“This is it. This is the moment of your death.” Waking up each morning, we all have faith. The alarm clock drags us from our sleeping world and we rise, rushed and bleary-eyed, into another day. We toss down something that resembles breakfast, certain that this is not the last meal. We hurt and we offend, content that we will have plenty of time to repair any damage. We endure situations that we despise, believing that someday everything will be as it should. We rush past all of the beautiful things that we want to remember, lost in all that we have to do. Yes, we have all kinds of faith. However, it was suggested to me quite early that there would be no bright light at the end of life. There were no churches or saviors in my upbringing, no comforting gods or heavens. According to the cosmology that my family subscribed to, our fate as human beings would be one of dust and decay. My brother and I felt the love of our parents, but understood that our time and influence upon this world would be quite trivial. The tendency among all human beings, however, is to seek some kind of meaning in our existence. No one wants all of this to be pointless. So we choose to chase after something else that can give each day some kind of purpose. We kneel at the altar of love for a woman, a man, or our families. We pray to the hungry gods of ambition and financial success. We embrace the mystical and temperamental muse of creativity, experiencing in that spark of personal creation something that can feel like a heavenly choir. We fall in love with music, or with the cinema, finding solace in the sounds and patterns of human existence dancing in our ears and flickering on a darkened wall. But all of it, I feel, whether earthly or divine, is in service to our terror of the abyss. Everything we choose to believe in, and live our lives for, is a means of lighting a candle to the waiting darkness. Sometimes it can alleviate our fear and sometimes it cannot. Even then, none of it can stop us from asking the question: when I look into the moment of my own extinction, what am I going to see? The screen is black. A single word appears. Fearless. Strings moan plaintively. Everything is very dreamlike. A man is drifting through a smoke-filled cornfield. He carries a bundled infant and is holding the hand of an older child, who follows closely behind. As they emerge from the field, there are three men praying at the side of the road. Even to secular eyes, they look like sorrowing angels. As the man with the children moves toward the rushing figures of an emergency rescue crew, the camera soars higher and higher above the entire scene. It’s then we see that the man has just walked away from the fiery wreckage of an airplane crash. It is a tableaux of destruction both awe-inspiring and terrifying, stretched out and burning across several miles of deserted country roads. Emergency workers race to check on the man and the children. When they tell the boy that he can stay with his dad, the man is quick to tell them that he’s not the father. Then he walks away, in search of the baby’s mother. Somewhere, another mother is screaming for own baby as she’s dragged away from the wreckage. There is an explosion. We see a shoe, a scorched body still buckled into a seat, and a wine bottle rolling undisturbed across the ground. With the bundle of life in his arms, the man walks through the devastation like a messiah. There is a faraway, otherworldly look in his eyes. When he reaches down to return the infant to its sobbing mother, her tears are transformed to those of relief and joy. Everyone is arriving now to gaze upon the horror of the crash, but the man strides over to a disbelieving cab driver. “I wanna go to the nearest hotel,” he says. The long purgatorial hall seems almost to be humming. He is a soul migrating toward its furthest end, though there is no waiting light. A door opens, closes. Naked feet step onto a shower mat. Hands, tentative, touch the feet, legs, and chest. There is a small gash in his side. The man peers deeply into the mirror and says, “You’re not dead.” The first few hours after realizing that he has survived certain death, or maybe that he’s a ghost, are passed very simply. He lays on the ground beside a rented car, staring into the horizon. The distant mountains, blurred by mist, or perhaps smoke, look like a foreign landscape. He presses his finger into the wet sand and we can only imagine what he’s thinking. In the car, every radio station is talking about the crash. He goes through each one until he finds someone singing in Spanish, then puts his head out the window. The wind is in his face, his eyes are closed and he’s smiling. The speedometer says that he’s going nearly ninety miles an hour. When he arrives at the front door of an old friend, probably an old lover, he is over a hundred miles away from the crash. It’s not until now that we learn the man’s name, when the aging housewife exclaims, “Max! Max Klein, what are you doing here?? It’s been twenty years.” Sitting in a diner, the woman relays all the failures of her life since she and Max were last together. She’s overweight, she hasn’t written a play in years, her children hate her and she knows that her husband’s having an affair. She insists that her life is a disaster, and we smile knowingly with Max when he tells her, trust me, it’s not. With an intense look in his eyes, he glances at the name on his waitress’s nametag: Faith. Then he picks up a strawberry and takes a long, loving bite, savoring the taste of it in his mouth. “Wait a minute,” the friend says, “Aren’t you allergic to strawberries? Didn’t