Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Joseph Wood Krutch: November 25, 1893--May 22, 1970

Joseph Wood Krutch, along with Loren Eiseley and Konrad Lorenz, had a profound effect on my way of thinking. Through them, I learned to appreciate the benefits of reading essays. Up to that time, I had focused primarily on fiction, but they taught me the value of reading directly the thoughts of others. I guess credit should also go to the old and now sadly defunct Time Reading Program, for it was through it that I first encountered Eiseley, Krutch, and Lorenz.

Moreover, they taught me that humans were not alone here and were not the sole owners of Earth. There were and are others here, many of whom also have a claim upon this planet and their own right to be able to live out their lives .

I moved out to Tucson in 1968 and found that Krutch had written several of works about the southwestern desert country. In one of them, I discovered that Krutch had left the east coast and was now living in Tucson. I grabbed a telephone book and found a listing for him. I drove by the house which was set far back off the road in one of the few undeveloped areas near the Tucson Medical Center. It was a huge plot, acres maybe, and except for a dirt road, still much as it had been before "civilization" arrived. I wondered if he owned it all and had kept it undeveloped.

I decided to write him and let him know how much I had enjoyed reading his books. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to write, I read a newspaper account of his death. I felt that I had missed an opportunity, but not exactly sure for what.

The undeveloped area surrounding his house is now built up, and to be honest, I no longer am exactly sure of its exact location any more. It now looks just like any other urbanized area on that street.

Joseph Wood Krutch's works are numerous and range from scholarly works on Samuel Richardson, Miguel de Cervantes, and Boccaccio to Proust. He also has a number of essays on a variety of subjects: Darwinism, behavioral psychology, determinism, Freudian psychology, contemporary views of humanity, any topic in fact which impinges upon what he sees as the human condition today. He has a number of works about the desert southwest and his various experiences there, some laughable, some serious, but all interesting. A good place to start would be a fine collection titled The Best Nature Writing of Joseph Wood Krutch, which includes a selection of essays from his other works.

Some excerpts from the above mentioned collection:

On Autumn

Krutch, prior to moving to Tucson, lived on the East Coast, and some of his finest writings about nature relate to that period. The excerpt below is from that period.

"One day the first prematurely senile leaf will quietly detach itself in a faint breeze and flutter silently to the ground. All through the summer an occasional unnoticed, unregretted leaf has fallen from time to time. But not as this one falls. There is something quietly ominous about the way in which it gives up the ghost, without a struggle, almost with an air of relief. Others will follow, faster, and faster. Soon the ground will be covered, though many of the stubborner trees are still clothed. Then one night a wind, a little harder than usual, and carrying perhaps the drops of a cold rain, will come. We shall awake in the morning to see that the show is over. The trees are naked; bare, ruined choirs, stark against the sky."

What follows is an expression of Krutch's attitude towards those who admire autumn. I must admit I'm one of those whom Krutch considers a bit perverse in my thinking.

"To me there always seems to be something perverse about those country dwellers who like the autumn best. Their hearts, I feel, are not in the right place. They must be among those who see Nature merely as a spectacle or a picture, not among those who share her own own moods. Spring is the time for exuberance, autumn for melancholy and regret. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Yes, of course, it is that too. But promise, not fulfillment, is what lifts the heart. Autumn is no less fulfillment than it is also the beginning of the inevitable end.

No doubt the colors of autumn are as gorgeous in their own way as any of spring. Looked at merely as color, looked with the eye of that kind of painter to whom only color and design are important, I suppose they are beautiful and nothing more. But looked at as outward and visible signs, as an expression of what is going on in the world of living things, they produce another effect.

'No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face'--so wrote John Donne in compliment to an old lady. But Donne was enamored of death. Send not to know for whom the leaf falls, it falls for thee."

Along with the above cited work, I recommend the following.

The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country--twelve essays which begin with Spring, of course.

The Desert Year--essays on the yearly cycle of living in the desert.

The Grand Canyon--essays

If You Don't Mind My Saying So--a quote from The Saturday Review-- these essays "add up to an irreverent commentary on muddied thinking in our time." It is a book "not to please mankind, but to vex it."

And to tell the truth, Krutch has vexed me at various times.

Overall Rating: sitting down and opening up one of Joseph Wood Krutch's works is an adventure. Try it some time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XVIII

This quatrain continues the theme of the departed glories of the past, but also incorporates a belief about the effects that some special buried human bodies have on their environment.

