“The Patience Stone” - Atiq Rahimi (2012)

The Patience Stone (Syngué Sabour, 2012) concerns a young woman’s self-realization in war-torn Afghanistan. Like many of the films produced in neighboring Iran, this French-Afghanistan co-production takes on the big issues of how one can fashion a meaningful life in difficult social circumstances. But unlike those comparative Iranian examples, which can only be made under severe restrictions that necessitate oblique references to the underlying social issues, the themes expressed in The Patience Stone are remarkably explicit for a work from that general region of the world.  The film is directed by Afghani filmmaker Atiq Rahimi and showcases the talents of Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. The script by Rahimi and Jean-Claude Carrière is based on Rahimi’s 2008 novel of the same name that won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in France.

A distinctive feature about the film is that much of it is essentially an interior monologue reflecting the thoughts of the young woman.  But this monologue is not a narrative voiceover on the soundtrack, but is instead presented diegetically in the story, as the woman talking aloud to herself during moments when she is (more or less) alone.  (I’ll get to this “more or less” bit shortly.)  This monologue aspect makes the film very talky and is a weakness; but at the same time the woman’s sense of isolation is central to the story, and in this case we must accept the film’s central motif on its own terms.

The setting is a war-torn Middle Eastern country that to English-speaking audiences is not named but which will be readily identified as Afghanistan. The senseless savagery of war, wherein all sides are dominated by a pervasive and compulsive destructiveness, is evoked by the film’s blurring of just who is fighting whom.  This is not just the fog of war but the subhumanity of war.  There is no identification of the warring parties or what they might stand for, which is reminiscent of Miklós Jancsó’s superb anti-war film, The Red and the White (1967).

The young woman in the film's focus I will simply refer to as the “wife”. She has two young daughters and must attend at home to her husband, an injured guerilla combatant who at the film’s outset has already been comatose for fourteen days and with no clear prospects for recovery.  The ensuing narrative progresses through five stages.

1.  The Hell of War
The opening 25 minutes depict the horrific circumstances of the wife and her family.  Her comatose husband’s mother and brothers have run away, and her only other relative is an aunt whom she barely knows. When intense firefighting occurs, she huddles her kids downstairs in the compound’s cellar, leaving her husband lying in the apartment. On one such occasion, armed combatants enter her quarters and callously steal her husband’s wedding ring and watch from his inert body. On another occasion after her neighbor’s entire family is brutally slaughtered by guerillas, the wife decides she has to find the whereabouts of her aunt and seek to shelter her daughters there.

2.  The Patience Stone
The wife eventually finds her aunt, who turns out to be an independent and sturdy woman who supports herself by privately entertaining men.  Now finally with someone she can talk to, the wife tells her aunt about her compelling need to confess her inner thoughts to someone; and so she has even been confessing things to her unconscious husband. The aunt responds by telling her the legend of the patience stone.  It has been said that if you find this stone, you must tell the stone everything, all your secrets.  Eventually, her aunt tells her, the stone will shatter, and you will be delivered.  Moved by this legend, the wife returns to her own comatose husband tells him that he is to be her own patience stone and that she will tell him all her secrets.

3.  The Two Militiamen
Now two militiamen barge into the wife’s home and threaten her.  Asked by the senior militiaman how she survives without anyone else around, the wife lies by saying she makes her living as a prostitute.  He curses her but leaves her alone.  The next day her aunt tells the wife that her lie saved her life: the jihadis never rape a whore, she says – the pride of manhood for them only comes from raping a virgin. 

The next day the junior militiaman, who stutters so badly he can barely talk and is sexually inexperienced, comes to the wife’s apartment and unsuccessfully does try to rape her.  Afterwards, the wife is reminded of her aunt’s pronouncement: “those who don’t know how to make love make war.”

4.  The Stuttering Militiaman
The stuttering militiaman returns, and for the first time in her life the wife has an encounter with a man who actually wants to please her.  She learns that the stuttering man is also a victim, having been tortured and presumably sexually abused by his senior militia combatant. 

5.  Conclusion
Finally there are (perhaps somewhat predictable) climactic events that bring the story to a certain closure.
The focalization in The Patience Stone is entirely on the wife, and her discursive monologues cover her inner journey with respect to three themes or subjects: the role of men, the role of women, and the way to self-realization:

  • The role of men
    Aside from the stuttering militiaman, the rest of the men in this film are uniformly selfish and obsessed with their own sense of pride and personal achievement.  The only thing that matters to the men of this society is to maintain “face” and to be respected in front of other men.  I already mentioned the pride that the soldiers felt in raping a virgin. This preoccupation with “face” is not only ruinous to others but self-destructive, too.  It turns out that the wife’s husband was shot not in battle but by one of his own fellow combatants over an insulting reference to his mother.  Later, the wife recalls how her father’s obsessive addiction to gambling in quail fights (a variant of cockfighting) came at the expense of his own family’s welfare.  He loved his quails more than his own children.  And on reflection of her own earlier married life, the wife realizes that in their marriage her husband had only treated her like a piece of meat.
  • The role of women
    The aunt, who has managed to survive on her own in a mysogynistic society,  is a worldly-wise commentator and mentor for the wife.  At one point the wife overhears a religious parable broadcast over public loudspeakers and asks her aunt about it. The story tells how the Prophet Mohammad had confided to his wife Khadija about his fears of evil spirits and how he had been calmed by Khadija’s counsel. The wife wondered how the Prophet could be vulnerable to evil, and her aunt tells her that, after all, the Prophet was just a man, and it was Khadija’s role to help Mohammad “attain his prophetical truth”.  She goes on to tell her niece, “Khadija is the one who should have been a Prophet”. The wife returns to her dwelling inspired that she could someday  have a truly meaningful relationship with a man.
  • Self-realization through social engagement
    We all understand our world through stories – the ones we hear and the ones we tell.  In fact it’s when we tell stories that we construct our understanding of our world, and of ourselves, too. We need to engage with and talk to others, people with whom we can share our thoughts and arrive at a higher mutual understanding. The need is particularly great for men and women to talk together, to share their secrets, because each can contribute something precious to the other. But this opportunity for shared, intimate dialogue between the sexes is often barred by rigid social conventions. A remarkable feature of The Patience Stone in this respect is the degree to which matters of sexual intimacy are frankly discussed. This is not done for dramatic stimulation, but is a natural element of the story about shared intimacy.  The stuttering militiaman in The Patience Stone embodies this idea.  He couldn’t talk to people, and so he couldn’t engage.  In fact the third time he comes to the wife, he doesn’t want sex, he just wants to talk.  He needs this connection so that he can know himself – and become a man.
It is interesting that a number of outstanding male filmmakers, such as Antonioni, Bergman, Mizoguchi, and von Sternberg, have focused their attention on women’s psyches.  The men in their films are often weak or selfish, and it is the women who have real character.  Rahimi here goes further, though, and casts the men in this film as very far from possible redemption.