you almost die from eating one when you were a kid?” Max says, “I’m past all that. See? No reaction, no reaction at all.” No reaction at all could sum up the general public’s response to FEARLESS as well. When director Peter Weir made this film, he had already won our hearts with GALLIPOLI, WITNESS, and DEAD POET’S SOCIETY. It followed one of the biggest paychecks he’d ever gotten in Hollywood (with GREEN CARD), and it’s strange and atmospheric world was reminiscent of Weir’s acclaimed early Australian work, especially PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and THE LAST WAVE. Jeff Bridges’ role as Max Klein is widely regarded as the best performance of his career, a career that has seen numerous highly impressive performances. Among the many awards heaped on her for her role as Carla Rodrigo, Rosie Perez was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Isabella Rossellini is at her most luminous here as well, in the pivotal role of Laura, Max’s wife. Trailers for the film showed glimpses of the beautifully filmed airplane crash, similar to the one that moviegoers had eaten up with ALIVE the previous year. But, despite all of these elements in its favor, FEARLESS opened to very little fanfare and grossed a mere $6.9 million worldwide. Quite simply, this movie isn’t for everyone. Adapted by Rafael Yglesias from his own novel, FEARLESS is a profound film that is as remote as the main character inhabiting it. Like most of Weir’s films, there’s a lot more on the screen (and inside the characters who appear on that screen) than is visible in a mere screenplay or plot summary. It requires that you give yourself up to it, and even put yourself into it. This is a film that can be both very existential and very spiritual, depending on how you approach it. Or it can be very boring and pretentious. It’s a very contemplative filmgoing experience, and that’s not a thing that most Americans do very well. It throws out a lot of barely-formed questions and then refuses to give us any straightforward answers. Here in the States, we like clear questions and, even more than that, solid answers. We also tend to like our lead characters to be sympathetic. Max Klein doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy after his brush with death. As a matter of fact, he isn’t an entirely likable character. The movie is as much about his selfishness after the crash as it is about his selflessness as the plane is going down. He doesn’t immediately contact his wife and son after he walks away from the crash. It’s not until the FBI finds him in his hotel room the next day, then puts him in touch with a trauma counselor (John Turturro), that Max even seems to consider going home. There’s a strange look in his eyes, somewhere between serene and disconnected. Arriving home, Max barely reacts to his wife and son’s relief to see him alive. It’s like he’s still not entirely convinced that he actually is alive. When the attorney Brillstein (Tom Hulce) begins to tentatively ask Max about his business partner and best friend, who was seated next to him on the plane, Max bluntly declares, “He’s dead.” Later, Max releases a blood curdling scream when Brillstein suggests how to get more money in the settlement for his partner’s wife. “I don’t want to tell any lies,” he says, and we can see that Max is as lost as he is found. The press shows up at his front door, along with the young boy Max saved. Max has become a kind of hero to the public, who have named him the Good Samaritan for all of the people he helped to lead from the wreckage. But he doesn’t want to think about that for too long. When he dwells on the crash, he has to walk out into traffic or stand on the edge of a skyscraper. Anything, anything at all to bring back that feeling that he’s cheated death. In prepping for the role, Bridges consulted with longtime friend Gary Busey, who had recently been in a motorcycle accident which nearly killed him. Busey told him that there was a period of denial where he felt godlike. He said that he felt like an angel in an earth suit. All of this becomes evident in Bridges’ performance, wherein he seems not entirely of this world. Is Max experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as the counselor believes, or has something profoundly spiritual occurred? It’s one of those rare kind of films that lets you understand it according to your own experience. If the film doesn’t work for you, it’s probably because you don’t really need it to. The doctor is concerned that Max is delusional, encouraging him to meet another survivor who is not so fearless. Carla is the woman who was screaming for her baby as she was dragged away from the burning wreckage. She will not eat or leave her bedroom, and her husband fears that she will never return from her well of grief and guilt. “Let me die,” she moans, and it seems to be where she’s going. Max is the only person who could possibly reach her. His first words to her are about his father dying in front of his eyes when he was thirteen. “God killed my dad,” he says, “So I decided there was no God.” In the church, surrounded by flickering lights and images of saints, Carla lights another candle to her dead child. Max looks around at the ornate complications of her faith and laughs aloud. “People don’t so much believe in God as they choose not to believe in nothing,” he says. But if it all makes no sense, if life and death just happen, then there’s no reason to do anything. Max tells Carla, several times, that they could simply disappear. Max bluntly tells his wife that he has an overwhelming feeling of love for Carla. But