First Edition, Quatrain XVIII

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.

Second Edition, Quatrain XXIV

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.

Fifth Edition, Quatrain XIX

same as Second Edition

FitzGerald made only one change. In the first edition, the Hyacinth "dropt in its Lap" whereas in the second through the fifth, we read that the Hyacinth "dropt in her Lap," thus changing the garden from a neuter to a feminine place.

The significant image in this quatrain is death, for both the Rose and the Hyacinth have been influenced by their proximity to a human body, one buried beneath them. Both also hint at a violent death, which may account for their ability to exert an influence even after death--almost a ghost here.

The Rose is never so red except above where some "buried Caesar bled," which I see as a reference to his assassination by his enemies, one of whom was supposedly a friend of his. I wonder if the effect of the blood is stronger because Caesar was murdered.

The hyacinth is a flower which is native to Iran (Persia), and it is sometimes associated with rebirth. However, there is a another story, a Greek legend, which tells the origin of the hyacinth, which also involves a murder.

A handsome young prince of Sparta named Hyakinthos was loved by two Greek gods. One was Apollo, the sun god, and the other was Zephyr, the god of the west wind. One day, when Hyacinth was being taught the art of discus-throwing by Apollo, Zephyr became jealous and caused the west wind to blow the discus back and strike Hyakinthos on the head, killing him. A flower grew where the blood dropped on the ground, and Apollo named the flower after him--the hyacinth. The last line of the stanza clearly seems to refer to this legend when it states it "Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head." Both the Rose and the Hyacinth, therefore, suggest the blood of a murdered man.

Was jealousy the cause of both deaths? Hyakinthos died because of Zephyr's jealousy. Was Caesar killed by those who were jealous of his power?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Friedrich Durrenmatt: The Pledge, novel and film

Friedrich Durrenmatt
The Pledge
Mystery, police procedural?

The description for the film, The Pledge, sounded interesting, so I rented it. It is a mystery story, but the focus is more on the detective than on the killer. A detective, played by Jack Nicholson, takes on the case of the murder of a child the day before he had intended to retire. The cast is also one of the inducements for viewing it: Jack Nicholson, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepard, Aaron Eckhart, and Robin Wright Penn.

While researching the film on, I learned that the film is based on a novel by the same name by Friedrich Durrenmatt, whom I had never heard of. Some of the comments about Durrenmatt included statements that he was one of the most significant European writers and dramatists of the second half of the 20th century. It was then that I discovered that I had encountered Durrenmatt once before, some 45+ years ago in fact. I had seen his play, The Visit, on stage with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontane.

I have never forgotten the play. A small town is dying. The company that was responsible for its economic life had closed down. A visitor comes to town. She had left this town many years ago, driven out, in fact, in disgrace when her lover denied being the father of her child. She has returned, one of the richest women in the country, and offers financial inducements in return for revenge. Her offer is refused, at first...

The Pledge is a subtly constructed novel about a promise made by Matthai, the police officer. Even though he supposed to leave the next day to take a job as police chief in Jordan, Matthai promises the mother of the murdered girl that he will catch the killer. The story is of that pledge and its effects upon the officer who has no life outside of his police work.

Suspicion falls upon an individual seen in the vicinity of the body. This individual, unfortunately for him, has a past record and is taken into custody. However, Matthai does not believe this man is the killer, so he starts his own investigation. Apparently two other young girls, both resembling the recent victim, have been killed within the past several years. While each was from a different small town in the mountains, there is an intersection in which the roads to each of the small towns meet and, moreover, one must come to this same intersection if one comes from outside the area. At this intersection is a gas station with a few rooms for travelers. Matthai buys the station and waits.

While this does seem to be an example of an excessive commitment on his part, especially since the police and citizenry are satisfied that the killer has been caught, I didn't think it actually had reached the stage of being an obsession. It wasn't until later in the film that I began to feel uneasy about his behavior, for everything he did made sense. His behavior made sense, but at a certain point he crossed the line beyond which no rational person would go.

There are some significant differences between the novel and the film but none that affect the overall theme of the novel. The differences are more about timing, about the presentation of information, and the focus of the theme--just how far should one go, even in attempting to prevent more murders in this case--remains the same.

Warning: What follows is information about significant events.

In The Pledge, like his play which I mentioned earlier, Durrenmatt gives us a situation in which an individual is placed at risk in order to benefit the group. One of the significant differences between the novel and the film is the way the officer sets up his trap for the killer.

