No one would choose to live without friends, even if he had all other goods. Rich people and holders of powerful positions seem to need friends…. In poverty also, and in other misfortunes, people think friends are the only refuge.
—Aristotle, NicomacheanEthics, Book VII
Having heard so much about the movie “Pan’s Labyrinth,” I rented the DVD the first day it was available. As promised by friends, it was a stunning, frightening, sad and memorable film. With its horrific violence and imagery, I would not generally recommend it. But I do recommend one of its “special features.”
In an hour of conversation with Charlie Rose on PBS, the film’s director, Guillermo del Toro, joins two friends who discuss their lives, their labors and their friendship. The two friends are Alfonso Cuarón (director of the film, “Children of Men”) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (director of “Babel”) These three 40-something men from Mexico, somehow marvelously commanding center stage in the world of cinema, have collaborated with, criticized and inspired each other, even on their masterpieces honored at Cannes, Hollywood and in Mexico over the past two years. All three won Oscar nominations this year.
Iñárritu’s “Babel” is a complex interweaving of four narratives from the United States and Mexico to North Africa and Japan, each story probing the relationships among parents and children. Complex and heart-wrenching, “Babel” leaves you exhausted but awed. Iñárritu was named best director at Cannes, and his film won best motion picture at the Golden Globes.
After Cuarón directed the third Harry Potter film, he created last year’s “Children of Men,” a haunting dystopia of universal infertility, political paranoia and hope set in the third decade of our present century. In its evocative atmospheric tone, its economy in pictorially presenting chaos and its seamless cinematography, the work is astonishing.
In “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the third of the trio, del Toro, mounts a realistic fantasy of terrible anguish and redemption. Set in early 1940’s Spain, his film imaginatively presents the young heroine as an Alice-and-Dorothy-like traveller of mythic and contemporary worlds as a martyr, both redeemed and glorified. Del Toro is fond of the saying: “The tyrant’s reign ends when he dies; and the martyr’s reign begins when he dies.” “Pan’s Labyrinth” lets you feel that truth.
These are three great films by three great friends. I do not think such a splendid trilogy has been made since “The Godfather” series or the days of Antonioni, Fellini and Bergman. But this is not a film review: it’s a reflection on friendship.
The textures of friendship are marvelously woven in the Charlie Rose interview, which is available not only on the DVD but also free on the Internet.
The three film directors celebrate and cherish one another’s families. They challenge and confirm one another’s strengths. They would rather not compete for recognition, but if they must, they seem to relish the success of their brothers more than their own. Cuarón says of del Toro’s triumphant 22-minute ovation at Cannes, “That’s the happiest moment I have had in film.” They all agree that in their creativity, their achievements and their families, “The core of the process is friendship.”
The Charlie Rose conversation is fascinating as a chance to enter into the doubts and joys of the creative process. But it is most engaging as a dynamic picture of relationship. In their discussion, when one of them is addressed, he seems to think immediately of the others. At those rare times when someone interrupts, it is only to confirm what another has said. They each have a palpable gratitude for the writers, actors, editors and cinematographers who make their work possible. They praise their collaborators, not as if they were cranking out some acceptance speech, but with authentic admiration. More than on any tawdry reality show, these men are real; more than the countless shouting heads on talk shows, they listen to one another. More than on any sitcom, with its canned laughter, they have spontaneous joy.
Theirs is a conspiracy of magnanimity. Iñárritu, the realist, admires the fantasy style of del Toro. Del Toro says that after he saw Cuarón’s “Children of Men,” he wanted to call everyone he knew and ask forgiveness. Cuarón spilled the beans: “When you switch envy into admiration, it is a liberation.” Del Toro concurred: “The sign of a true friendship is when you forgive success. When he won at Cannes, I felt fully happy.” Such is the quality of large souls, three amigos.
It seems to me that “amigo” is a better word than “friend”—perhaps because it is closer to the Latin amo, “love.” Love is not only eros, although it can accompany eros. At its highest and deepest, love is caritas, agape, the will for the beloved to be fully realized and fruitful. It is at the heart of any great friendship and every romance that is not mere narcissism, projection or escape. It reminds me that for those I love, I do indeed wish success. I wish that they may show their gifts to the world. I pray they may not be in want. But most of all, in loving them, I hope they will be blest by friendship. I say “blest” because friendship is not easily found. We may long for it, work at it, but there is an element of being blessed with it, a sheer gift.
May friendships be given to us, not only with the persons closest to us in this life, but with God revealed in Jesus. Such are the gifts without which all other gifts will inevitably seem empty.
As Aristotle wrote: “Those who wish good to their friend for their friend’s own sake are friends most of all.”