Monday, August 19, 2019

Blinded by the Light

Watching Blinded by the Light, I couldn't help but remember those old musicals when, all of a sudden, someone would start signing, and everyone else would join in the singing, sometimes dancing, sometimes accompanied by a full orchestra that magically emerged on the movie set.  Minus the orchestra, Blinded by the Light does something similar as its 16-year old lead character Javid (Viveil Kalra) - a member of a Pakistani immigrant family in the dead-end English city of Luton, at an emotionally and economically fraught moment in his family's and Margaret Thatcher's Britain's intersecting stories -discovers Bruce Springsteen's music and is excited and inspired by its power to move beyond melancholy to reimagine his life.

The power of music to express otherwise inexpressible longings and to inspire change is the transformational agent in Javid's coming of age struggle against the rigid traditionalism of his father, while growing up in a society itself in flux and not sure of where it is going or the kind of country it wants to be. The film touches all the traditional bases of stereotypical coming-of-age narratives (including the feel-good family reconciliation at the end), all set in t e context of the Thatcherite assault on the British working class and social responses to it from both the left (represented by Javid's love interest, Eliza, a politically active daughter of true-Blue "no society" Tory parents) and the right (represented more ominously by the racist, sometimes violent, nativist movements that thrive amid such social distress).

Everyone who hated high school (presumably most people) will find something to identify with in this film, as will anyone who struggled to grow out of the confines of limited family expectations and limited economic and social resources. 

Based on a true story about actual Springsteen fandom, this film highlights the particular power of music to speak simultaneously to our frustrations and aspirations. In real life, of course, different people find different vehicles for escape, inspiration, and motivation, music being perhaps only one of several such possibilities. It is likely always the case, however, that love and friendship will play a prominent part. For all the social stresses of the immigrant experience, economic collapse, cultural breakdown, and nativist hostility, the film highlights the necessity and power of community, of a networks of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, all of whom live out one fo the film's favorite Springsteenisms: "Nobody wins unless everybody wins."

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