The cinematic realization of the story of The Patience Stone would have been enhanced if there had been more dramatized presentations, such as when the wife describes her father’s obsession with quail fighting. A few more such dramatizations would have added body and “flesh” to the narrative and helped move it along. As it is, there is an enormous narrative burden on the character of the wife. The beautiful and magnetic Golshifteh Farahani does well in the lead role, but the extreme demands for emotional expressiveness, which include fear, grief, anger, and terror, sometimes seem to exceed her range. Nevertheless, she carries the film, and it is hard to imagine anyone else doing as well. There is something intuitively fascinating about her persona that draws the viewer in.  We want to follow along what she tells us and know her more.

“Badlands” - Terrence Malick (1973)

Of the extraordinarily rich, though sparse, filmography of writer-director Terrence Malick, no work was greater than his first feature, Badlands. Although his subsequent films have won deserved praise and international awards, none has ever been able to match the majesty and poetry of Badlands, whose first public appearance at the 1973 New York Film Festival stunned and dazzled the critical community. What it is that makes the film so great is difficult to articulate, but perhaps that very elusiveness is an indicator – Badlands’s lyrical fatalism seems to lie outside the scope of the written word.

Indeed, Malick seemed ideally suited to explore this philosophical space – he being the Harvard philosophy graduate who received a Rhodes Scholarship to study Martin Heidegger’s philosophy at Oxford University.  Malick had abandoned those academic pursuits in order to engage in a more immediate form of philosophical expression: the cinema.  And Badlands was the first and greatest expression of what Malick had to give us.

The story of Badlands concerns a young couple in love and on the run from the law.  As such, it has drawn comparison with other films of this ilk, such as They Live by Night (1949), Gun Crazy (1950), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Thieves Like Us (1974).  In fact the events in Badlands seems to have been inspired, though it wasn’t advertised at the time, by a real sequence of events – the killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the late 1950s.  But there’s something about Badlands that makes it stand apart from those other films and events.  To me, Badlands evokes something deeper and more cosmic than such stories, and so it needs to be considered on its own terms.

Among the unique elements of Badlands is its narration. The tale is told in voiceover from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl, Holly, who follows her boyfriend, Kit, into an increasingly chaotic world of lawlessness. The story she tells is about Kit, the agent of action in the tale, and so he is the focus all the way along. I suppose this makes it Kit’s story, but in a certain sense Holly’s perspective makes it ultimately her story.  And, of course, the viewer inevitably fashions his or her own story from Holly’s perspective.

The film’s plot moves through five segments, each of which represents a further step towards a fatal destiny.
1.  Kit and Holly
The opening sequence shows two garbage pickup men making the rounds in the middle-class neighborhood of a town in South Dakota.  One of the men, Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), spies a young high school girl, Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek), playing in her yard, and he tries to make her acquaintance.  Though Kit is from the “wrong side of the tracks”, Holly is cautiously attracted to the roguish charmer, and they soon become romantically entwined.  Kit, never at a loss for words, seems to like to hear himself talk as much as others do, and he tells  Holly,
“I’ve got stuff to say.  I guess I’m kind of lucky that way.”
Even though Kit is ten years older than Holly and from the wrong class, Holly is soon madly in love.  In voiceover she modestly wonders why such a handsome catch like Kit would even want her: “I’d never been popular in school and didn’t have a lot of personality.” Holly’s low-speed personality is further manifested after their initial lovemaking event by a river bank:
Holly: “Did it go the way it’s supposed to?” 
Kit: “Yeah.”

Holly: “Is that all there is to it?”
Kit: "Yeah."

Holly: "Gosh, what was everyone talking about?"

Kit: "Don't ask me."
A relationship based on sex this was not.  Though Holly tries to keep their affair a secret, her father (Warren Oates) soon finds out and angrily forbids her from seeing Kit. To punish her, he takes her beloved dog out into a field and cruelly shoots him with his pistol. Kit decides to run away with Holly and comes to her home with his gun to take her away. When Holly’s father says he will inform the police, Kit kills him.  He carries the father’s body down to the basement, and when he comes back up, he seems almost in a daze and informs Holly matter-of-factly that he found a toaster down there. 

Kit’s soft-spoken recklessness is now clearly manifest, but Holly decides to stick with him come what may.  Kit sets fire to Holly’s home in an attempt to make it look like a double suicide, and they head out of town together in Kit’s old car.

2.  In the wild
Trying to hide out from the law, Kit and Holly build a tree-house in the forest and make their life there.  For Holly it is all an adventure, like a camping trip. Although she is Kit’s woman, she sees a limitless future before her and wonders what the man she will eventually marry (implying that it will be someone other than Kit) is doing right at that moment. It as if she is only along for the ride, but for Kit, who always effects his super-cool demeanor, things are more desperate.

Eventually three bounty discover the couple and try to capture them in their forest lair, but Kit is ready and kills them all with his gun. 

3.  Visiting Cato and the rich man
Kit now drives out to the rural abode of his trash-man coworker, Cato, hoping to hide out there for awhile.  Cato welcomes them, but when he makes a suspicious move, the now out-of-control Kit kills him.  Then when some friends of Cato show up, Kit locks them in a cyclone cellar and shoots them, as well.

They next stop at the house of a solitary rich man in town to steal some provisions.  The fearful and taciturn rich man acquiesces in every way, but by this point the viewer half expects Kit to kill him, too.  Reflecting on Kit’s trigger-happy ways, Holly only banally comments on her beloved that “it all goes to show how you can know a person and not know him at the same time.”

4.  In the Montana Badlands
The couple now head out for the long drive to the Montana Badlands, hoping eventually to make it across the border into Canada and assume new identities. But Holly’s voiceover account now reveals that she is getting tired of Kit and losing interest.  When a police helicopter approaches and they have to make another desperate getaway, Holly refuses to get into Kit’s car and go with him.

