“I always felt like a book is a friend that does what no friend can do; stay quiet when you wanna think.” Charlotte O’Neil, played by Virginia Madson, in The Magic of Belle Isle.
“Most times real life doesn’t measure up to what’s in our heads, but every now and then it comes pretty close.” Monte Wildhorn, played by Morgan Freeman in The Magic of Belle Isle.
I love movies where a lost person finds his or her way because they meet a person, or a family who help them see their life in a new way. Maybe I like those kind of movies, because as a child my parents took in people who needed looking after. When I was five, or maybe six, my parents took in an elderly gentleman from our church who was in that situation. He wasn’t senile, but he did need regular meals and companionship, until his children, who lived far away, could decide how to best take care of him. I remember that time as a wonderful rich sojourn. He was kind to my younger brother and me. He told us stories and bought us ice cream. He became a part of our family.
In a way, The Magic of Belle Isle, 2012, directed by Rob Reiner, is very much like that. It’s summer, and Virginia Madsen, who plays Charlotte has brought her three daughters to the small town of Belle Isle Village to live year round. She and her husband are getting a divorce. Morgan Freeman, who plays Monte, a washed up writer and alcoholic, comes to live next door.
Monte hopes to drink the summer away, but little by little he’s drawn into the life of the town and particularly the family next door. He begins to heal from the death of his wife, and he begins to write again.
That in itself would make for a great movie, but what sets this one apart is the dialogue. It’s elevated somehow. The characters sound like regular everyday people in one way, but in another way they construct their sentences to make them sound like poetry. Or maybe it’s more like music. Which is interesting, because music does play a big part in the movie. Charlotte plays her piano nightly, and in Monte’s mind, she’s talking to him through her music. For his part he talks to her through the children’s stories he writes for her youngest daughter. It’s a love story between Charlotte and Monte, but it’s also a love story between Monte and his life.
Finn, the second daughter, asks Monte to be her writing mentor. That helps Monte remember that imagination is, as he tells her, “…The most powerful force ever made available to human kind.” And what is an artist without their muse, and their work? They’re like Monte at the beginning of the movie, a broken down shell of a person who has closed up his imagination.
One of the reasons I love this movie, is because I could relate to Monte’s desire to shut off his feelings. I’m a very sensitive person, and sometimes when bad things happen, the flood of emotions are almost too much. At those times I’m tempted to shut down, and indulge in binge watching TV, or eating, or any number of other, acceptable addictions. Then a movie like this comes along, and I’m reminded that the cure for a wounded heart is to create something beautiful out of the pain.
I highly recommend The Magic of Belle Isle to anyone who has felt overwhelmed by life. I imagine that would be all of us living on this planet.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014