In the novel, Matthai, now on inactive duty, goes to an orphanage and attempts to adopt a young girl, but he is refused. He then hires a local woman to clean the place and help him with customers. She has a young child, a girl about the same age and description, even to having blond hair, as did the previous victims. This might be a coincidence, except that now he has the girl always with him out in front, by the side of the road where drivers can't miss seeing her.

In the film, this is handled somewhat differently. One night, a young woman whom Nicholson had befriended in the past, comes to the station, seeking protection from an abusive ex-spouse. Nicholson lets her stay the night and then offers to let her stay if she will help out with the place.
Her appearance here with her young daughter then is a matter of chance. In the film then, there is always the possibility that her unexpected and unplanned appearance gave him the idea, whereas in the novel, he clearly plans to use the young girl as bait.

In the film version, Nicholson buys her a swing and puts it up in front of the station, in full view of drivers. When asked, he explains that it's safer out front where he can see her, whereas if he installs it in back, where there are no windows, anybody could come up out of the woods and he wouldn't be able to see him.

I don't want to reveal the rest of the story, so I'll stop here. That there is a killer who preys upon young children is horrifying enough, but that the detective is willing to use a young girl as bait to lure the killer into a trap is just as horrifying. What is most chilling is that when confronted with what he was doing, the officer is confused, for he doesn't see the problem. The killer is a threat and must be stopped. Nothing could happen to the young girl for she was well protected.

Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive here, but I don't think there's any justification that could justify putting a young child at risk. An adult could weigh the risks and decide whether to allow this to happen, but not a young child.

I wonder--am I being overly sensitive here?

Overall Rating: Nicholson and a great cast give us an excellent film version of a very chilling novel.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Nov 11. 1821--Feb. 9, 1881

It was about an handful of decades ago that I sat down, took up a book, and began to read--

"Towards the end of a sultry afternoon early in July a young man came out of his little room in Stolyarny Lane and turned slowly and somewhat irresolutely in the direction of Kamenny Bridge."

A friend had cleaned out his locker on the last day of final exam week and offered to sell me a copy of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. It was the Modern Library edition, translated by Constance Garnett, and he wanted fifty cents for it. I had heard of Dostoevsky but had never read anything by him. I took the book. I finished it in a day or so and immediately went out, searching for more Dostoyevsky.

It was the depiction of a potential murderer, and a murderer of an old lady, that grabbed me. Raskolnikov was not a raving, drooling monster. He seemed to be a relatively normal individual, even if highly distraught, and possessed some strange philosophical ideas, that really weren't that strange, if one considers the range of ideas that humans have come up with over the centuries. He just didn't seem like a murderer, or at least what I considered to be a murderer at that time.

Dostoyevsky showed parts of Raskolnikov's character that I recognized but had never before seen in a literary work, or at least showed it to a depth that I had never seen before. He was of two minds about his plan to murder the old pawnbroker. One part of him doesn't think he could ever commit a murder, but he goes about as if he actually intends to do it. Which is the real Raskolnikov--the thinking Raskolnikov or the acting Raskonikov?

Throughout the days leading up to this day, he acts as though it were only an experiment, "no more than a test and a far from serious one." It was only "an idle fancy" that caused him to visit the old pawnbroker and note the layout of the apartment, the room where the painters are working, and the traffic around the doors to the building. He can't believe he will go through with it as he sews a loop inside his coat where he will hang the hatchet.

But, when the day he had decided upon arrived, he found himself almost as a prisoner in his own body which now seemingly acted on his own.

"His reactions during this last day, which had come upon him so unexpectedly and settled everything at one stroke, were almost completely mechanical, as though someone had taken his hand and pulled him along irresistibly, blindly, with supernatural strength and without objection. it was as if a part of his clothing had been caught in the wheel of a machine and he was being dragged into it."

While I have never murdered anyone, I have done some dumb things, which I knew were dumb, but I still went ahead and did them anyway, even while part of me insisted that I couldn't do such a dumb thing. Nor was I unusual in this respect, for I knew of others who had acted the same. No other writer that I had encountered up to this time had ever portrayed a person so completely, so thoroughly, and so convincingly in that state of mind.

As numerous critics have pointed out, Dostoyevsky has his flaws, but he shows us the depths of the human being as few writers have ever done before him, or after him. Dostoyevsky's characters are alive and breathing, and he cares for them, good or bad, virtuous or evil, or, which is most common in his characters, a mixture of both.

