, due to academic differences, probably will be separated. Each is struggling with limitations and perceptions about himself.

The Sandlot (1993) Taking chances. Scotty Smalls is the new kid in a neighborhood which seems to be primarily concerned with baseball, not one of his interests or talents. Benny Rodriguez, the leader of the group, reaches out to him and teaches him the game. Scotty takes a chance on Benny and baseball and allows himself to become part of the group. Continue reading

Apr 24 2010

Vengeance and Compassion in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and How the Book of Leviticus Fits In

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SPOILERS:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a truly satisfying murder mystery with a complex plot, unrelenting violence, and unique characters.  This is a bleak film that explores how people get psychologically twisted and whether a history of past abuse should be a consideration in how harshly we judge them. It is not for the squeamish with scenes of graphic sex and violence.

Mikael, an unjustly discredited investigative journalist, is tapped by an elderly corporate magnate, Henrick Vanger, to investigate a decades old family mystery. The cover story is that Mikael is writing a Vanger family history. Lisbeth is a goth hacker with body piercings and, yes, a dragon tattoo who is contracted by Henrick’s nephew Martin through some computer connections at Vanger Corporation to keep tabs on Mikael’s research. Without this girl with the dragon tattoo the story would be just another murder mystery, but Lisbeth bring the noir to this detective story.

While the murder plot is complex the psychological exploration is even more compelling. Lisbeth is smart, independent, and very damaged. Lisbeth is unwilling to let go of her anger. It seems to be the force that’s holding her together. But this anger isn’t uncontrolled rage but focused, almost detached vengeance. She finds power in revenge. Continue reading


Apr 9 2010

The Catholic Church, Priests, Pride, and Sexual Abuse in Doubt

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I’m reposting my reflections on Doubt. It came to mind because of the current Penn State situation. In Doubt there is no eyewitness, only suspicion. Powerful men at Penn State – Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier, are all told by a graduate assistant, an eyewitness, that he’d seen Sandusky naked in the showers molesting a young boy. They tell the graduate assistant they’ve taken away Sandusky’s keys and reported the incident to The Second Mile, a youth charity Sandusky founded in 1977. Apparently he was caught before in 1998 and questioned by police but the district attorney did not file charges. The frightening reality is that, like Sr. James in Doubt, there is a tendency to deflect suspicion and even ignore facts, “so you can have simplicity back.”

 

 

CONTAINS SPOILERS. Is Father Flynn a child molester? Young Sr. (Sister) James, played by Amy Adams, sees some indications that the progressive young priest may have an inappropriate relationship with one of her students, an altar boy, but is reluctant to believe it. Sr. Aloysius, an austere older nun not only believes it, she seems to want to believe it.

The Catholic Church’s most recent controversy involving alleged child molestation by priests reminded me of Doubt, the 2008 movie that starred Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Set in the Bronx in the 1964, Doubt centers around the question of Father Flynn’s guilt or innocence. It also probes into how far “the benefit of the doubt” should extend, and gets into the motives behind willingness to believe or disbelieve.

When Sr. James brings her concerns to her superior Sr. Aloysius pursues the matter. She calls Father Flynn’s former parish where the priests vouch for him, but another nun also has suspicions. We never hear definite proof of guilt but we also are presented with doubt about his innocence. Like many religious people of her generation, Sr. Aloysius sees it as her calling as to ferret out and punish wrongdoing. She is willing to be severe, to be disliked, and to confront anyone she believes is doing anything remotely “wrong.” Her judgmental attitude leaves no room in her life for compassion or doubt. She relies on certainty to justify herself. Continue reading


Mar 19 2010

Love, Lust, and Traveling Light in Up In the Air

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CONTAINS SPOILERS

Ryan Bingham has an empty backpack. In fact, when he’s not doing his day job as a traveling employment separation specialist (he fires people for hire), he’s an aspiring motivational speaker.  He asks his audience, “What’s In Your Backpack?” Ryan believes that not only do our material possessions weigh us down, but our relationships as well. He urges others to free themselves from all life’s baggage, including human baggage. Ryan lives in a converted hotel room, owns what fits in his suitcase, and spends most of his life flying from place to place. His immediate life’s goal is to reach 10 million airline miles.

