Sunday, January 19, 2014

As Good As It Gets - Open Range

 New Perspectives?

Two American phenomena particularly puzzle the British. Gazing across the Atlantic divide, American's twin obsessions - Obamacare and gun control - seem very hard to understand. Though we may be two peoples divided by a common language, language alone is not sufficient to explain this perplexing and, in many respects, inexplicable conundrum.

Might I suggest that everyone focus on two excellent movies (films for the Brits): Open Range, directed by and starring Kevin Costner; and As Good As It Gets, for which Jack Nicholson won the third of his Best Actor Oscars. If you are not familiar with the work – check out ( and Open Range ( – which many consider to be Kevin Costner's best work.

If you haven't seen both films – I suggest you do: they will give you a neat perspective on guns and docs.

In AGAIG, the crunch scene in my view, comes when Dr Martin Bettes (Harold Ramis) is discovered by Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt) – a waitress who Melvin Udall (Nicholson) relies upon to feed his obsessive-compulsive disorder - at her home in Brooklyn and she assumes that a major medical emergency is under-way concerning her perpetually-ill son, Spencer (Jesse James) aged about 10. Why else would a Doctor be at her house?

At the dining table with Dr Bettes and her mother, Carol produces a mountain of medical bills concerning Spencer and explains that he has not been well since he was six-months old. Dr Bettes asks if he has had allergy tests. She replies no – she asked but the “bastard HMO's” said they were not necessary and anyway her medical plan didn't cover them.

Dr Bettes is not upset as he comments that “bastard HMO's” is the technical term for the overworked, hard-pressed junior doctors that commonly treat people in ER.

The Doctor gets a blood sample and his nurse turns up, after commenting she had real trouble finding the house in Brooklyn (same same for Bettes who couldn't find it either). Hey we are talking Brooklyn here not the Moon!

Anyway, he sends the nurse off with the blood and explains that he has to do a lot of tests, but Spencer will soon begin to feel better.

The real humour in the scene comes when Carol asks who she should ring to get the test results and Bettes produces his card (with his home phone number on it) and tells her to ring him. Both Carol and her Mother are flabbergasted that they have a Doctor's home number and offer to become his sex slaves in return.

Carol is quite rightly concerned about the costs involved and is told that they will be considerable, but that Mr Udall (Nicholson) wants to be billed.

The scene has a happy ending as Carol's Mother convinces her that despite her reservations about letting Udall, a seriously crazy man according to Carol, into their lives they must not refuse his help, no matter what.

Although this is just a small part of the film, it is echoed in the predicament of Udall's gay neighbour, Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear) who after being beaten and mugged in his own apartment is forced to move out as he cannot afford the sky-rocketing medical bills.

So, why chose AGAIG to turn the spotlight on Obamacare?

Precisely because it is so unreservedly “upper middle-class”. It gives counterpoint to the idea that Obamacare is just for the poor. It should resonate with any parent who is trying to get affordable healthcare for their family and cannot. The moral here is plain but understated in the film. Good healthcare is only for the rich. If you are a waitress from Brooklyn or a gay artist who has fallen on hard times, tough.

Open Range concerns the other enduring myth - that guns are integral to and inseparable from modern American life. It's the Old West, or at least it's the Old West that Hollywood has so ingrained in our psyche that it has become the Old West that I and millions of Americans believe now to be real.

Costner (Charlie Waite - is the quintessential Western loner, a man scarred by the Civil War who only wishes to be left alone to herd cattle on the open range until his friends are killed or injured by the power-hungry local land owner and cattleman, Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon). He finds love in the person of the local Doctor's sister, Sue Barlow (Annette Benning) and despite his new-found purpose in life sets out with Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) to “set things right”.

The shoot-out which pits Boss and Charlie against Baxter's hired gunman and other assorted henchmen is really the OK Corral revisited. Despite over-whelming odds, Charlie's skill in killing (acquired at great cost to his mental health during the Civil War) enables the good guys to kill all the bad guys and Charlie to redeem himself by marrying Sue. An obligatory ride off into the sunset completes the action.

So, what do we learn?

Europeans have real problems understanding just how effectively the myth of the Old West still endures in America. Getting to grips with guns is not a matter of violating the Constitution - it's even worse – it's the small matter of violating John Wayne. In most States it's still the Wild West where carrying a firearm openly is quite legal if not almost obligatory. In an increasing large number of States carrying a concealed weapon is legal. Why?

Americans believe that carrying firearms prevents crime. Or, more precisely, it deters crime and enables the citizen to protect himself from harm. More importantly it gives the citizen a real stake in his democracy. After all, nothing focus the attention of the citizen more that shooting a bad guy before he shoots you.

In the news today: “EVERYTHING about Curtis Reeves suggested he was a responsible gun owner. A 71-year-old retired police captain and a doting grandfather who once taught gun safety training courses, Reeves had dutifully obtained a Florida state permit allowing him to carry a concealed weapon.
Reeves’s arrest last week on a murder charge, after he pulled out his gun and shot a man who had thrown popcorn at him in a Florida cinema, has added a grim new twist to the American debate about gun control.
Not since Wyatt Earp strapped on a six-shooter and strode off to the OK Corral has American enthusiasm for carrying guns in public become such a contentious issue.
An extraordinary nationwide surge in applications for so-called concealed carry permits has pushed the issue of hidden weapons — and the kind of people who want to carry them to the fore.”

It's essentially the Wild West and until the Hollywood image is overtaken by reality it's unlikely that even tragedies like the above will enable legislation to protect Americans from someone carrying a gun will have any chance of being enacted.
Hollywood has a lot to answer for.

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