St. Vincent

February 24, 2017

How does one become a curmudgeonly misanthrope? How does one convert their gift of a life into something that resembles a stain on humanity? Who, while not necessarily destructive to those surrounding him, indulges in self-destructive behaviors which act more or less like drowning and struggling against a whirlpool? We are forever barred from taking gross generalizations of human action and deducing a uniform causality, as this is the nature of human life – to live in freedom. As such, every instance has its own necessary particularity for how it has become its own. Thus the exercise to examine this instance is fruitless to a certain extent, as we may never be able to fully rectify the conditions which exacerbate the tendency for a human being to be so softly cruel.

 

Vincent is such a fellow who we can only speculate as to the reason he is so miserable. It is understandable that he could be so downtrodden losing the wife that he loves to Alzheimer’s, sacrificing his life and everything he owns to give her the best treatment money can buy. Such an act of sacrifice, as we are coyly introduced to, compared to the major thrust of the film as depicting Vincent as ill-mannered, leads him to this quicksand engulfing of his life. And perhaps not so much a disdain for living but as a coping mechanism, the silent anger for the conditions that are out of his control bearing upon him yield us a man who just wants to be left alone in his misery. And yet, as has been remarked before in my review of The Station Agent which shows the mild comedy of a man like Jonah trying to evade his fate, because man is a social animal he will always have borne upon him social elements which are beyond his control. And such an odd couple ensues in St. Vincent because of one such uncontrollable instance, where Vincent, badly in need of filling up his coffers, decides to take in the newly moved-in neighbor’s son for baby-sitting.

 

Graciously, St. Vincent does not lead to any eye rolls with this plot device. Vincent remains steadfast in his tumult; any feign of compassion for the kid, such as in the instance of training him how to fight back against a bully, is done plausibly out of sheer boredom, as the racetrack is closed in the evening and the strip club is not worth tending to just yet. But it is this investment, however picayunish, into his society which gives us a sample of his honest nature, shrouded in the scars of time which many who have lead a tough life have to wear.

 

Yet again, as presented, if human action is irreducibly free, then this is the genuine wonder of how certain individuals respond to crisis and tragedy in their lives. Being human we cannot blame or castigate Vincent to a certain extent for his cantankerous zeal. But the movement toward swallowing how one feels about the world, and, as it metaphorically continues to spit in one’s face, move beyond those negative emotions (through repression for instance) and give toward it is the highest mark of the noble character as I surmised in my essay Towards an Understanding of Jesus Christ. To give with no expectation of a return is not a trade, it is an act of gratitude and of love.

 

And this is what has made Christianity so potent in world history. For this idealism has practical benefits to the individuals in its participation and its society at-large. For practically speaking, to see one’s gifts realize themselves and move the world toward a positive direction cannot help but affirm one’s will; to validate one’s life; to consummate a meaning for living. There, in the world which operates independently of the mind, has one’s mark left upon it. And in procession, such a continuum of gratitude ensures the well-being of the benefactor. This is something that is barely spoken about in a decadent society which has no concern for its posterity; for such concerns can be rendered by the petulant as weary obligations, when in fact, as the magnanimous gesture that capitalism reveals, is also to a lesser extent an act of self-interest and preservation. To bring forward a better man, a better society, and a better world, is a task that should always be on the mind of the individual, ensuring a sense of dignity and purpose in life, and above all else succor for the noble duty to elevate man toward his necessarily transcendental form.

Grade: A-

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