Fashioned from a book by Jon Krakauer, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild is an elegiac film about Christopher Johnson McCandless, who, upon graduating from Emory University in 1990, set out, without notifying his family, to live as elementally as possible in a manner inspired by Thoreau, Tolstoy and Jack London.
The Valley of Elah is the legendary spot between two mountains where, according to 1 Samuel, young David slew the mighty Philistine warrior Goliath. The site is an appropriate allusion for writer-director Paul Haggis’s movie about the American experience in Iraq. In the Valley of Elah posits that the U.S. may be the military Goliath brought down by hit-and-run insurgents.
Outside my window, the bushes have turned, redder than any fire, and the sky is the same blue Giotto used for Mary’s robes. My mother says, if she still had a house, she’d plant one or two of these bushes, and I love how she’s still thinking about gardening, as if she were in the middle of the story, even though we both know, she’s at the end, the last few pages. Down in the meadow, the goldenrod’s gone from cadmium yellow to a feathery beige, the ghost of itself. Mother, too, fades away, skin thin as the tissue stuffed up her sleeve. The scars on her stomach itch and burn, but inside, she’s still the girl who loved to turn cartwheels, the woman whose best days were on fairways and putting greens. On television, we watch California go up in smoke, flames leapfrogging ridge to ridge. Here, these leaves release a shower of scarlet feathers, as everything starts to let go. Oh, how this world burns and burns us, yet we are not consumed.
A curving trail—the callused field obscures it until we shovel out the clotted brick, lug a ton or two of sand to fit trenches, level rumpled earth, correct courses. A mallet stuns a thumb, new blisters bud as self-impressed we shout, “This row is done!” but then a kid names names, prefers George Toad, Kate Cricket, slaps William Mosquito, pats Barkly, unleashed, our best company. We rest and share cold drinks. David brings homemade muffins, burned, blueberry plenty. Sun flickers around us, summer’s wings. Yet sand, we need more sand! Deer watch from trees while we adjust the pathways on our knees.
The diaries of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon have been digitized and made available to the public by the University of Cambridge. Sassoon, a British soldier, was quickly disillusioned by the war and became an outspoken war critic. His diaries feature poetry, prose, and drawings and include his 1917 antiwar “Soldier’s Declaration,” which got him committed to a hospital for the duration of the war. He described the first day of the Battle of Somme as a “sunlit picture of hell” (BBC, July 31).