What do you do on family/friend holidays when your local friends *have* families and you're too questionable to travel to them? Well... you could collapse into a lonely ball of anguish, whose pain creates a collapsing field of ugliness, creating a sort of misery black hole, but you should do something special for a holiday!
I flashed back to a film I saw touted as a holiday film, Babette's Feast, which was really interesting. Babette, who is, unbeknownst to any, a great chef, is sent to this small, ascetic, religious congregation, acting as a housekeeper and cooking their so-simple meals. The group is breaking apart with all the arguments and problems one might expect, now that the founder of the congregation is gone, and they've been drifting a while.
When Babette comes into a substantial sum of money, enough for her to return to Paris and resume the life she left behind, she informs them that she wishes to cook them a proper French supper. But as she brings in exotic ingredients (including a largish turtle - just so you understand that this was a bit brain-twisting to the people), the ascetic order is prompted, by one of their numbers' nightmare, to simply eat the food, making no comment, for fear that the sensualist feast might be a trick of evil, intended to corrupt them.
So far, this story has all the makings of a nightmare, doesn't it? Amazing chef, "we won't even discuss the food!" I imagine many of my foodie friends are closing their eyes, chanting "it's only a movie, it's only a movie."
If you don't speak Danish, and if you don't pay attention, you might miss the lines that deliver the power of the story. The sisters who now run the order had suitors in the past, and one of them went on to become a famous general. He had dined in fine French restaurants, and reminisced about how this was the equal of the greatest chef of Paris, a chef so amazingly talented that she could not only work her wonders on the senses, but also upon the emotions.
As the meal progresses, her wonders have had their effect, even on those who are trying to avoid falling into a sinful, sensualist trap - for Babette is, indeed on the side of the angels. Old wounds are healed, and the congregation has once again found its heart and spirit. The film (and the short story on which it is based) ends on a bittersweet note; they had assumed Babette would take the remainder of the funds she'd received to return to her life in Paris... but no; those funds were the cost to feed so many people at that great restaurant, where she had, indeed, been the chef. She is once again poor, they say, but she corrects them: an artist is never poor.
While I love the nobility - to give up one dream, to work a great healing - I can't deny that there's a part of me that instead screams that an artist might well be poor, and the world far poorer, for being unable to continue her grand creations.
That's got some subtle emotional power right there, but I wanted something about as subtle as a thrown brick, so I chose the Doctor Who episode Father's Day. I was worried my memories didn't match; that I'd impressed what I'd have wished for, what I'd have written, over the actual memory of the episode... but I hadn't.
Rose, the first companion of the reboot series, wants to go back in time to be with her dad, on the day of a wedding, where he was struck and killed by a hit and run driver; he died all alone, before the ambulance arrived. The Doctor is okay with that, but Rose wigs the first time - she can't go to his side, so they try one more time, with the Doctor warning her that they were risking a grave paradox with two copies of them in the same timeline. She wigs the other way this time: she rescues her father.
The Doctor is furious - Rose doesn't get it, because he rescues people all the time! And now the Doctor is doubly mad - if you've seen this season, when the Doctor offers her to travel anywhere in the universe, she reluctantly says no - but when he comes back, a moment later, "Have I mentioned this also travels through time?" she runs at the opportunity. Was he suckered?
I love it when writers remember, and use, bits like that! It makes the story more human.
You can probably figure out the plot. A living man, saved from a death that was supposed to happen, changes so many things in so many ways, that the timeline tries to sterilize itself with dreaded beasties; in the end - and if you call this a spoiler, I'll remind you that I mentioned emotional power with the subtlety of a thrown brick! - Rose's dad must sacrifice himself to set things right.
There are a lot of bits I like. At one point, as Rose moans this is all her fault, he responds that, no, he's her dad, it's his job for it to be his fault. This is a crazy statement out of context - they are both adults, past the time when a dad is to protect and teach his daughter, and take the blame for her missteps. But here, I think it's that he realizes he's never been a dad to her, never had the opportunity to teach and protect her.
You see, he figures out that the big paradox was his survival. Rose spins this beautiful tale of what a great dad he was, always telling bedtime stories, and picnics in the park, and all that. He knew the instant she said that, she was not talking about him. For example, Rose's mom, upon seeing her, does not think "maybe this is our daughter, come back from the future," but instead thinks it's "another" other woman. No, he was no selfless, family-first dad... and why would a daughter, from the future, spin such a preposterous story? Good, powerful, self knowledge and the ability to use that reasoning to put things together.
In the end, when everything seems darkest, they still see the phantom car that had been running through the paradox, the car that was supposed to strike him and kill him. He makes the decision that it's time to do the only thing he can - to be a good dad, and protect his daughter from the unintended consequences of a terrible mistake. He is the only one who can do this, since he is the paradox; but I also feel that he's seeing it as the one and only chance he'll ever have to be a good dad to his daughter, when she's old enough to remember him doing so - the current timeline's Rose is still an infant!
It's a good story right there, in my opinion - schmaltzy, sure, but well done. Except the writers then kick it up a notch. Rose remembered her mom grieving over her dad's death - a nasty hit and run driver, and he died, alone, away from any who care about him. But we flash back one last time to the same scene, only changed.
The driver - he was just a kid, and it really wasn't his fault; her dad had run right out in front of him! And, of course, third time's the charm - this last time, Rose didn't wig, and stayed by her dad's side until the end - so now the story includes a strange woman that no one knew who stayed by his side, and held his hand at the end. A ham-handed attempt to change the past ended up having positive effects that rippled out further than one man's life.
Noble self sacrifice makes for a good story - but that last little bit shows his sacrifice did help his family, in more ways than repairing the timeline's injury, and "merely" saving their lives!