5.  Kit captured
Kit is eventually cornered, and he surrenders to the police.  By this point the killing spree had made Kit and Holly national celebrities, and the police are excited to take him into custody.  Kit, relishing his newfound notoriety, jovially chats with his police captors.  For the first time some people are willing to take him seriously and listen to him.

At the close of the film, Holly reports that Kit was executed in the electric chair six months later.  She herself was let off on probation, and later she married the son of her defense lawyer.
On the surface one wouldn’t think that these dire events surrounding a reckless murderer would be the material for a compelling narrative.  Indeed there are some contrasting views on this matter, which I feel miss the main themes:
  • Some critics see the film as merely a tale of American insensitivity towards the sanctity of life. From this perspective Kit’s casual murders are a reflection of the American tendency to use guns to solve problems. But we should recognize that the willingness to participate in the obliteration of those who threaten our well-being is not something confined to American society.  The mass killings over the past century, which included widespread participation of whole social communities, testify to that [1].
  • Others see the film as a coming-of-age story for the teenager, Holly – she starts out innocently in love with her heroic boyfriend and gradually sees the sinister consequences of his recklessness and turns away from him.
  • Or it can be seen as the impropriety of allowing two immature youths, one an attention-seeking narcissist and the other a teenage girl snowed by her charismatic boyfriend, to have access to guns.
All of these views, though, are just considerations from a social perspective.  To me, the film’s grim but lyrical view of alienation and loneliness goes well beyond the above, more mundane, considerations.  What I am referring to here is not social alienation, but existential alienation – that deep sense of mystery that hovers ominously over all existence.  In this respect it is interesting to compare Badlands with Taxi Driver (1976) in terms of their depiction of existential isolation [2]. By means of its expressionistic depiction of a horrifying reality, Taxi Driver is more immediately immersive and harrowing.  But Badlands is more melancholic, more haunting.

Though unworldly and innocent, Holly senses the fatalism underlying her trip into the enchanted forest with Kit.  She seems intuitively aware that annihilation is everyone’s ultimate destiny. Our general tendency to to forget that grim finality of things is represented here by bizarre moments of distraction, such as when Kit said he found a toaster in the basement. Thus Kit’s alienated, almost schizophrenic, character is iconic for our shifts back and forth between authentic being-towards-death and inauthentic distraction with the otherness of things. Along the way our empathy for Kit radically shifts back and forth in the same fashion.

What is perhaps disturbing to us is that we can somehow relate to Kit – at least some of the time. We know him. In general, it seems that noone really listens to Kit, so most of the time he is talking to himself, almost in an echo chamber.  He loves Holly because she listens to him, but sometimes he wonders if she is really listening. And even that has its limits – towards the end of the film, she confesses that she wasn’t paying attention to him when he was talking to her.

Anyway, for the most part, KIt is not out of control – that only happens in the moments when he feels trapped.  For example, after he has killed Holly’s father, he regains his calm and self control.  Holly slaps him in the face for his seeming indifference. Kit suppresses any response and is back to operating in a measured fashion.

Malick accomplishes the film's overall projection of alienation and the disturbing feeling of powerlessness in the face of desperate circumstances by several means.  One, of course, is Holly’s dispassionate narration of their story.  The film's focalization is from her perspective, but there are some events that she did not witness, such as Kit's capture.  We can still assume that those events are presented as she would have imagined them. Other effective elements of mise-en-scene include the ethereal musical score that provides an emotional counterpoint to the desperate action.  This music is drawn mostly from the work of composers Carl Orff and Erik Satie, and it carries with it a sense of claustrophobic insularity and internal isolation. Orff’s "Gassenhauer", from his “Musica Poetica” (Schulwerk, Vol. 1) plays like an interior theme in one’s own mind, as if only we and noone else can hear it.

Perhaps the most memorable scene in the film is when Kit sets fire to Holly’s home.  For about a minute of screen time, the viewer watches house go up in flames, while Carl Orff’s choral “Passion”, also from his “Musica Poetica”, plays on the soundtrack like a requiem mass.  We see all the details of Holly’s past life being consumed and annihilated, as if a part of her is dying.  There is an unutterable sadness to this scene that suggests the passing away of everything and all.

In the same vein, the murder victims in the film all pass away without a struggle. In fact there is a bizarrely peaceful and helpless calm around Holy’s father and Cato when they are killed, as if they have submitted themselves to the inevitability of oblivion. The final images of the film show a view of the clouds from the plane carrying Kit and Holly to their respective fates, while the unearthly xylophone music of Orff’s "Gassenhauer" slowly comes to its end.  That image and those tones stay with me.

  1. Historian Timothy Snyder points out that the mass killings of Jews and other outsiders in eastern Europe following World War II were not so much driven by ideology but by selfish dehumanization of those outside one’s community.  See Snyder, Timothy, “Hitler’s Logical Holocaust”, The New York Review of Books, 20 December 2012, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/dec/20/hitlers-logical-holocaust/.
  2. See my review: “Taxi Driver”, The Film Sufi, (2012), http://www.filmsufi.com/2012/11/taxi-driver-martin-scorsese-1976.html.

“Taxi Driver” - Martin Scorsese (1976)

Taxi Driver (1976) was a landmark film in many ways.  Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme D’Or in 1976, the film represents the peak and signature performances of director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro. But beyond those specific individual achievements, what singles the film out and marks it for greatness is its uniquely powerful expressionistic presentation [1]. By “expressionism” I mean here that the mode of artistic presentation entails depicting the entire external world as a manifestation of the inner feelings (the psychological interior) of the narrator (usually the author and/or principal character). The German Expressionistic films of the Weimar Republic period, reflecting the general Expressionistic art movement in painting and architecture at the time, presented expressionism at its most explicit, with severe and artificial distortions of the depicted physical world that depicted a disturbed state of mind.  Since then expressionistic film expression has been more modulated, but there are still exemplar filmmakers in that mode today, including Zhang Yimou and Werner Herzog.  However, Taxi Driver probably tops them all in terms of the urban expressionistic nightmare it depicts in an ostensibly realistic setting.