In a hotel bar he meets Alex, who also travels for her job. They trade road warrior stories and get turned on by comparing traveler’s perks. They enter an uncommitted, casual relationship in which they meet when it’s convenient. They are unashamedly in lust and find one another’s detachment incredibly sexy. Continue reading


Mar 6 2010

Comparison and Contrast Between A Serious Man and The Book of Job Plus Schrodinger’s Paradox Just for Fun

maureen

A Serious Man poses some questions of Biblical proportion: What does God want from me? Are the bad things that happen some sort of a sign? Am I righteous? What have I done to deserve this agony?

Larry, a physics professor who teaches the theory of uncertainty, begins to live it. According to Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox, which appears among the physics equations on the board in Larry’s classroom, a cat is placed in a box with a flask which may or may not break and emit radioactive poison. According to quantum physics as long as we don’t check to see what happened to the cat there is a superposition of states in which the cat exists in every possible state simultaneously. In other words, until you open the box and look the cat is both alive and dead – a quantum system that is a mixture of states.

The simultaneous car accidents in which one man lives and one man dies sort of echo this theme of alive and dead, as does the story of the Dybbuk at the beginning of the film. The two scenes in the synagogue juxtapose a funeral followed by a bar mitzvah. Larry does seem a bit like the cat in the box being acted upon rather than acting, uncertain whether he is spiritually dead or alive. Larry has no context for answers, only questions, confusion, and pain. Continue reading


Feb 27 2010

Paradise Falls Up in Pixar’s Academy Award-Nominated Movie

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Spoiler alert: This movie is way too good to miss. If you haven’t seen it, this post does give some of it away so you might want to see it first.

Up begins as a childhood romance between two dreamers that blossoms into a happy marriage.  The wordless montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together is emotionally breathtaking. In a few moments we see how time and circumstances edge out a dream they’ve shared since childhood. It captures the way relationships spark and settle. We see how important this couple is to one another and how much their shared dream figures in their relationship. This just might be one of the loveliest bits of film I’ve ever seen. The fact that it’s animated just made it more universal.

Ellie’s scrapbook, which Carl reverences but never opens, details their childhood plans to move their clubhouse to Paradise Falls, South America. When they were children he promised to help her. Their shared love of adventure and admiration for explorer Charles Muntz brings them together as children. Even after Muntz is discredited they continue to believe in him and dream of visiting Paradise Falls some day.

For Carl their South American adventure is a catalyst for hope. From time to time they make plans which fall through and the dream finally dies with Ellie. He feels he’s failed her because they never made that trip. Continue reading


Feb 22 2010

The Hurt Locker, the Olympics, and Adrenaline Addicts

maureen

On the surface Sgt. James looks like an adrenaline junkie. The Hurt Locker suggests this by beginning with a quote from journalist Chris Hedges: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” Kathryn Bigelow, its director, also directed Point Blank, which depicts surfers seeking that adrenaline high. Disarming bombs before they detonate is an exciting job and James does seem to get a rush from doing it.

Sgt. James is a complex guy. He refuses to use some of the standard precautions designed to protect him but he’s competent and very good at what he does. While his methods add tension to an already stressful mission his support team Sgt. Sanborn and Pfc. Eldridge respect his bravery and skill, though they are very uncomfortable with his unpredictability. He’s competent and takes pride in his work. He seems to genuinely want to help and shows compassion for victims of war. While his desire for excitement seems insatiable, James is also a tough, direct, heroic soldier doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. James’ dismissive attitude toward danger gives him a bit of a Chuck Norris/John Wayne persona. Continue reading


Jan 19 2010

Characters, Symbolism, and Sin in The Book of Eli

maureen

Spoiler alert – Eli is ready to kill and ready to die to protect the book he believes he’s been charged by God to carry west. In this apocalyptic world Eli’s Bible might the last one known to exist. Apparently the Bible played some part in a war that resulted in nuclear holocaust thirty years earlier, which led to an attempt to destroy all known copies.

