Why 'The Green Book' Surprised me



  I had put off watching 'The Green Book,' quite honestly, because I assumed it had a predictable, if not tired, story line.  I assumed it would feature the heroic resilience of many blacks in the face of white racism and vitriol.  I get it. I've seen it.  I've read about it...over, and over, and over again.  At this point it feels force fed. I’m full.  


My wife Jane, insisted that The Green Book was not nearly that simple.  Said it explored a relationship between a high income, highly sophisticated, high-society black musician (Don Shirley)  and a blue collar, rough and tumble, street-wise Italian man (Tony Lip)  who served as the Shirley’s chauffeur as they toured the American south in the early 1960's.


Jane was right.  


The Green Book is anything but simple, tidy or narrative-driven.    No one race, no one person, is all good or all bad.  Heroes arrived in both black and white. So did villains.


The relationship between Tony and Don was messy, both men with considerable virtues/gifts and not a few vices.  In the end, it becomes clear that they each needed much of what the other man haf and were willing to share those gifts/virtues with the other, even as they negotiated their way through the multilayered minefield called race.  


For me, (and my recollection is less than precise) the most poignant moment came when Tony is being chastised by Don for his habitual use of physical force, even though it was often used in service of Don’s protection.  Tony is exasperated, asking Don the rhetorical question:  ‘How ELSE was I supposed to respond (when you were in physical danger)?!’ Don responds with this:  ‘With dignity, Tony!  With dignity.  Dignity always beats violence.’  


Wow.  Just wow.  



It brought to mind St Paul’s words when speaking of Jesus:  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Christ) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.


Crosses triumph?  Really?  I thought the losers ended up on crosses...


*Is it even possible that even a beaten and bloody victim is the victor so long as he retains his dignity in the face of his assailants?

*Is it remotely possible that smiling and concluding with a gracious 'thank you,'  in the face of a a flurry of weaponized bible verses or religious rhetoric intended to shame, or impress, or intimidate... or control, is to actually triumph?  

*How can it be that the driver who simply takes the 'flying fickle-finger' without recourse, actually the vanquisher rather than the vanquishee

*Was Martin Luther King actually prevailing over Bull Connor by refusing to imitate Connor’s violence? 

*Did goodness and charity actually make Mother Teresa more triumphant (dare I say, more powerful?) than Josef Stalin and his vast apparatus of violence and terror?


Seems crazy.  IS crazy.   We’re talkin’ ‘alternate reality’ kinda stuff.     Unless of course, it's actually ‘really real reality’ and it’s we who are living in an ‘alternate reality.’  


Wouldn’t that be interesting.


All the best,











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