Taxi Driver also carries with it Existentialistic overtones, a not uncommon artistic companion of expressionism, since this film portrays the sense of deep-seated anxiety that is characteristic of the existentialist sensibility.  Modern exemplary filmmakers that tend to focus on the existentialist mode include Michelangelo Antonioni,Wong Kar Wai, and Majid Majidi, but there are many films that conform to this genre.  As I have discussed at greater length in "Existentialism in Film 1" [2] and "Phenomenology and Red Desert" [3], existentialist films involve a profound sense of both alienation and transcendence.  Alienation here is general: it involves a fundamental sense of separation and isolation on the part of the protagonist from his or her social environment and entire world of involvements. The reason for this sense of separation can be found in the manner in which Existentialism contrasts with Essentialism.  Essentialism, which we could also call Objectivism, applies the principles of objective, natural science to everything and is the conventional means by which our modern Western culture characterizes the world.  According to this mode of thinking, everything in the world can be understood  in terms of its essence, which is what distinguishes it from other things.  We can then understand the entire world (from the Essentialist perspective) in terms of the state-based relationships connecting these essences. Existentialism, however, has a perspective that contrasts with Essentialism by emphasizing not essence but existence – something more primordial and beyond the relationship-based notion of essence.  The Existentialist position argues that there is something fundamentally missing about Essentialism – we feel that we are more than just the essences that are said to describe us, and we feel alienated from such a diminished view of our existence.  Existence entails contingency and possibility.  There is something we feel that must transcend the essentialist depiction of reality.  The Existentialist viewpoint is concerned with more than a description of what is.  It senses transcendent contingency and possibility – that eery awareness that unforeseeable and unfathomable events, even our own deaths, may be imminent.

Early definitive portraits of Existentialistic unease appeared years ago in two groundbreaking novels: Albert Camus’s The Stranger (aka The Outsider, 1942/1946)  and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea (1938/1949), in both of which the respective protagonists famously felt separated from everything around them.  But these works convey their message by means of written words, which are inherently grounded in Essentialism.  And as I remarked in those two earlier film essays, the film medium is probably an even better vehicle than the written word for the conveyance of existentialist and expressionist feelings. In fact, the direct transcription of outstanding expressionistic/existentialist written works onto the screen is often not as successful as other works that are similar, but have been more specifically sculpted for the cinematic medium.  Thus Brazil (1986) was a more effective expression of its artistic inspiration, Orwell’s novel 1984, than the explicit film adaptation of that novel (1984, 1984).  So, too, Taxi Driver is a more effective cinematic presentation of Existentialist alienation than Luchino Viconti’s The Stranger (1967), the film adaptation of Camus’s novel.  This was no accidental side effect of the filmmakers’ cinematic stylistics: Taxi Driver’s scriptwriter, Paul Schrader, had earlier written a book on film aesthetics, Transcendental Style In Film [4], which  explicitly examines how alienation and transcendence have been presented on film by some earlier masters.

Note that when Existentialistic stories are presented, the narrative structures are rather different from more conventional stories.  In most typical narratives, there is a metaphorical journey undertaken by the protagonist(s), who identify and seek a remote target that must be reached for fulfilment or salvation. Thus these protagonists generally know where they initially are and where they must go.  But in Existentialistic stories the protagonist is intrinsically lost from the outset.  There is a deep sense that something is wrong, but also a fundamental bewilderment in terms of where to go or what to do.  This sense of aimlessness and incapacitation in Existentialist works can frustrate some viewers and critics, who are waiting for the narrative journey to take shape and set forth [5]. The narrative structure of Taxi Driver struggles with this problem of aimlessness, and in the end Scorsese and Schrader manage to fashion a narrative scheme founded on this desperate search for a meaningful goal.  Anyway, what matters in this film is not so much its narrative structure as its expressionistic depiction of a dark, disturbing mood.

The story of Taxi Driver concerns a young ex-US Marine and Vietnam War veteran, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), who gets a job as a taxicab driver for a New York City cab fleet.  Bickle is a loner who lives in a spare, one-room flat, with only a diary for expressing his thoughts.  He drives all night, usually from 6pm to 6am, through the bizarre Manhattan underworld peopled by social outliers, such as prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts, and various underworld types.  Everything is seen from his point of view, with occasional voiceovers recording his diary notes or letters that he sends to his parents, who are far removed from his existence.

Travis is cut off from everything and everyone, with no meaningful relationships in his life.  As the story unfolds, he will encounter two different women with whom he briefly attempts to strike up relationships.  These are overlaid on top of his fundamental problem of alienation: his dysfunctional relationship with the world.  So over the course of the film, there are three concurrent narrative threads to follow along, all of which are his attempts to come to terms with his sense of alienation:
  • the relationship with Betsy
  • the relationship with Iris
  • the relationship with the world.  Admittedly this one is rather general, but it makes sense to characterize it as problematic relationship in this context.
With respect to all three relationships, Travis tries to overcome his sense of powerlessness and futility with respect to having an authentic impact on his surroundings.  The story breaks down into roughly four sections that relate the frustrating evolution of these relationships.

1.  Hopeful Engagement
The early scenes show Travis cruising through the New York City night scene and delivering his fares.  Despite his worldly experience as a US Marine, Travis is fundamentally an innocent, almost naive, individual, who is disturbed by the corrupt world of New York City night people.  At the close of every workday, he has to clean out the semen, filth, and blood that is left in the back seat of his taxi by his degenerate passengers.  Travis’s sense of alienation and unrelenting distress is reflected in the insomnia he suffers, which further deadens him to his surroundings.  One day, however, he spies a beautiful girl on the street, Betsy (Cybil Shepherd), who is a volunteer campaign worker for a US Presidential candidate, Senator Charles Palantine.  In all the filth and grime of the city environment, here is a beautiful flower of perfection. Immediately Travis feels that he and Betsy must share some intrinsic inner connection – she must be his destined soul-mate.  How many of us have sometimes felt this way?  We encounter a person of the opposite gender who is just so perfectly suited to our inner nature, that there must have been some destiny behind our meeting. 

Despite obvious differences in class and breeding, Travis is boundlessly confident that he and Betsy were meant for each other, and he boldly approaches her directly.  For her part, Betsy is guardedly charmed by Travis’s effervescent innocence.  So Travis now has a hopeful goal and a route to fulfilment.

