A Look at the 2023 Oscars

Struck by two of the nominated films, Jonathan sees in both the theme of “discovering our eternal longing to recover our humanity.”

When Michelle Yeoh, the star of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the winner of seven Academy Awards, was interviewed on the “champagne carpet” she mentioned that what drew her to the script was the homage it gives to moms as superheroes, as her character travels the multiverse to save the relationship with her daughter. Homage to mothers and heroes became themes of the evening. Ke Huy Quan, who won for best supporting actor gave a passionate speech thanking his mother, an immigrant, whose unfailing support, kept his hope alive as he traversed 20 years from child actor in Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to holding an Oscar in front of the Academy, saying something to the effect of “Mom, this is the American Dream.”

Volker Bertelmann, the winner of the Oscar for best score for All Quiet on the Western Front, the other big winner of the evening, spoke of his mother from a slightly different point of view. He said in composing the music for this picture he thought of his mother who taught him that to change empathy and humanity in the world you must start with yourself and your surroundings. This reminded me of our education in the Movement: begin from your personal experience of your own humanity. He mentioned that in scoring a film like this you become “deeply touched.”

The film I was riveted by, however, received no Oscar, though several nominations. I think Tár starring Cate Blanchett is a terrifying and quite complex look at how art, power, and human degradation can be part and parcel of the same person. Todd Field, director and writer, offers us a very uncomfortable glimpse into the dark side of heroism. Lydia Tár, for all her genius, grooms young musicians for extramarital affairs. At a certain point in the film, Lydia Tár cannot hide her deeds behind her artistic mastery anymore. She is running in the park and, hearing a scream coming from somewhere, imagines someone singing the melody to a symphony she is composing in a dark abandoned building. She awakens suddenly to the sound of a metronome that eerily starts by itself. It’s as if she cannot give voice to the deeds she has done. Slowly she is undone as the outside world and inner life conspire to destroy her.

All Quiet on the Western Front and Tár were my favorites of all the Oscar nominations because they did not shy away from facing the complexity and contradictions we face in our lives. With the highest level of artistic skill, these creators try to develop a dialogue with us by bringing important questions to light.

In light of this, I understood what was conspicuously missing from the awards show this year. There was very little political talk or reference to the last turbulent years, as if everyone wanted a rest from all of the conflict. I suppose that is natural, but begs the question for me: did we not learn anything from these past years? Do we risk falling back into a life of distraction and superficiality?

Coming back to the score for All Quiet on the Western Front, Bertelmann says something very interesting in an interview with NPR. He is referencing how his three note theme transforms to a "religious" Bach-like melody signifying "the fact that through being a soldier, you're losing, very quickly, all humanity and everything that you've believed in and that you had beforehand, and you are wishing to come back to that place at some point and get that back. I know that there are many other people who have a different feeling when they wake up, and they are forced through that. But I think there's always the wish, I guess, for everyone who wants to get back to a warm and secure place and having - and doing - something that you like. "

I was struck at how Bertelmann dug out this simple observation from what was left of the humanity of the protagonist in the horror of the trenches that is similarly reflected in Tár’s inability to hide from herself anymore. This points to the difference between trying to forget our troubles as a means towards equilibrium and, instead, discovering the eternal longing to recover our humanity – that cannot be extinguished by our bad deeds, nor those of the world – as a true path to live life to the fullest.

Jonathan, New York, NY