Film: A Thousand Times Good Night
Director: Erik Poppe
“I wanted to tell my readers all over the world, ’This is what you should be concerned about.’ My skeptical retort to that in today’s hyperactive media culture, in which more pictures of horror are spread than can possibly be assimilated, amounts to four words: ’Good luck with that.’”
– Erik Poppe, former photojournalist, director of A Thousand Times Good Night
The story is about a photojournalist, Rebecca, whose specialty is war stories, and in the first scene we witness an example of the moral compromise required to record an event that you may have the power to prevent.
True, helping impedes the chronicling, and the job of the photojournalist is to help by showing something to the world, but we soon see that when a photojournalist is present, even not helping can sabotage the chronicling. Right away we begin to doubt the compassion that Rebecca claims as an excuse for her risk-taking.
You soon realise that this isn’t a story about extremism, martyrdom, or the Islamic world, but rather the story of a woman struggling to maintain selfhood in spite of the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood.
Rebecca is negotiating the balance between the two and not having much success; the drama lies here, and not in the events she documents with her single lens reflex. She exhibits the self-justifications typical of those with hero complexes: When people won’t accommodate her for being so great and wonderful, she quickly moves on to attempts to excite pity. “I need time. I was in an explosion,” she tells her angry husband.
Luckily for her psychological integrity, she’s surrounded by loved ones who won’t take her bull. “Stop right there,” says her friend when Rebecca tries to rationalise her career with altruism. “You do it for the excitement and the danger . . .”
It’s true. Rebecca thrives on danger and is unable to live in the now. Her house is in an idyllic setting, her husband and two daughters are gorgeous and fascinating people, and, as made clear in a lovely scene by the sea with her husband after their initial reconciliation, she has access to the lovely, healing power of couple hood. But her restlessness is tangible as she attempts to live a quiet life back home in Ireland with her husband and two daughters. “I should shut up. I’m not good at this—life, being normal,” she remarks to her husband after a walk on the beach with his colleagues.
Her husband tells her she should accept a new assignment in Africa, for the freedom of conditional individuation, but also to strengthen the bond with another family member, their daughter, who he says she should take along. Unfortunately, Rebecca is an addict, photojournalism is her gin, and moderation simply isn’t doable.
After having promised her family never to work in another war zone Rebecca returns to Afghanistan alone, where she watches a mother prepare her own daughter for a suicide mission. It’s this scene that finally brings Rebecca to her knees, breaking down the internal wall she’d built inside to separate her work from her role as mother. She realises that she’s no different from these women; she has sacrificed her children to a “higher agenda,” a belief system that, in the end, proves itself absurd and destructive.
There are many elements in this film that emerge from the memory of director Erik Poppe, who worked as an international photojournalist in the 1980s.
A Thousand Times Good Night manifests six of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing.
• It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
• It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence.
• It’s about attainment of the true self.
• It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
• It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering.
• It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.
This article owes much to the research assistance of Bill Waterman.