In discussions of poverty’s ills and cures, it doesn’t take long for the subject of root causes to come up. Not everyone agrees what those root causes are, of course—or whose fault they are. But it’s often taken for granted that you can’t just tackle a presenting problem directly; you have to go for the root, whatever it is.
This certainly isn’t always wrong, but it does have a way of obscuring simple, obvious solutions.
Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is a homeless woman driving cross-country with her dog, Lucy, and sleeping in her car at night to save money and stay warm. One morning, her car won’t start. Her funds are limited, and she finds herself at the mercy of the local mechanic (Will Patton). She panics and shoplifts some dog food. She is caught and arrested.
Over the years, the fiberglass steeple had gradually weakened, and the hot sun and brutal winters had changed it into a streaked and stained obelisk. Its paint was flaking and splintering, its cracks widening. The “case of the stained steeple” went on the council agenda, and the steeple was taken down and carted off to a field just south of the building. The council neglected to decide on its disposal, so there it rested. The grass grew high and the steeple was forgotten—until the day the director of the preschool looked out the window and shouted, “Pastor, we have to do something about that man out there!”
Every week day, as I walk my son to school through Central Park, I pass a man in a yellow coat. His face, burnished by the sun, is the same smooth-and-taut coppery brown. Next to him sit a large rolling suitcase and assorted smaller bags. A bright yellow cloth neatly covers his belongings and is anchored in place by two apples, each nestled in a paper coffee cup. The yellow cloth and the yellow coat—along with other items, including a plastic yellow banana and a cardboard yellow taxicab—are the reason I took to calling him The Man Who Likes Yellow.
Soulful and tough in equal measure, The Pursuit of Happyness is the ideal movie for the Christmas season. It’s a triumph-of-the-spirit film in which the protagonist’s journey from poverty and occasional homelessness to solvency and the promise of a future is so thorny and obstacle-laden that you can’t imagine how he’s going to get there.
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