When Senator Palantine hires his taxi one time, Travis’s romantic enthusiasm for Betsy spills over to embrace the senator’s candidacy.  Palantine, himself, is an unbelievably empty-headed political hypocrite who merely repeats the mindless mantra, “we are the people”, throughout the film.  His character is something of a master stroke on Scorsese’s part, because Palantine’s platitudes effectively represent the dead-end emptiness of essentialism.  Unconsciously, Travis will come to sense that Palantine is the embodiment of his own frustrations with the world as the film wears on.

2.  Powerlessness and Frustration
Travis’s optimism proves transient.  Despite his innocence, Betsy soon recoils from Travis’s lack of polish and dumps him.  Innocence has been rebuked and rejected.  Then a 12-year-old street girl, Iris (Jodie Foster), jumps into Travis’s cab and urges him to get her away from some imminent danger.  But Travis hesitates, and the girl is wrestled out of his cab by her drug-dealing pimp, Matthew (Harvey Keitel), aka “Sport”, while Travis simply watches helplessly from the front seat of his cab.  Here is the city’s corruption of innocence at its most extreme: a pretty, underage girl coerced into prostitution.

The solution to life’s problems seems invariably to be violence.  One of Travis’s passengers (played by Scorsese, himself), tells him that he will kill his unfaithful wife by blowing her to pieces with a 44 Magnum pistol.  This seems to be the only path to take for Travis, too.  He buys an armory of guns from an illegal weapons merchant and starts preparing for some unspecified mission of violence.

In the meantime, Travis meets Iris again and arranges to become of her “clients”.  His goal is to rescue her from her degenerate life, but he doesn’t know how.  He does manage to make some sort of connection with her, though, and though transient, this turns out to be his only meaningful relationship in the film.

3.  Self Destruction
Existentialist rejection of the Essentialist-modelled world can lead to a rejection of one’s own essence-derived self conception.  This is clearly happening to Travis, as the viewer sees him heading down the path of self-destruction.  Travis evidently wants to strike out at the indifferent world and do something that has an impact on it.  His symbolic target becomes Charles Palantine, whose inauthentic disconnection from true human engagement somehow must unconsciously make him the ultimate target of Travis’s wrath. 

Travis prepares a letter to be sent to Iris with some money and a message that says, “at the time you read this, I will be dead.”  Travis’s voiceover reflection sums up his current state of mind: 

“Now I see it clearly.  My whole life has pointed in one direction.  I see that now.  There never has been any choice for me.”
Fully armed and now sporting a bizarre Mohawk haircut, Travis goes to a Palantine political rally to carry out his assassination.  But before he can act, he is recognized by guards and flees the scene. That night, and now even more mentally deranged, he pursues an alternative path by heading down to the Lower East Side to engage in a violent, shoot-first rescue of Iris.  A bloody shootout ensues, with Travis killing Matthew and two others while getting critically shot in the neck, himself.  At the end of the devastation, Travis tries to shoot himself, but he out of bullets. The police arrive, and Travis is taken away.

4.  Aftermath
It is now a few months later, and the viewer learns that Travis, after being in a coma, has survived and recovered from his wounds.  Despite his murderous killing-spree, Travis has been hailed by the press as a hero, since he killed low-life drug dealers.  Iris is back safe with her parents, far from New York.  Travis is back on the same taxi night shift and living as before.  One of his fares turns out to be Betsy, and they engage in cautious, impersonal small talk during the ride, after which Travis refuses payment and silently pulls away from the curb.
The ending of the film is one of pure irony. Travis has finally been returned to normalcy, at least outwardly. But that last shot of Travis slowly, reluctantly pulling away from Betsy is an indication of his continued isolation and tacit desire to make connection. He is now mentally confined by even bigger walls, but perhaps he has abandoned his struggle to overcome them.

As I mentioned earlier, the expressionistic presentation of a mood is what makes this film outstanding.  Scorsese’s picture of the ominous and threatening New York City night scene is undoubtedly aided by his being a native of the city.  The focalization of the film remains almost exclusively on Travis Bickle, except for short moments with Betsy and Iris.  Why were these two singled out in this fashion?  Perhaps the moments showing those girls' personal connections with other men highlights Travis's nightmares concerning aspects of their lives outside the scope of his influence. So these sequences, too, add to the film’s atmosphere of anxiety and separation.  Another particularly memorable scene is when Travis, alone in his apartment, slowly and knowingly tips his portable television off its stand and wrecks it.  The drift towards self-destruction is captured perfectly without words.

The film’s overall mood of threatening alienation is immeasurably enhanced by the film score written by Bernard Herrmann, who was perhaps the consummate film music composer and whose music for films of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Brian De Palma provided indelible signatures for those specific works. In this case here in Taxi Driver, the mood of the film is so linked to Herrmann that I feel he is almost a co-author of the film.

Some people simply dismiss Travis Bickle as someone who just went crazy and who at the end remains a loaded time-bomb who might erupt again in the future.  Perhaps so, but the power of this film is its ability to give us some understanding of Travis. We can empathize with his agony and lost innocence.  We know him as we know ourselves.  At the film's end, meaningful connection possibilities with Betsy, Iris, and the city at large seem to be gone forever.  There is only the dark urban nightmare around him, and that still remains a threat, as shown in the last frames of the film.

  1. “Expressionism in Film", The Film Sufi (2008).
  2. "Existentialism in Film 1", The Film Sufi (2008).
  3. "Phenomenology and Red Desert", The Film Sufi (2010).
  4. Schrader, Paul, Transcendental Style In Film (1972/1988), Da Capo Press.
  5. This has been a criticism of some of Michelangelo Antonioni’s films, such as Red Desert (1964).

"And the Pursuit of Happiness" - Louis Malle (1986)

Louise Malle was a commercially and artistically successful feature filmmaker with a career that spanned three decades and two cultures: France and the US. But I feel that it was in the area of documentary filmmaking where he did his best work, in both cultures. Rather than attempt to record “objective” reality, Malle largely embodied the more subtle documentary style of cinéma vérité originally championed by the French. In this mode of filmmaking, the observer is an acknowledged part of the story being told – it is the storyteller’s journey towards a more enlightened view of his or her interactive environment that the viewer experiences. Note, however, that a cinéma vérité film does not dwell on the observer – what is presented is the world “out there”, as seen from the observer’s perspective.  This picture of the external world, out there, may be subtly influenced by the observer’s presence, as authentically acknowledged by the cinéma vérité filmmaker.

