Friday, January 15, 2010

Two Favorite Images Of Marriage, In Book And Film

Today is the wedding anniversary of some good friends, and I want to honor it with two beautiful images: one from a book I loved as a child, one from the last film of the great director Akira Kurosawa.

I'm a member of the generation that was weaned on the Babar picture books, created by Jean de Brunhoff. Babar is a noble, smart, jolly, kind and loving elephant who bravely meets every challenge that an orphan faces in a harsh world. We, his peewee readers, had suffered with him through incredible hardships which illustrator de Brunhoff didn't whitewash. When Babar's father, the King Elephant, dies from eating a bad mushroom, he's painted a ghastly green. When Babar's mother is shot by wicked hunters in pith helmets, she falls with a look of agony on her face. But Babar meets every challenge bravely, and rises to become King of the Elephants himself. After everything we'd gone through with him, it was a huge satisfaction to see him in his place in the sun, complete with red royal robes (fluffed up with an ermine border) and golden crown.

Now that Babar is King, he can marry his sweet friend and soulmate Celeste. We readers (at least the girls) have been primed for this event for some time, since Babar and Celeste have known each other from childhood. The wedding is a magnificent affair, but my favorite image occurs after all the crowds and pealing bells have left.

A relative very kindly sent me the link to this picture, which is #9:

It's nighttime, and Babar and Celeste are standing outside in the dark. They're side by side, and we see their silhouettes: Babar in his royal robes, Celeste in her snowy wedding dress, both with major crowns. They're looking up, silently and happily, into a vast starry sky.

For me, this picture illustrates a saying which a very wise person told me: "Good partners aren't always gazing into each other's eyes morning, noon and night. But they're looking in the same direction." And my next favorite Marriage image, from the film MADADAYO, also reminds me of this.

MADADAYO was the last film of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. The film was greeted by many with savage reviews, and some called it a work of senility. But Kurosawa's senility, if that's what it was, still had lovely flashes of power which would have been considered the peak of achievement for any other director.

In MADADAYO, during World War II, the very old teacher and his wife have been bombed out of their home. They have only a three-walled gardener's hut to live in. In the next fifteen seconds we see their next year in the wheeling of the seasons: the old couple sitting quietly together on the open side of the hut, peacefully looking out, in every weather: through springtime blossoming to scorching summer to storms of leaves to snow. It's a sequence of stunning emotional power, because although they've lost what most people would call "everything," what we sense is their enjoyment and completeness. They have each other, and an interesting world to look at, and so they have everything.

(Happy Anniversary, and many more of them, N. and J.!)


  1. A beautiful tribute. I know the Babar books -- and really enjoyed that New Yorker slideshow. I don't know the film you mentioned, but I can see the image now in my mind's eye.

  2. Margaret,

    I finally got around to checking your blog and absolutely love it. Thank you so much. Your mention about Babar and the wise person's advice about marriage really touched me. And it went directly into my "sermon stuff" file. For someone with the agonizing task of having to say something every Sunday, this is manna from heaven.

    Steve Savides

  3. Caroline and Steve, thank you so much for your kind Comments. Steve, I love the thought that material from my post might crop up in one of your fine sermons!

  4. Babar and Celeste, two favorite literary characters, and the perfect iconic pair for togetherness. Antoine de Saint-Exupery made me gasp when I first read the words "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction" (in Wind, Sand & Stars I believe)-a perfect anniversary tribute, Your friends surely must be very appreciative. Enjoyable as always.

  5. So now I know the source of what my "very wise" friend quoted to me. Thank you, Jane. St. Exupery is wonderful, isn't he? I've thought so often of his words from The Little Prince: "What is essential is invisible to the eye."