Perhaps there may be others who can do as well, but I don't think there are any who do it better.

Overall Rating--Very highly recommended.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Combination Plate 10

This will be a slightly different opening for this Combination Plate: I am beginning with a negative review.

Deathtrap, a film, 1982
Michael Caine
Christopher Reeves
Dyan Cannon

The premise is intriguing. Michael Caine is despondent for his last four plays have bombed. Suicide is becoming a viable option. Then, hope arrives in a brown envelope. It's a marvelous unpublished play written by an aspiring playwright who had taken Caine's workshop the previous year. Caine invites him up to his isolated house and plans to do away with him.

Caine is excellent in his role as the desperate dramatist who turns from potential suicide to murder before our eyes as he carefully makes his plans (his plays are murder mysteries, what else?) Christopher Reeve is convincing as the young, eager, naive, and innocent author who is grateful for Caine's offer to work with him on preparing it for presentation.

What is so wrong with this play that I could only watch less than 30 minutes of it? Dyan Cannon is what's wrong. She comes across as a shrieking, twitching, arm-waving, scenery-chewing neurotic. Every time she appeared I shrank back in my chair; I turned the volume down so I wouldn't hear her, but then I couldn't hear Caine or Reeve either. If they had been planning on murdering her, that would have been understandable, enjoyable to be precise, and I would then have been able to put up with her histrionics, knowing there would be justice done. Unfortunately, nobody asked my opinion, so the victim remained Reeve's character.

Overall Rating: I found it unwatchable. This is one time that I'm hoping for a remake.


The Bridge on the River Kwai, film, 1957
Director: David Lean
Based on a novel by Pierre Boulle

Prisoners of the Japanese Army, US and British soldiers are forced to build a bridge over the River Kwai, as the title suggests. Holden comes across very well in his portrayal of Shears, a conniving American GI who had escaped from the work camp and is forced tol reluctantly lead them back to the work camp. Alec Guinness, as always, does a superb job as the British officer who becomes confused between his duties as a officer and his desire to leave something behind him that wasn't just more evidence of death and destruction. Jack Hawkins is equally convincing in his role as the "typical" British officer who takes everything in stride and suggests while they could do the difficult today, they won't be able to accomplish the impossible until tomorrow.

Side note: a commenter on regarding this movie insists that they got it all wrong. The film is based on a real incident during WWII, and the British officer who was in charge of the British troops who worked on the bridge over the Kwai did everything he could to sabotage the

Overall Rating: considered only as a film depicting fictional events, this is a good one. I recommend it.


Karin Fossum
When the Devil Holds the Candle
Mystery: Police procedural
Setting: Norway
Fourth in the Series detailing the cases of Inspector Konrad Sejer

I have read three of the first four books in this series which now numbers eight volumes and with luck will continue on for awhile. The one of the first four that I haven't read is the first one, Eve's Eye, which is a literal translation from the Norwegian and may not be the title if the book is ever translated into English. And, that's why I haven't read it yet; I can't read Norwegian.

When the Devil Holds the Candle continues the themes that Fossum developed in the two earlier works that I have read. She focuses on the psychology of the individuals involved, especially the criminals, and spends less time on action-oriented activities. The work opens on several characters, two young males, and an older female. It's confusing at times, so careful reading is required.

The two young men, Andreas and Zipp, are poised on the edge of the divide between relatively harmless thievery and more serious crimes. We follow along as the two decide on a bit of purse-snatching from a young woman who is pushing a baby carriage. They decide this would be relatively safe for the mother certainly wouldn't leave the baby behind and chase after her purse. Unfortunately they guess wrong, and a minor criminal offense turns tragic, for neither the mother nor the two purse snatchers planned for what did happen. This is a theme that has run through at least all three of her novels that I've read.

The older woman seems a bit peculiar. Her husband left her one day without saying a word. He just disappeared, and no trace of him has ever been found. Since the police could not find any evidence of foul play, they decided that he simply left and that's not a crime.

A second theme is the interaction of various characters in the novels. I won't go into all the details but because of this incident and another that happened between Andreas and Zipp, they decide to do something a bit unusual, so that they will be able to look back on this "triumph" rather than on the very depressing events that have happened so far.

It too goes wrong, very wrong. Andreas and Zipp follow an older woman home, and Andreas decides to go after her in her own home--something new for them--a home invasion. Andreas goes in. Zipp waits and waits and waits. Andreas never comes out. Zipp leaves, for he has a job and he needs to get some sleep.

