August 15, 2010

Freeing the Better Bogart Within…or, We’ll Always Have Yoga

Does this guy look like a yogi to you?

It’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die…
Herman Hupfield (as sung by Dooley Wilson, as Sam the piano player)

There’s this guy…crusty, bitter…concerned with nobody but himself…corrupt…mercenary…a cynic who’s seen enough of the world not to give a damn about any of it.

And yet, underneath all that, though he refuses to admit it—might not even know it—he’s an idealist, a romantic, alive with love and compassion. When the chips are down, he’s downright heroic, driven by hopes and dreams but not afraid to let them go for something bigger than himself.

Clive Owen played him a few years ago in Children of Men, Harrison Ford in Star Wars, Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and elsewhere…but nobody so often…or nearly so well…as the guy who defined the role, Humphrey Bogart.

Watching Casablanca on a tired, rainy evening, I find it all too easy to relate to Bogart’s Rick…the ugly attitude and bottomless bottle of booze…not about to stick his neck out for anybody…turning away from a young woman desperate for his help with a terse nobody ever loved me that much. Certainly, he’s far easier to see oneself in than Paul Henreid’s Victor Laszlo, with his apparently bottomless sense of purpose, courage, virtue, and understanding. (In my worst moments, I can almost see why Rick might want to leave a smiling do-gooder like that to the Nazis).

But, of course, Rick’s better self emerges…and, in the end, he sacrifices his own desire for a higher purpose, leaving corrupt Casablanca behind to rejoin the cause, somewhere out in the desert…even inspiring Claude Rains’ gleefully corrupt and amoral Captain Renault to join him (showing that even he might have something beautiful underneath all the layers of crass opportunism, raw cynicism, and greed…that supporting characters have soul, too…not just romantic leads).

And, I think, maybe the yoga thing is kinda like that…about working through that hard, crusty exterior shell…freeing the better Bogart within.*

* But, y’know…preferably without all the cigarettes and booze…and, let’s hope, without shooting anybody…and, no, I can’t really imagine Bogart doing downward facing dog. So, maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor. Ah well…guess we’ll always have Paris…and, fortunately, we’ll always have yoga, too….


*based on a far rougher, cruder version at Yoga for Cynics*

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