it’s not the kind of love she thinks. Even while Max continues to spiral further and further from reality, in dire need himself of being rescued, he is determined that he will save Carla. He assures her that they are ghosts and can do anything they want. He says they could disappear. They decide to get Christmas gifts for her baby and his father. “Let’s do it!” he shouts, “Let’s buy presents for the dead!” Then, for just an hour, they joyously tear through the mall in search of the things they always wanted to give their loved ones. But Carla knows this is not real. She is crying in the car, and says there’s something she has to tell him. Max pulls over, very uneasy with her renewed grief. “I let go of him,” she keeps repeating, “I let go of my baby, and he died.” The waves of guilt are washing over her. If she could have just held on, he would still be alive. Hail Mary, full of grace . . . Her sadness pushes Max out of the car. He is pacing back and forth, cursing. Panic is rising on his face. He looks into the distance, but we don’t see what he’s looking at yet. Music begins to strum in the background. Tense, pushing us forward. Max guides Carla into the back seat. She is inconsolable now, lost to her grief and guilt. She let go of her baby and he died. Hail Mary, full of grace . . . He gets something from the trunk and returns to her. “This is your baby,” he says, “I know it doesn’t look like a baby. It looks like a toolbox, but I want you to hold onto him.” He starts the car. Turns around at the edge of the alley, then hits the gas. “Hold onto your baby as tight as you can. Hold onto him.” The speedometer is approaching a hundred. The brick wall is racing toward them. There is just enough time to see, in the graffiti on the wall, a huge red heart wrapped in barbed wire. “Pray for us now in the moment of our death!” They slam into the wall at full speed. The toolbox smashes through the windshield. In the darkened alley, everything goes quiet, except for the clanging of rearranged steel and the deathly hissing of the car’s destroyed engine. As Laura, Isabella Rossellini doesn’t have much to do until late in the movie, other than arguing with (and gazing forlornly at) her distant husband. However, the scene where she finally meets Carla is one of her best. There is a masterfully understated emotional arc that plays out across her face as she realizes the other woman is not what she thought. Carla tries to explain that Max is an angel and that he’s saved her. “Max is not an angel,” Laura says, “He’s a man, and he cannot survive up there.” Before Max comes home from the hospital, Laura slips into his office to see what he’s been working on since the crash. In a series of drawings, the light at the end of the tunnel grows more and more disturbed, until it has become a bloody abyss torn in the sky. She reads aloud the inscription beneath a Hieronymus Bosch painting: “The soul comes to the end of his long journey, and, naked and alone, draws near to the sun.” When she sees Max again, his reflection in the kitchen window is fading. Like he truly is becoming a ghost. He turns away for a moment, with tears in his eyes. He looks back at her and says, “I want you to save me.” Then he takes a bite of a strawberry and begins to die. Everything slows down. Max falls to the floor, gasping for breath. Laura drops the wine glasses that Brillstein had brought. She hollers for him to call an ambulance, racing toward her dying husband. She presses her mouth to his. Trying to breathe her life into him. Gorecki’s third symphony is rolling over the senses, like waves of sorrow, a slow and somber dirge. We are on the plane with Max now, and it’s going down. “This is it. This is the moment of my death.” With the realization of his greatest fear, Max is no longer afraid. He squeezes his partner’s hand one final time and tells him that there’s a boy sitting alone. He’s going to go sit with him. There is chaos. Terror. Everything is shaking. But Max is calm, and even smiling. As he moves up the aisle of the doomed airliner, he reaches out to touch other passengers. He places his hand on a shoulder, an arm. We see the familiar faces of those who survived with him and of those we know will die. He stops to speak with some of them. For just a moment. We do not hear his words, but we see that he has given them comfort. The young boy, who is flying alone, looks up. Max takes the seat beside him. The child’s fearful face becomes less afraid. “Everything’s okay,” Max says, and his voice is different than it has been through the entire movie. It sounds normal. Through the window, we can see the world outside spinning out of control. “Alright,” Max says, “Now put your head down. Close your eyes.” The boy closes his eyes. Max says, “It’ll be over soon.” Then, as the plane begins to tear apart, his words reach the greatest height of human possibility. In the midst of tragedy and certain death, with no god to catch his fall, his voice fills with hope. “Everything is wonderful,” he says. – j. meredith Writing is not like working construction, but it can still be hard work. There’s a lot of time, thought, and sometimes even research that goes into every article appearing here. If you are reading this, then it was written for you. Please take a moment to “like” this, or any other piece, and feel encouraged to leave a comment (even if it’s to disagree with what you’ve read). See larger image Fearless (BD) 1993 [Blu-ray] A plane-crash survivor believes he can do anything and even tells his wife he loves a fellow survivor. New From: $16.44 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.