Eli doesn’t know what he expects to find when he gets there, he just knows that his part is to carry to book. He brings it out and reads it every night, but otherwise keeps it hidden from sight. The care and reverence with which he treats the Bible as he carries it reminds me of the Biblical accounts of the Israelites transporting the Ark of the Covenant.

The Book of Eli made me think about the power of the Bible and how it is used. It also left me with some questions about Eli, his mission, and the characters he encountered along the way. Perhaps I’m completely off, but the names of the characters seemed to carry some significance for me.

A glimpse into Eli’s pack reveals a K-mart employee name-tag with the name “Eli.” Like Noah, David, or one of the Apostles, Eli is an ordinary guy who God seems to have called to do something extraordinary. On one hand Eli believes he is divinely appointed, divinely led, and divinely protected. On the other he’s a sort of Samurai / western hero with mad self-defense skills. I sort of wondered whether Eli’s skills are divinely inspired or whether he’s developed his unique abilities to sense danger due to years on the road. Whatever the case it seemed to me that Eli is heavy on violence and may have failed to explore other communication options. Continue reading


Jan 2 2010

Bye-bye in 2009 Celebrity Deaths and Why We Care

maureen

This week I’ve seen several lists of celebrities who died in 2009. There have been some tribute segments on TV shows. All this has made me think about who I’ll miss and why I care at all. I guess when a celebrity dies it’s like losing a little slice of Americana. It is not that a celebrity death is more important, only that it has the potential to impact a lot of people at one time. Our shared enjoyment of entertainment provided by these people connects us to one another and creates cultural common ground.

The 10 celebs that died in 2009 who made my world sweeter:

  1. John Hughes directed some of my favorite flicks. I wish he hadn’t stopped making movies.
  2. Michael Jackson sang some great songs that still keep me dancing.
  3. Dom DeLuise made me laugh for as long as I can remember. His Caesar in History of the World Part I was hilarious.
  4. Brittany Murphy entertained me daily in King of the Hill. I’m going to miss the show as well as the lady. I really loved her in Clueless, too.
  5. Les Paul impacted the music I listen to in so many ways.
  6. David Carradine: Kung Fu, enough said.
  7. Larry Gelbart wrote brilliant scripts for M*A*S*H which was my favorite TV show in the 70’s.
  8. Paul Harvey made me think about a lot of stuff that I probably would have ignored if he hadn’t been on the radio.
  9. Farrah Fawcett inspired my hairstyle when I was 16.
  10. Patrick Swayze made me cry in Ghost (and I don’t cry at many movies).

For some reason all this makes me think about the song, American Pie. Writer, Don McLean said, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me… sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.” Now, I am not going to try and interpret American Pie, but I think it’s an example of how one person can be profoundly affected by the death of another even without knowing that person. American Pie demonstrates how powerfully connected we can feel to celebrities. Continue reading


Dec 19 2009

Top 10 Christmas Movies

maureen

Here are  my top 10 Christmas movies and what I get out of them:

Love Actually

Love Actually – We are created for relationship and some of us will slug through the insecurity that comes with love while others will settle for the temporary satisfaction that comes with lust. The sacrifices and pain that comes with loving imperfect people is worth the price.

Christmas-vacation

Christmas Vacation – We can worry too much about how others might judge us. Our desire for approval can cause us to focus on what we think people want from us rather than focusing on our relationships with those people. Continue reading


Nov 23 2009

Top 10 Movie Prayers

maureen

Here are 10 of my favorite film prayers and what they’ve taught me. Sometimes touching, sometimes irreverent, prayer in movies reflects the gamut of our attitudes toward God and what we expect from him. The 7 Deadly Sins can even come into play when we are trying to pray.