The police, led by Inspector Sejer, now have two unrelated cases going. One involves the purse- snatching, and the second arises when Andreas' mother reports him missing. The police do investigate Andreas' disappearance because they have met with him before, and he has become a "person of interest."

Fossum's universe seems almost to be a contingent one, especially where her characters are concerned. Causality doesn't seem to play a role here: her characters all have their plans and have worked out a course of action. When they put their plans into action, they keep bumping unexpectedly into other people and what happens is something nobody, and this also includes the reader, can foresee.

The downside, a minor one at that, is that Inspector Sejer really doesn't get an excessive amount of attention. I find him an interesting character and would like to see more of him. Well, I guess the only way to do that now is to read the next novel, which I will do shortly. It's title is The Indian Bride (aka Calling Out For You).

Overall Rating: very highly recommended


Leo Tolstoy
Resurrection, a novel

Prince Nekhlyudov is young, wealthy, handsome, and popular. He is quite satisfied with his status. One day, he is called for jury duty. One of the accused is a young woman, a prostitute, who is charged with the murder of a customer and the theft of thousands of rubles. Also charged are two others who have insisted that the young woman, Katerina Maslova, was the instigator of the crime. It becomes clear to the jury that Maslova at most might be involved with the theft, but there was no evidence that she planned the murder. Unfortunately, the judge does not clearly instruct the jury as to the proper way to find her guilty of the lesser crime and not guilty of the murder. She, therefore, is found guilty of murder and sentenced to exile in Siberia.

Prince Nekhlyudov is stunned to recognize Maslova as a former servant on his aunt's estate. Years ago, on a visit to his aunt, he had seduced Katerina and then left for the military. She became pregnant and was forced to leave. He now blames himself for her situation and works to get the verdict overturned. While all recognize the injustice of her verdict, no one with authority is willing to rectify the situation. The Prince then elects to follow her into exile, much as Sonya had decided to follow Raskolnikov into exile in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

The novel does not compare favorably with Tolstoy's great works: War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilych. While the reader does get a tour of the aristocracy and the judicial system, it is formulaic and designed to point out the corruption and degeneration of the aristocracy, the government and judicial system.

Nekhlyudov visits Katerina Maslova in prison. He also meets some of the other prisoners, all of whom have been mistreated and most of whom are unjustly imprisoned. He agrees to help some of them. He then makes the rounds of various government and judicial officials and is shocked by their behavior and their attitude, for many of the officials are corrupt, many more seeming uncaring, and only a few willing to help. That he is a prince helps considerably, for it's clear that some one with a lower status would be ignored.

He then returns to the prison and meets some more prisoners who also ask his aid. He agrees and now must visit some new government and judicial offices and finds a repeat of his earlier visit. This pattern continues through most of the novel.

Tolstoy hasn't lost his skill in putting words to paper, and the translation by Rosemary Edmonds is excellent. The problem, for me anyway, is that Tolstoy has a point to make in the novel and constructs the novel to demonstrate that point. This makes for a weak novel for it forces the author to create situations to exemplify the point and not because those situations arise naturally from the interaction among the various characters and settings.

Overall Rating: a good word painting of the Russian government and judicial system under the Czars, but not one of Tolstoy's best.


G. M. Malliet
Death of a Cozy Writer
Mystery, Police procedural
Setting: Cambridgeshire, England
First in the series featuring the cases of Detective Chief Inspector St. Just

Sir Adrian Beauclerk-Fisk is worth millions. He made it writing a series of mysteries featuring the exploits of Miss Rampling, probably well over 90 by now, who lives in the small village of Saint Edmund-Under-Stowe. This village exhibits a murder rate that should have wiped out the entire population many years ago. Sir Adrian is a nasty person, and his four children are awaiting his so-far unfortunately delayed demise. Every month or so, Sir Adrian contacts his solicitor and makes a new will. At present, his children don't know for sure what share of his millions they might inherit or even if they will inherit anything at all.

At the beginning of the novel, the four possible heirs receive a thick envelop from him in the mail. It is a wedding invitation; he is getting married to someone they have only heard of but have never met. If she is anything like his past girlfriends, she is probably young enough to be his granddaughter. But, this is a first, for never before has there ever been a hint that he might remarry. Now, there are five who may or may not be mentioned in the will. In addition, she's probably young enough to have children. Like nothing else, this invitation guarantees their presence for the weekend of the wedding. Now, all will be together, once again.

