In a lot of ways, life revolves around specific moments in time, ones we can't really let go of. For me one of those is the fall of 2011. At that point the Borders bookstore chain was going out of business, and after five years with the company I went out with it. The horrid state of the economy and my own finances were only starting their work in making things difficult for me, and in truth there had always been considerable frustrations in that job, but I was still sad, in too many ways, to see that era come to an end.
So it doesn't usually take much to bring me back to that point in my life, but sometimes life can be a little more literal than that. At my current job (a blessed miracle that helped dig me out of the pit I had landed in, although replete with its own frustrations), people tend to leave magazines hanging around, and some of them tend to be old, like waiting room old. One of which was a copy of The Week ("the best of the U.S. and international media"), from the week after I left Borders forever. Included in the issue is a review of Warrior, the last movie I saw in theaters that year, which I instantly understood, in what was already an exceptional years for movies, as the best movie I would see in 2011.
The composite review references The New York Observer, Newsday, and Salon.com, and gives Warrior three out of four stars. This is not horribly unusual, for a movie I dub the best of a given year to not receive similar critical consensus. What got me was when the article criticized Warrior in comparison to Moby-Dick, saying it tries very hard to be the movie version "of mixed martial arts movies." I kind of figured, if people weren't going to get this movie, they would dismiss it as "a mixed martial arts movie." But it really isn't. It just happens to feature the stuff.
And to add insult to the Moby-Dick comparison, the article is tepid to identify Warrior's Captain Ahab. Which the article suggests is one character, and really, why even guess at all? because its choice is both the obvious one and the right one. So to read what the critics The Week surveyed thought was instantly frustrating, and yes, totally explains why so few people seemed to respond as favorably to Warrior as I did (and as I still regard it now).
This is not even to say that in the comparison alone, I wondered if they even knew what Moby-Dick itself was about, not so much an epic tale of obsession and revenge, but very much an intimate story about failure and reconciling with the past at the expense of a present scenario that proves how doomed we sometimes allow ourselves to become.
(Pay no attention to the allusions to the life I'd allowed myself to fall into concerning Borders that fall...)
Every soul aboard Ahab's ship is a lost soul. That's kind of the point. And everyone in Warrior is a lost soul, too. If people tend to fixate on Ahab, who sought to avenge himself on the white whale (the whole story could read completely differently if it in fact centered on Ahab instead of the narrator Ishmael; there was a book released about a decade back called Ahab's Wife, which I suppose I really ought to read at some point).
The fact is, the outcomes of Moby-Dick and Warrior are inevitable precisely for the characters having tried so hard to avoid them. And that's the whole point. But otherwise, they're not the same story. Nick Nolte plays the father of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, who pushed his boys a little too hard, until he pushed them away, and the whole family splintered as a result. That's not the story of Moby-Dick at all, which is basically an allegory for how difficult a life at sea really was in the 19th century, something Herman Melville knew all too well, and had previously exploited to great success, as long as he was writing Robinson Crusoe tales. When he at last wrote the truth, the whole epic version of it, he became blacklisted in the literary community. It's more accurate to say Nolte plays a version of Melville than Ahab, someone who pushes too hard and ends up ruined for it.
I could write all day about Warrior, and writing about Moby-Dick at all makes me want to read it all over again. And it needs reminding, again, that Moby-Dick was hugely unpopular for decades until it was recognized as one of the first and greatest American classics. And readers even today still don't quite understand it. Sometimes the best experiences are those that aren't so easy to comprehend, or can't be enjoyed by just anyone. Will Warrior one day be hailed as a classic? I don't know. For me, it is, unquestionably so.
And in the meantime, life goes on. Even when it seems everything has ground to a halt, it really does.