Saturday, January 30, 2010

On January 30, CBS re-aired the Hallmark (and Paramount) TV film “The Magic of Ordinary Days”


On January 30, CBS re-aired the Hallmark (and Paramount) TV film “The Magic of Ordinary Days”, made in 2004, directed by Brent Shields, based on the novel by Ann Howard Creel. The opening image of a steam engine train, vintage WWII, rolling across the Colorado high plains (actually, Alberta) evokes a similar image from “Giant” for this much more modest and tender little film. Actually, it argues for the “natural family” especially when that family is artificially constructed and arranged.

Keri Russell plays Levi, an ambitious young woman whose anthropology graduate studies have been interrupted a couple times, first when her pastor father got her to give it up to take care of her sick mom because her sister was already married (remember “One True Thing”?) , and then when she had a life and got pregnant herself. To avoid marriage out of wedlock, the pastor dad arranges a marriage with a shy farmer Ray Singleton (Skeet Ulrich) out on the plains.

I’ll digress here a moment. One dusty Saturday afternoon in August 1994, while eating lunch in a diner in Sterling, CO (near where this film probably purports to take place) I came to a definitive decision to write my first book. I still remember the moment, and this movie brought it back to my mind.

We wonder why Ray would agree to such a thing, to help a woman bear another man’s child and perhaps raise it. In the beginning the two are not in love. Gradually we learn that Ray had lost a brother to Pearl Harbor and felt a similar involuntary obligation to his own natural family. This brings up the whole OPC (“other people’s children”) discussion from Phillip Longman and others. I suppose that agreeing to step in as a substitute “dad” could be an act of forgiveness, or it could conceivably represent exploitation; it’s a very delicate balance. But this happens more often than we realize. Sometimes people have to deal with adaptive requirements by manipulating people into forming new families. As a male who has never had sexual intercourse with a woman, I could not accept being put into this position against my own choice or goals. (In the movie, you wonder if Ray has, but eventually we gain some confidence that he will. But he is so gentle and matter-of-fact, and loyal.)

The film has a rich subplot involving Nisei Japanese conscripted to work in the potato fields from a nearby FDR internment camp. The young women have an interest in butterflies (I remember the acronym “OGAB” based on Tiny Tim from my Army days), and that connects to Levi’s academic worldly curiosity. One of the women reports her family’s losing its California home and cleaning it as “make ready” despite selling it for half its value. Their life was just taken from them. The subplot also shows how, in a more collective society as we had in the 1940s, one's own conduct can affect other family members, and that includes parents and siblings, not just one's own children.

The film says a lot about our claim to control over our own lives, and how easily it can be taken from us by others, and be made to look all right.

CBS site for the film is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA picture of much of Colorado.

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