Among Malle’s great documentaries are the magnificent Phantom India (1969) and Calcutta (1969), which revealed a cultured Frenchman’s appreciative attempts to understand the wonder of India.  After moving to the US in the late 1970s, Malle’s documentary fascination turned to a contemplation of just what it is that constitutes American culture, with God’s Country (1986) and then And the Pursuit of Happiness (1986), his last documentary effort.  In all these cases, Malle demonstrates a sympathetic attempt to arrive a critical understanding of his subject.  And this he shared with his audience.

And the Pursuit of Happiness was one of Malle’s most personal films, since he examines the various facets and multiple experiences of being an immigrant to the US, as he himself had once been.  Indeed, the film seems to be very much a personal effort on the part of Malle, since he is credited as being the photographer, narrator, producer, and director of the film.  Just as he had done years earlier in India, Malle evidently travelled around the US and recorded what he saw. And following the cinéma vérité tradition, he lets those he see tell their own stories. 

Although the film, of course, is edited, and only the choice footage survived that process, I felt when watching the film that the interactions with the various people Malle encountered were authentic and unrehearsed. The behaviour of the people before the camera might have been influenced by the knowledge that they were on film, but their actions and words were generally spontaneous.

The title of the film, “And the Pursuit of Happiness”, is drawn from a line in the US Declaration of Independence, which refers to what it considers the “inalienable rights” of man, which necessarily include, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  To be able to pursue happiness in one’s own fashion, that is with the largest compass to one’s activities that does not harm others – it is this that is held to be a basic human right.  And that is precisely what draws so many people from all around the world to America.

For the most part, the people that Malle encounters and films are ordinary, everyday people who are just looking for a new life.  But Malle does interview a few not so ordinary people, too.  These include

  • Boris Leskin, a prominent Russian stage actor who came to the US in 1979 at the age of 56 knowing almost no English and having to start over from scratch.  By the time of this film, he is teaching acting classes and has restarted his acting career in America.
  • Franklin Chang Diaz was born in Costa Rica of a Chinese father and a Costa Rican mother. Like President Barak Obama, he is an example success story of America’s ethnic melting pot. After coming to the US during his high school years, he was graduated from MIT with a PhD in physics and then went to become the first immigrant to be a NASA astronaut in the US space program.
  • Derek Walcott, from the Carribean island of Saint Lucia, became a famous poet and playwright in the US.  A few years after his appearance in this film, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature (1992).
  • General José R. Somoza was the son of the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, and had lived a life of privilege in Nicaragua during the long, corrupt rule of the Somoza family.  He evidently brought a considerable amount of his wealth with him to the US when the Somozas were forced from power, because he is shown in this film living in luxury.
But Malle’s film covers people of many stripes and lots of themes, and there are roughly four general topic areas that come under focus along the way:
  1. Freedom to start a new life
  2. Educational opportunities
  3. Acceptance of immigrants
  4. The Problem of illegal immigration

1.  Freedom to start a new life
In this section Malle shows refugees from Cambodia arriving at US customs and happy to escape the genocidal conditions in their native country that led to the deaths of about one-quarter of the population (~ 2 million people).  These people are pursuing the dream that many people contemplate: to start a new life. Also shown is a Kurdish taxi driver, who has managed to join a worker’s cooperative that owns and operates its own taxi service. Here Boris Leskin is shown celebrating his own new life in the new world. 

Many new arrivals find their way to communities of their own people.  Malle shows people in “Little Saigon”, an area of Orange County, California, where 100,000 Vietnamese people have settled.  Cuban immigrants have almost come to dominate the city of Miami, where 65% of the population was said to be Hispanic.  Almost none of these people want to go back to their home countries, ever.

2.  Educational Opportunities
In this section Malle shows how the American system of universal education benefits many immigrant schoolchildren.  Some of the children shown in this segment include Chinese students, an Indian Sikh prodigy, and the aforementioned Franklin Chang Diaz

3.  Acceptance
Malle travels to Nebraska, in the American heartland, and shows a small town with an immigrant Vietnamese doctor – apparently the only non-native resident in the town.  As is generally true with the unassuming American Midwestern people, the doctor is readily accepted and included in the local society.  However, this acceptance doesn’t prevail throughout the US.  Malle also shows American blacks in Houston, Texas, who are at odds with the local Vietnamese immigrants. The blacks feel that the Vietnamese are being used as tools by corrupt landlords to force them out of their own, traditional neighbourhoods. In addition the film also shows a number of Arab immigrants, who although they have achieved comfortable middle-class status, feel the effects of social discrimination (for being Muslims) and discomfort with the “corrupt” American lifestyle.

The famous writer Derek Walcott is shown in this segment expressing what seems to me to be an eccentric view, perhaps what you might expect from an intellectual.  He argues that America’s “aggressive democracy” enforces too much conformity.  He thinks immigrants feel the pressure to conform to social mainstream standards and are reluctant to express their true feelings.  Malle lets Walcott speak his piece and says nothing.  But the rest of the film portrays the falsity of Walcott’s claims and just how happy the immigrant newcomers are to be in a country where they can express themselves – especially the various young girls and women who are interviewed in the film.

4.  Illegal Immigration
The last segment covers the somewhat intractable problem of illegal immigration in America. Malle shows scenes of the American border crossing near Tijuana, where vast numbers of people seek to cross into the US every night illegally.  Many Americans see the source of this problem to be the practice of American landowners and factory owners hiring cheap fruit pickers and running “sweatshops” filled with exploited illegal immigrants paid a wages well below the government-specified minimum wage. They believe that if the US would rigorously outlaw such practice, then the illegal immigration flow would subside.  An extreme proponent of this perspective is FAIR – the Federation for American Immigration Reform, who seek to (1) drastically reduce legal immigration, (2) eliminate political asylum and illegal-immigrant legalization, and (3) repeal the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which grants citizenship to people born in the US. I don’t think the issue of illegal immigration can be solved this way, and furthermore, the FAIR organization is itself suspect – the widely respected Southern Poverty Law Center (famous for legally opposing racism in the US South), has claimed that FAIR is a hate group. Managing the immigration flow into the US will remain a complex problem for some time, and no simple solutions are at hand. As Malle shows, there are many people who are desperate to come to the US, whether there are low-paying jobs waiting for them or not.  Besides the people from relatively distant Cambodia, there are eager people closer to home, such as those from El Salvador, who are shown fleeing that country’s violence and famine. 

