Friday, April 06, 2007

The Namesake

This morning I went to see the film by Mira Nair, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri's novel.

The film was extraordinarily touching. Even for anyone not of Bengali heritage, there are themes in the film that most Americans would identify with to some degree. For those like me, who weren't born in the States, who, as one reviewer stated, always get hung up on that awful question, "Where are you from?" it was a real punch in the gut. In a good way.

It's so much easier these days to find people who have grown up in multi-cultural households, or have one foot here in America and another dangling out somewhere an ocean away.

This is one of the few times in my life I will have seen the film first, then read the book. In part, because of the impending holiday weekend, I had looked forward to doing something special, and seeing The Namesake certainly filled the bill. Everyone connected with the film deserves whatever accolades come their way. The moody weather in Los Angeles might have helped somewhat, as it is overcast yet warm, and definitely with the kind of sky that lends itself to introspection. The sun keeps trying to break through the clouds, but it doesn't quite get there.

I think, I may have a clue as to why I'm always jumping to view my birthplace every time I log onto Google Earth. The tug that accompanies my scanning it --even if a magnified view from space-- is pretty universal, I think.

It doesn't get me any closer to home in reality, (what is home, anyway?), but I'll take what I can get.

After thinking about the movie and the impact it had on me, I realized there was a memory long suppressed that it brought out: in junior high school, my mother mentioned that my parents had another name chosen for me before I was born. Now she is long gone, and there is no way for me to know what my other name was/is. I had asked my dad once, and he couldn't tell me. A name is such a simple, ethereal thing; it doesn't have anything to do with your DNA, won't change your race or height or eye color, yet gives you an identity. It presents you with a whole way of thinking about yourself and who you are. I'd forgotten for so long my wondering as a youth what my life would have been like had I been given my other name, and what was the reason for the change?

Not everyone seeing The Namesake may identify on with the movie on that level, yet there is still plenty for almost every human being to identify with. Too many "Americans" aren't aware of what forgotten memories lie beneath the surface of their consciousness.

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