I haven't written much about last weekend's sojourn in Stratford...
My parents are rather extraordinary people. Although they are both medical professionals, and therefore very scientifically and mathematically oriented, they have a passionate expertise for all things artistic that never ceases to astound me. Their knowledge of, and appreciation for, all fine art borders on the fanatical (particularly when it comes to classical music and opera).
And the theatre... Well.
In our family, experiencing a fine theatrical performance is like a profound religious epiphany. We have been privileged to see many such performances over the years, and not just on The Boards at Stratford, either. My parents regularly piled us all into the creaky old Volvo station wagon and drove us great distances, so that we would have an opportunity to experience many wonderful things. At a very young age, my brother, sister and I were introduced to the great joys of Gilbert and Sullivan at the annual university performances in London, Ontario. We were taken to see "Oliver Button is a Sissy" which was put on by the National Tap Dance Company of Canada. We watched the great Marcel Marceau in one of his last performances in Hamilton, Ontario. We enjoyed lovely evenings of dinner theatre, where we saw old-fashioned musicals like "The Boyfriend" performed. We attended the symphony and the opera, and my father regularly dedicated an entire day, several times a year, and excused us from school so that we could all see a matinee of the ballet in Toronto, together as a family.
To say that we were "lucky" children doesn't even begin to describe how my brother, sister and I felt. It was so special, to be included in this magical, "grown-up" world. Little did we know what a profound influence it would have on us; how much these opportunities, and the resulting knowledge, would enrich the rest of our lives.
It is not surprising, then, that whenever I now come across a performance that gives me pleasure, one of my first thoughts is usually how much the rest of my family would enjoy it as well. And so, it was particularly pleasing for me to be able to view the movie, "Venus", starring the magnificent Peter O'Toole, with my parents last Friday evening.
"Venus" is a film that depicts the last few months of an elderly man's life. Maurice (played by O'Toole) is an aged actor who enters into a platonic, yet passionate relationship with a troubled young girl named Jessie. He befriends her, helps her to find work as an artists' model, and re-names her "Venus", after the famous Rokeby Venus painting, which he takes her to see at the National Gallery. The film depicts Maurice's fascinating emotional struggle: he still possesses the soul of a young, rakish boy, but is trapped within the body of a dying old man. He must not only come to terms with his physical limitations, but also his intensely needy, emotional cravings. He must then learn to accept his inevitable mortality. All of which he eventually does... Exquisitely.
The character of Jessie, played by Jodie Whittaker, develops remarkably during the course of the friendship, as well. As a result of Maurice's interest in, and kindness to her, Jessie eventually opens up a bit of her damaged soul, and reveals details of her past. Mercifully, the film does not "Disnefy" her character. She remains a troubled young person, struggling to find acceptance and a sense of her true "self". However, it is clear that Maurice's influence touches her deeply, and alters her.
This is one of my favourite scenes from the movie... Never have I heard these famous words in a more touching, emotionally perfect scene. The beautiful thrum of O'Toole's voice, and the surprised, enchanted look on Jessie's face as she hears the sonnet for the very first time, touched me deeply.
I whole-heartedly encourage you all: Get thee to a good movie rental establishment, and select "Venus" for an evening. It is one of the most incredible things I have seen on film in many, many years.
And it was made even better by the people with whom I was able to share it last weekend.