1. Shenandoah The dad in this old movie returns one of the most prideful prayers of thanks I’ve ever heard. This attitude represents the hubris of “self-sufficiency.” Introducing God into the equation changes the impact of words like “deserve” and “earn.”  God really is the source of provision for everything I have and deserves my thanks.

Continue reading


Nov 4 2009

This Is It Michael Jackson’s Human Nature

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Michael Jackson was an incredibly talented musician. With forty plus years of experience Michael really understood the concept of entertainment. This Is It is a glimpse into rehearsals for his upcoming show, mixed with clips of footage from music videos that were also being shot. He was acutely aware of every detail of music and movement in his show. He had a vision for how the whole thing should look and sound, and seemed to be involved in every aspect. He not only connected with his music and with his audience, but acted as a conduit that connected his music to his audience. It was impossible to walk away from a Michael Jackson performance without humming one of his tunes.

I’ve been playing Thriller a lot since he died. After watching This Is It, I came out humming Human Nature. “If they say, why, why? Tell ’em that is human nature Why, why does he do me that way? I like livin’ this way, I like lovin’ this way…” Just as he was gifted with music, Michael was also afflicted with the ravages of sin. Human Nature seems like his explanation for the various controversies that surrounded him: discord and violence within the Jackson family; the controversy concerning allegations of child sexual abuse; conjecture about multiple cosmetic surgeries; financial mismanagement (he earned $500 million dollars in his lifetime, yet his home Neverland Ranch was in foreclosure). Michael seemed to have struggled with human nature. Continue reading


Oct 31 2009

My Top 7 Funny Scary Movies

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I think it’s fun to be scared but it’s even more fun to laugh and be scared at the same time. Maybe comedy horror is good mad science. A good scare is just what I need to get my adrenalin pumping, and then add some humor and the endorphins kick in.  Happy Halloween.

Favorite Monster Movie: Young Frankenstein is an old Mel Brooks classic. Shot in black and white, it parodies those really, really old Frankenstein movies. It’s full of quotable lines and physical gags. Continue reading


Oct 24 2009

To Help or Not to Help: Homelessness and Sloth

maureen

Somebody’s Baby just wrecked me. The song  from Jon Foreman’s Winter EP tells the story of a homeless girl. Foreman is the frontman for the band Switchfoot but his solo project has more of an acoustic, experimental, indie feel. The use of strings in this song was compelling. It reminded me of another piece about homelessness that features strings, the movie The Soloist.

Both works reminded me that every homeless person has a different story. It is likely that somebody is worried about this person. And it is certain that this person is someone God loves dearly and wants to redeem. Continue reading


Sep 30 2009

Hope and despair in District 9

maureen

I finally saw District 9. An alien ship hovers, inoperable, above South Africa. After 28 years of conflict the ship’s inhabitants and their descendants have been rounded up and placed behind fences in slum-like conditions, where violence and crime are rampant. Over time the aliens became desperate, hopeless and violent.  The situation serves as an allegory for South Africa’s period of apartheid. But it also raises bigger questions. Wikus, a white South African government official, is sent into the settlement to inform the inhabitants that they are being moved. Unlike many of his co-workers he avoids hurting the aliens unnecessarily. He does not really see them as intelligent beings until he begins to stand in their shoes. In a search of a home he is exposed to an alien technology that causes him to begin to transform into an alien. Continue reading


Aug 12 2009

Julie and Julia Overcome the “Spell of the Typical”

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Change in our lives often serves as catalyst for self-evaluation. In Julie & Julia, Julie is turning thirty. She and her husband move to an economical apartment in Queens. Having failed to achieve the level of success most of her college friends seem to enjoy, Julie is slogging away at her unfulfilling government job. She has allowed the rejection of a half written novel to deter her from pursuing her passion for writing. Julie realizes she needs to “break the spell of the typical” in her life. (Thank you Mutemath for such a fitting phrase.)

