Do you like how I  e e cummings – ized my blog post title?

Today, I want to talk about an emotion that the late film critic Roger Ebert defined as “elevation.”  At least I think he invented the term.  I could be mistaken.

Anyhoo, generally speaking, elevation occurs when you feel empathy for the plight of others, when you care what happens to them, when you extend your consciousness  or (for lack of a better term) your caring self towards someone else.  I think it can be when you feel a sense of kinship, even responsibility, towards other people, even total strangers or people you dislike.

I believe this to be true.

Here is Roger’s take on it:

“If I were a film producer hoping to make a movie with deep appeal, I would consciously look for Elevation–remembering that it seems to come not through messages or happy endings or sad ones, but in moments when characters we believe in–even an animated robot garbageman–achieve something good. I have observed before that we live in a box of space and time, and movies can open a window in the box. One human life, closely observed, is everyone’s life. In the particular is the universal. Empathy is the feeling that most makes us human. Elevation may be the emotion caused when we see people giving themselves up, if only for a moment, to caring about others.”

Isn’t that wonderful!  I think it’s wonderful.

Reminds me of Kevin Spacey’s character from the film American Beauty.  He was Lester Burnham, the self-aware loser living a sedated life in the suburbs.  (Remember the tagline for that movie?  It was Look Closer).  He goes through something of a mid-life crisis (with a sense of humor) and behaves in silly ways before trying clumsily to connect to his family.  There is a scene where he hugs his very damaged neighbor (played by Chris Cooper) who has arrived inarticulately and heartbreakingly at a breakdown.  Lester hugs the poor sad man and I think it’s one of the best moments in the film.  (Lester gets shot for his kindness but that’s beside the point, I think).

At the end, Lester (now dead) decides that all of us will one day feel an immense gratitude for our “stupid little lives.”

Thank you, Lester Burnham.