The novel, of course, is a tribute to the great mysteries of the Golden Age, the 1920s and 1930s. His character, Miss Rampling, can't help but remind readers familiar with that era of Agatha Christie's own Miss Marple. And, I'll bet there are hundreds of novels featuring a wealthy old man or woman, hated by their heirs who sit like vultures, awaiting that last breath.

Malliet has something else going for her also. She is an excellent writer who imbues her story with humor, mostly of the sly variety. Following is a quote from her novel in which she describes Sarah, one of Sir Adrian's four children:

"Everything in the place reflected darkly back on Sarah's personality: the carelessly chosen second-hand furniture included two overstuffed chairs covered in faded roses that clashed with the faded wallpaper that might once have been green but was now an indecipherable muddish gray. While bookshelves lining the walls might have offset the gloom with brightly covered novels, instead the dozens of worn books on the shelves blended into the mud like rocks, their covers, mostly black or gray, announcing obscure religious tracts of long-dead martyrs and other assorted lunatics."

Sarah is also a writer. She has been quite successful with her first effort, a cookbook titled What Jesus Ate. Flushed with success, she is now working on her second cookbook--Cooking with the Magdalene.

G. M. Malliet has a second novel out which also features DCI St. Just: Death and a Lit Chick. Her third novel, Death at the Alma Mater, is due in January 2010.

Overall Rating: her novels are a welcome change from the recent obsessive dwelling on serial killers and their twisted childhoods in which they suffered from various forms of child abuse which caused them to become the monsters they are. Her novels are fun to read.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


A strange film that I just recently viewed is After Life--perhaps puzzling would be a better term. It's a quiet film, a Japanese production, with no car chases or shootouts or violence of any kind. I'm still not sure what to make of it, but it definitely is staying with me. The Japanese title is Wandafuru raifu, which, translated, means "wonderful life." Perhaps the one who selected the English title didn't want viewers to confuse it with It's A Wonderful Life, the Christmas standby with Jimmy Stewart. Hirokazu Koreeda both wrote and directed the film which came out in 1998.

The premise is simple: after death, people go to a way station where they will spend a week. During the first three days, they go over their memories and decide which one memory they will keep to remember for all eternity. They will forget everything else, except for that one chosen memory. The following day or so is spent with the stage crew creating the scenery for the filming of the re-enactment of that memory. On the last day, they will view the film made of that re-enactment and leave immediately for wherever it is they will go, sans all memories except for that one.

The film opens with a bright white light-filled archway, which reminded me of many accounts given by people who had experienced a "near death experience" (NDE). The people emerge from the archway and report in at a desk. They are directed to a large room, and there are told what the schedule will be for the coming week. The new arrivals are assigned to a counselor who will help them decide on the memory they will choose and also work on getting as many of the details of that particular memory.

The style suggests a documentary about this particular way station and a group of people who just happen to be there at that time. The counselors are young men, in their twenties with perhaps one in his early thirties. That this is an all male staff of counselors appears to be an accident, for the counselor trainee is a young woman who is promoted to counselor at the end. The Boss is an older man.

The film follows the group of new arrivals as they attempt to decide which one memory they will choose. We see interactions among them as well as their sessions with their counselors. There are also flashbacks in some cases. In fact one man doesn't believe he has any happy memories, so, to aid him, he is given tapes of his life, one tape for every year of his life.

We also see the counselors "off duty" as they interact among themselves, for these are not angels or spirits but human beings, with all the faults of human beings. The counselors are those who have died and either could not or would not choose one memory. As a result, they must stay on as counselors until they themselves are ready to choose.

The way station appears to be a dilapidated school building, and all are wearing street clothing. It appears to be simply a group of people engaged in normal everyday activities. The only deviation from the mundane ordinariness of life is the light-filled archway they all come through.

One point I found puzzling was the ages of the counselors and the new arrivals. The ages of the new arrivals ranged from around 15 or 16 to at least 70 and possibly older. There were no children. Perhaps it was just coincidence that this group had no children in it. As I mentioned before, the counselors all seemed to be in their 20s. Was this also a coincidence or is the director suggesting that people in this age bracket have more difficulties choosing than those younger or older than them? One of the new arrivals simply refused to make a choice, saying he wanted to accept responsibility for his whole life, not just one small part of it. And, his counselor then told him that that's why he was a counselor, for he also refused to choose one memory.

Overall Rating: It's back in my queue, for I want to see it again, sometime in the near future, after I've thought about it for awhile.