Julie decides to try blogging and, since she loves to cook, decides to cook through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about it. Julia Child began cooking in France as a result of a similar desire to find something fulfilling to do. When Julia’s husband asked her, “What is it that you really love to do?” She responded “Eat,” and that led her to cooking school… Julie & Julia chronicles the journeys of Julie Powell and Julia Child as each woman discovers what it means to find her passion. Continue reading


Jul 25 2009

Sinema7 book update

maureen

The book Sinema7 is written, it is currently under review and in the process of being published. Ordering information will be posted here. Maureen is currently working on a small group study guide to go along with the book.  It will include references for movie clips in each chapter – we trust it will be a fun and meaningful tool to study the seven.


Jul 24 2009

Tom Riddle: Boy Megalomaniac

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In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Lord Voldemort, speaking through Quirrill, declares that “there is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.” As we meet the young Tom Riddle in the latest installment Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince we see a child so caught up in his special power that he denies a moral order larger than himself. In an interview J.K. Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter books, compares Voldemort to paranoid megalomaniacs like Hitler and Stalin. Megalomaniacs exhibit an obsession with his or her importance and power that psychologists also call “delusions of grandeur”.

Tom Riddle reinvents himself as Lord Voldemort, relying on his hatred and pride to gather power. Whether the magic he employs is good or evil is immaterial to him. In fact he becomes convinced that he will amass greater power employing the Dark Arts. Pride motivates and enables evil. Voldemort, fueled by his evil pride, has complete disregard for the pain of others and may actually find his sense of power enhanced by inflicting pain. This is Voldemort’s M.O. As the young Tom Riddle pride shields him from revealing any vulnerability he may feel. Continue reading


Jul 10 2009

Apocalypto’s Black Hole of Pride

maureen

I finally got around to watching Apocalypto. Early in the movie a village elder tells a myth about man’s restless hunger for power and autonomy. His story concludes that “man has a hole inside him that will make him take and take until the world has no more to give.”

The Mayan city is a lurid demonstration of how this can play out in a society. Humans are sacrificed in a carnival-like atmosphere at a pyramid temple erected as a monument to the power and grandeur of their civilization.  Pompous Mayan royalty pile up more and more bodies in their attempt to appease an angry god and retain power over a people they care nothing about. Continue reading


Jun 25 2009

Frost/Nixon and the pride of insecurity

maureen

There is what we think of ourselves, there is what others think of us, and then there is what we think others think of us. Frost/Nixon reveals a man obsessed about what others think of him. In the interview with David Frost Richard Nixon describes the two of them as “scrambling our way up in undignified fashion.”
Nixon seems to suffer both from feelings of inferiority and from resentment toward those who may think of him as inferior. Even after serving a term as president of the United States Nixon feels that “the well born” look down on him. He feels the needs to prove himself and “make ’em choke on our continued success. Our continued headlines! Our continued awards! And power! And glory!” Continue reading

May 28 2009

Pride and wonder in Angels and Demons

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Angels and Demons HD trailer

Had Angels and Demons been about a couple of likable characters running all over Rome trying to prevent the murder of some Cardinals it would have been enjoyable. It was a good mystery with some great action and nice plot twists. Two other elements fascinated me as well: the tension between science and religion and the “God Particle.”