In ironic contrast to these desperate people at the bottom are wealthy immigrants like General Somoza, who after having plundered their native country, brought much of their wealth with them.  But even here, Malle doesn’t express any personal condemnation; he always lets these people speak for themselves.  Perhaps the ultimate expression here is that of General Somoza’s son, who appears to be a thirty-ish householder living in more modest circumstances in the US than he did in Nicaragua.  When he is asked by Malle which place he likes better, he says it is the US.  His life here is more natural, better.  He is free.

“Forks Over Knives” - Lee Fulkerson (2011)

The documentary film Forks Over Knives (2011) is dedicated to convincing its audience that adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet is the most important act we can take to ensure good health and combat disease.  This is more than just an “eating healthy food is good for you” message, which many people will noddingly accept, but which will have little impact on their everyday eating habits.  After all, everyone already knows that eating food is a key activity in our daily lives, and most people who are presently in reasonably good health already think that their eating habits are within the boundaries of normalcy.  Why should they suddenly be converted to what seems like a strict dietary regimen, especially when everyone else they see around them eats the way they do?

Nevertheless, this film seeks to convince its likely reluctant viewing public that adopting a plant-based (i.e. vegan) diet is not just a good idea, but is of crucial, life-saving importance for everyone.  In particular, the producers of this film argue that by so doing, one can actually reverse the progress of many serious degenerative diseases, including coronary heart disease.  In this respect Forks Over Knives has a similar message to Mike Anderson’s Eating, 3rd Edition (2009), and because of the overlapping of themes, I suggest that readers examine my earlier review of that film for additional commentary. 

Actually, comparing those two similarly-themed films highlights a fundamental issue of documentary film presentation.  If you seek to convince your audience concerning the truth of some proposition, what is better – exposition or narrative?  We know that presenting a convincing logical argument is important, but we also know that telling stories that captivate the viewer are even more important.  Each of these films follows both of these two paths, but Eating, 3rd Edition is probably more oriented towards the emphatically asserted logical argument side of things, while Forks Over Knives, leans more in the direction of story-telling to make its points.

In fact Forks Over Knives follows a number of stories in parallel, switching back and forth among them.  Two of the stories trace the distinguished careers of two important nutrition professionals: 
  • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a physician in the field of cardiology and the author of the book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (2007) [1].
  • Professor T. Colin Campbell, a nutritional biochemist at Cornell University and author of the book, The China Study (2004) [2].
Both of them grew up on farms and followed traditional meat-and-dairy-based diets during their early years, but eventually their separate professional experiences provided them with the empirical evidence to change their minds about that diet. 

Interleaved with the stories about the two specialists are several other stories about ordinary people who adopt plant-based diets on the recommendation of their personal physicians [3]. The people in these secondary stories already have significant health problems to begin with, and this includes a group of 17 people with very serious cardiac problems who were placed under the Dr. Esselstyn’s care.  An additional, originally unplanned patient is the film’s writer-director, Lee Fulkerson, who volunteered to have himself medically assessed and was told that many of his health indicators (blood pressure, blood cholesterol level, etc.) were dangerously high.  These patients were not given any medications [4]; they were all just instructed to follow a rigorous plant-based diet prescribed by their doctor. Over the course of several months that the film was in production, all of them showed dramatic improvements in their bio-indicators and general health.

Such human-interest stories may give a personal touch to the film, but to me, they are not as interesting or convincing as the more evidence-based accounts associated with the work of Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn.  Individual testimonials, which are the stock and trade of infomercials, are an easy sell, and one should always be cautious about making generalizations from them.  In fact food faddists, like Robert Atkins and Adelle Davis, have long been popular with the general public and perennially top bestseller charts, but any evidence concerning the effectiveness of their approaches has always been scanty.  Atkins advocated a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, while Davis promoted a high-protein breakfast diet, but both of their dietary regimes are now discredited.  The fact that they had large followings was probably attributable to the fact that people who follow any prescribed diet are likely to lose weight – simply because the more limited food options on any diet lead to a reduction in snacking and overall food consumption.

The problem with nutrition science is that the field is immensely complicated, and even though new discoveries are regularly being made, we are still only at the doorstep of knowing the intricacies of how food intake affects health.  For example although vitamins have been identified as essential nutritional ingredients, it seems that there are associated, but not well understood, micronutrients coexisting with these vitamins in nature that are needed for these vitamins to be properly absorbed and processed in the body.  Animals evolved in the wild to digest and process these foods that included the associated micronutrients along with the vitamins and caloric food elements.  So if a person takes vitamin tablets, these micronutrients are mostly absent, and the benefits from the vitamins are likely to be reduced.  

Because the field of nutritional science is so complicated, medical schools give their students little, if any, training concerning nutrition. This leaves doctors will little option other than to repeat the mantras that are endlessly repeated by the meat-and-dairy industry advertisements claiming that
  • meat is the most essential food, because it is rich in protein and we are mostly made up of protein, and
  • milk (from dairy cows) is equally essential because it is rich in calcium, which is needed for strong bones.
So most people, as the film suggests via on-the-street interviews, don’t question these ideas.  But Colin Campbell shows that these statements are misleading (see below).

Of course, the meat-and-dairy industry has a vested interested in getting people to consume their products, and so they spend vast sums of money in advertising and use their political muscle to lobby for government subsidies in order to further their aims.  And they convince a lot of people: the film shows Connie Diekman, a past president of the American Dietetic Association (now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), who espouses the virtues of meat protein and cow’s milk. In fact Forks Over Knives has some interesting material from Dr. Neal Barnard, the head of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, concerning the disturbing influence the meat-and-dairy industry has on the US Department of Agriculture's recommendations for dietary health.  Many of the USDA's specialist advisers are under the pay of the meat and dairy industry.  In particular, he discusses how big agribusiness in the US manages to get government subsidies to provide cheese, meat, and milk products to school children.

There are very few people who are in a position to counter the meat-and-dairy propaganda with objective evidence, particularly given the inherent complexity of the nutrition field.  Nevertheless, even if the nutrition field is extraordinarily complex at the biochemical level of causality, one can still pursue a scientific path of investigation at the higher level of human health outcomes.  This is the path that Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn pursued in their separate ways: one based on epidemiological research and the other on clinical practice.

