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The Runaway Bunny

TV Guide - Wit

The Professor said, “James, did you catch the Mike Nichols film last night on Tele Piu? It has some relevance to what’s been on your mind for the past few weeks.”
“No, I went to bed early. I was exhausted after my long boat ride. What was it?”
“It’s entitled ‘Wit,’ based on the play by Margaret Edson.”
“I would have stayed up, but I didn’t run across it in the TV guide.”
“Ah! That’s because they translated ‘Wit’ into: ‘La Forza Della Mente.’”
“The force of the mind?”
“Or strength, or power. Whatever. Which is all right because that’s closer to the irony that was intended in the original.”
“And what is the relevance?” I asked.
“It’s rather complicated,” he said.
“With you, how could it be otherwise!”
“You know me too well, lad.”

I was delighted to see that the Professor was in his didactic mode, and I settled into the couch in his study. The actress Emma Thompson, he said, plays a middle-aged English professor named Vivian, who is an expert on John Donne. She’s in a hospital, undergoing chemotherapy for advanced ovarian cancer. There are some marvelous flashbacks to her undergraduate days, when she first encountered Donne’s Holy Sonnets.

“And here is a case where one thing leads to another, each one more fascinating than the last.”
“For instance?”
“You are familiar with ‘Death be not proud?’”
“Well, the last line of the poem is variously punctuated in different published editions. One reads:

‘And death shall be no more semicolon death comma thou shalt die.’

“And another one reads,

‘And death shall be no more comma death thou shalt die.’”

“Which one is correct?”
“It’s all academic hairsplitting, lad. But nevertheless how much of a pause one puts between phrases in a poetic line IS important. A pause is a separation, no?”
“Separation is exactly what children both desire and fear, yes?.”
“Of course.”
“To separate is also to wander.”
“And in a religious or spiritual context, it suggests a flight from God. Are you familiar with the 18th Century Christian hymn, ‘Come, Thou Fount?’”
“It goes like this:

‘Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.’

“All right. So what does this have to do with my current melodrama?”
“I’m getting to it, lad!” The Professor said cheerfully. “At the end of the movie, when Vivian is about to die, her old thesis advisor Dr. Ashford—played in the film by Eileen Atkins—appears at her bedside. Vivian is terribly frightened. Dr. Ashford offers to recite some poetry by John Donne. But Vivian says, no, not that. In the movie’s most touching and spiritual scene, Dr. Ashford climbs into bed, cradles Vivian’s head in her lap, and reads from a children’s book.”

“I don’t see the connection.”
“The book Dr. Ashford reads to Vivian is Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, ‘The Runaway Bunny.’”
“I’ve never read it.”
"It goes like this: ‘Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So she said to her mother, “I am running away."
"If you run away," said her mother, "I will run after you. For you are my little bunny."
"If you run after me," said the little bunny, "I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you."
"If you become a fish in a trout stream," said her mother, "I will be come a fisherman and I will fish for you."

Suddenly it became clear. When overwhelmed or frightened Vittoria always runs away. Vittoria also likes to invent and play out characters, to become her own twin sister, for instance, or someone else. But Vittoria needs to know that no matter what she does…no matter WHAT she does…

I wondered: Shall I continue to think her disappearance is inconsiderate? Thoughtless? Shall I continue to be angry?

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jeweldevil@livejournal.com writes:

I hate it when someone does something to me and I can't figure out how I should feel, how I should react. Then I realize the possible error in my own language, does something TO me? am I sure?

Inconsiderate? Certainly. Thoughtless? Damn skippy! If you react to her out of love rather than out of fear it will be better for both of you. Course, thats a bunch of sentimental tripe that is a lot harder than it sounds.

Your banter with your professor is enjoyable. I wish my mind was that sharp. A tenth that sharp!

* * *

And I reply:

Many thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the banter. But it occurs to me that you couldn't have gotten much out of it were you not 90 percent more sharp than you suggest!

This is really good. I enjoyed the professor's description of the film (which I haven't seen). *The Runaway Bunny* is a children's book I never read to my sons, so it's new to me too. I like the way the story sheds light on Vittoria, makes her actions seem more understandable.

It's always so good to hear comments like yours because it reaffirms my feeling that I'm on the right track with this book...many thanks!

This is so thoughtfully and beautifully woven, John.

Many thanks, jaarronn. You've been posting some powerfully evocative flower shots, with the sort of color and tone that hint at deep, complicated and sometimes even scary things...

Either you are more perceptive than others that have commented on my photographs or, perhaps because of the nature of the thoughts and feelings involved and evolved from your writing, more tuned in aspects "deep, complicated and even scary". Both, I'm sure, but you are certainly right. There are times when I am quite caught in a complex kind of melancholy that cannot help but come through in my photographs. I am grateful that I have a way to express these feelings. If I had to rely on writing of them...well... they would not be expressed and THAT would not be good! Of course, every form of expression needs also to be recognized so that the one expressing does not feel isolated. So thanks for connecting!

This film is amazing! Her teacher when holding Vivian sooths her by saying: "There, there" The intonation of her voice isn't sentimental, it is not implying death or separation but a quiet peacefulness. She, the old woman, is not afraid in the eyes of death, it seems. She knows that Vivian has to go through this alone, like everybody.
And Emma Thompson is so great in her role. She is always great in her roles.

Yes, the movie made quite an impression on me! And going back to 2002 to read this allusion to it also elicits quite a reaction. Thanks!

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