The hubris of both religion and science were touched upon. In this corner we have the Catholic church with a history including the (fictional) public murder of the Illuminati for “a warning to others to stop questioning church ruling on scientific matters.” And in this corner we have the 21st century scientific community who push the envelope by creating a large amount of dangerous anti-matter in hopes of solving the energy crisis and, oh by the way, simulating the moment of creation. While much of the movie dwelt on the moral compromises of the church bent to suppressing science,  the Carmerlengo delivers a compelling soliloquy on the hubris of science and the motive of the church to protect faith. His insanity does not negate some of his points. Continue reading


May 4 2009

Pride in Outbreak

maureen

Produced in 1995 the movie Outbreak is a timely diversion as the Swine Flu epidemic sweeps the nation (not). It’s sort of a conspiracy meets disaster flick in which the greatest fears of movie’s epidemiologists are realized when a deadly virus mutates and goes airborne. There is a squirmy scene in which someone sneezes in a movie theatre and we watch the infection float through the air into the mouth of another person. Soon an entire town is infected. The CDC and the military descend upon a town to assess the situation and try to eradicate the virus.

This movie shows how an event like a possible pandemic can become a political football. Decisions about how to handle the outbreak, what to tell the public, how to handle the media, and what the political repercussions might be all reveal the hubris of leadership. Before the virus spreads the Centers for Disease Control weighs the cost of a special alert. It comes down to whether it’s worth the money and the embarrassment of being wrong. Continue reading


Apr 6 2009

Anger and love in Gran Torino

maureen

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

Gran Torino follows an older man’s journey out of isolation. Walt Kowalski is angry and emotionally disconnected. Retired from Ford, Walt is part of a dying breed of men who worked one job in manufacturing. At his wife’s funeral Walt stands stiffly in his suit,  confused by his grandchildren’s attire. The kids have no idea in which war he fought or why he served. His snarliness, ethnic slurs and stoic demeanor make him an embarrassment to his sons. His cultural values are holdovers from the 1950’s. He carries prejudices. He is the sort of person we might call culturally irrelevant. 

His children are stereotypes of white, upper middle class culture. Sons Steve and Mitch and daughter-in law Karen seem more interested in relegating him to a retirement community and getting their hands on the house.  Granddaughter Ashley is interested in his Gran Torino but not in him. Grandsons Daniel, David and Josh find him sort of amusing and are interested in his war service but he’s not willing to discuss that with them. He seems content to be left alone with his dog and his bitterness.

Continue reading


Mar 13 2009

Amazement takes a little humility

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Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy YouTube Link

Commedian Louis CK did some comedic commentary on Conan O’Brein’s show recently about amazement and what he calls a generation of spoiled idiots. He contends that people who fly, instead of complaining about delays and inconveniences, should recognize the amazing fact that “You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky…” and can arrive at a destination in six hours on a journey that once took months. Instead stories of flying usually include complaints about the wait and the inconvenience. Continue reading


Feb 27 2009

Gluttony gets giggles in Paul Blaurt: Mall Cop

maureen

Last week while everyone else was watching Academy Award nominated movies I went to see Paul Blaurt: Mall Cop. It’s basically a formulaic comedy featuring an overweight mall security officer.  While many critics proclaimed the jokes tired and recycled, they made me laugh, again.  Sometimes it’s nice to go to a movie and just laugh without having to be smart or in on the joke. It also struck me that a very large (excuse the pun) part of this movie hinged on Paul’s weight problem. Continue reading


Jan 30 2009

Greed and blessing in Slumdog Millionaire

maureen

Warning : Spoilers. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie and are one of those people who don’t want to know what happens.

Slumdog Millionaire follows two brothers who make very different choices as they grapple with escaping from the hopelessness and poverty of Mumbai’s slum. For Salim money means hope. For Jamal it is his love for childhood friend Latika that drives him forward.

At the beginning of the movie Jamal and Salim flee an angry mob. Jamal’s concern extends to Latika who is also running. Salim fears that Latika will be a drain on them and resists helping her. Throughout the movie Jamal’s consistent love and concern for Latika contrasts with Salim’s willingness to treat her like a resource, using her when she adds value and rejecting her when she causes complications. Eventually Latika becomes a symbol of hope for Jamal. Finding her and loving her becomes his life’s cause. Continue reading