The journey of Caldwell Esselstyn, a Yale graduate and former Olympic rowing champion, to arrive at an understanding of animal-based foods' harmful effects is based on his long-term clinical experiences. He first began to realize the problem when he learned that during the German occupation of Norway, when the German army confiscated the local pastoral animals to feed their own troops, the Norwegian mortality from circulatory diseases was dramatically reduced. After the war, when the Norwegians returned to their carnivorous diet, the mortality from circulatory diseases returned to prewar levels.  Inspired by this evidence, Esselstyn has gone on to reverse the degenerative progression of coronary heart disease in his many (several hundred) patients by prescribing strictly plant-based diets.  As a doctor, he is frustrated how our modern diet needlessly harms us: every year there 500,000 Americans who undergo heart bypass surgery, at a cost of $100,000, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who die of heart attacks annually.  Almost all of this could be avoided if people were to follow a plant-based diet.  According to his biomedical explanation, animal foods cause the deterioration of endothelial cells that line the blood vessels and maintain appropriate blood flow. As these endothelial cells are damaged, a person is more at risk of a heart attack.   But, interestingly, a plant-based diet can actually lead to the restoration of these endothelial cells in the blood vessels, and therefore a plant-based diet can actually reverse the course of coronary heart disease.

Dr. Campbell’s journey followed a different path – that of a biochemical researcher.  He was one of the leaders of the China-Cornell-Oxford project, which was a large observational study of health outcomes in rural China during the 1980s.  This study covered a large area of China that included variously different diet practices.  But an important advantage of this sampling was that the genetic pool of all these people were very similar – Chinese Han people.  So this made comparisons across the other factors largely independent of genetic variations.  In addition, since the study concentrated on rural populations, it examined populations that were generally stable and unchanging over decades of time.   Thus the size, scope, and advantageous characteristics of the study were unprecedented.  The results of the study were published in Campbell’s book, The China Study (2004).  This is a fascinating book and well worth reading the whole thing, not just a summary.

Campbell and his team in The China Study examined 367 diet and health-related variables across 65 counties in China, in each of which 100 people were randomly selected for investigation.  This led to 94,000 correlations between diet and disease, and Campbell’s team found about 9,000 of these correlations to be statistically significant.  The most important conclusion they came to was that a plant-based diet is correlated with lower incidences of cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease. This association between disease and animal-based food extended even into very low percentages of animal-food consumption: the less animal-based food consumed, the better the health outcomes.

Campbell’s studies also showed that the two meat-and-dairy industry mantras about protein from meat and calcium from milk were fundamentally misleading. The fact that a plant-based diet supplies an adequate amount of protein seems to be little known among the general public, and few people know, for example, that  broccoli has double the protein per calorie that beefsteak has.  Moreover, Campbell remarks that animal protein creates a condition in the body called, “metabolic acidosis”.  To combat this condition, the body draws on its most readily available acid buffer: calcium from the bones. Low-fat milk makes this situation even worse, because with lower fat, the protein becomes a larger proportion of the total (not to mention the fact that low-fat milk is correlated with prostate cancer, according to Campbell).

There is also a small feature in the film discussing Dr. John McDougall’s clinical work that suggests a vegan diet can reverse the course of breast cancer.   This includes an interview with role model Ruth Heidrich, who attributes her survival from breast cancer to her vegan diet.  Even now in her seventies, she  is still participating in triathlon competitions.

Why is it so difficult to change public behaviour on an issue that seems as though it would be clear cut?  People imagine that it would be much too difficult to give up meat and milk, but it really isn’t that hard.  It might be helpful to compare the issue of eating meat with smoking.  I have not found very reliable statistics, but it is generally believed that during the during the 1950s, more than 50% of men smoked and more than 50% of doctors smoked [5].  There is even one figure that states that in 1951, 87% of British doctors smoked.  How could this be, when doctors even then had information that smoking was harmful to human health?  It seems that many of doctors, just like everybody else, found it too difficult to follow an independent path on this score. But when the US Surgeon General’s report appeared in 1964 connecting smoking with lung cancer, there was a dramatic reduction in the number of doctors who smoked. Since then smoking has gradually come down, across the board.  And you don’t find many doctors smoking these days.  Some day the same change may come about in connection with eating meat and dairy products.

I have remarked previously about the four main spheres of increasingly more personal interactive compass that underlie why you should be vegetarian:
  1. World. It takes more than ten times both the land acreage and energy from fossil fuels to produce a calorie from animal food than from plant-based food.  We are currently facing a worldwide food crisis due to the use of land and water resources devoted to animal farming. The world’s cattle alone eat enough grain to feed 8.7 billion people. If humans consumed a plant-based diet, there would be no such crisis. In addition, animal farming contributes significantly to global-warming gas production, particularly methane, which has more than twenty times the impact on global warming than does CO2.
  2. Community. Every year roughly 50 billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption. Yet animals are sentient beings like us that feel pain. They are existentially our brothers and sisters and do not deserve to be killed for our pleasure.
  3. Body. As outlined in this film, a diet with more than a tiny amount of animal-based food (meat and dairy) is very harmful to human health.
  4. Soul. Most small children are instinctively alarmed when they first learn that they are eating flesh from dead animals, but adults persuade them to accept it. That initial alarm that you felt back then was the voice of your inner soul – the essential core being who you really are. When you resolve to give up eating animal-based food, you are responding to that inner voice and following the path of your true, compassionate nature. You are becoming the complete person that you have always wanted to be.
Forks Over Knives, like Eating, 3rd Edition, covers the first three points, but focuses primarily on the third point.  Earthlings (2005), focuses on the second point.  Most people become vegetarians or vegans (for example former US President Bill Clinton, who was influenced by The China Study) from considerations made by the third point.  Others, like film director James Cameron, are primarily moved by the second point.  But in the end, it is the fourth point that will be the most important for you.  Each person, like Drs. Esselstyn and Campbell, can have his or her own journey down this path.  If you have not begun this journey, Forks Over Knives is your invitation to join it.

  1. Esselstyn, C. B., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, (2008), Avery Trade.
  2. Campbell, T. Colin, and Campbell, Thomas M., The China Study (2004),  BenBella Books.
  3. These physicians are Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Matt Lederman.
  4. Dr. Esselstyn’s patients were originally given cholesterol-lowering medications, but I believe that now their only treatment is to have a plant-based diet.
  5. Smith, Derek, Tobacco Induced Diseases (2008), 4:9 doi:10.1186/1617-9625-4-9, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556033/