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So many of us have been getting through this year by watching movies at home by ourselves, or with friends on Zoom, inventing new ways to grieve and to hope, to keep ourselves laughing, all through the simple act of watching stories unfold on our screens. Movies have the power to unearth the many layers of our identities; to help us answer the question: Who am I? And that is what we trace, by way of a few beloved movies including The Color Purple, The Fly, and Blockers, in this episode.

Real Women Have Curves tells the story of a young Mexican American woman walking between two worlds, trying to please her immigrant family and be true to herself. Ana, played by America Ferrera, dreams of leaving Los Angeles and going to college. But even as she wants out, she yearns for her family’s blessing and acceptance. This in-betweenness — and Ana’s radical acceptance of her body as it is — was powerful to Virgie Tovar, a writer and body image activist. She says the movie showed her that she could ask for what her body needs, no matter its size.

There is a question rolling around even in the most secular of corners: What do religious people and traditions have to teach as we do the work ahead of repairing, renewing, and remaking our societies, our life together? Krista’s conversation this week with Rabbi Ariel Burger, a student of the late, extraordinary Elie Wiesel, delves into theological and mystical depths that are so much richer and more creative than is often imagined even when that question is raised.

The Way We Were is a quintessential breakup movie. Told across decades, it stars Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford as two wildly different people growing together before eventually growing apart. Writer Sophie Krueger says the 1973 movie has resonated differently over time. As a child, she idolized Streisand and loved her portrayal of an independent woman charting her own course. As an adult, she recognized the stakes of any romantic relationship — and how the differences that excite you initially can become irreconcilable.

PS (Movie friends — We’re hosting a live virtual event, and you’re invited! Join us for ‘Yentl’ Changed Me on Sunday, February 28th at 12 p.m. ET. Free tickets are available now.)

As people, and as a culture, Alain de Botton says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. His New York Times essay, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” is one of their most-read articles in recent years, and this is one of the most popular episodes we’ve ever created. We offer up the anchoring truths he shares amidst a pandemic that has stretched all of our sanity — and tested the mettle of love in every relationship.

The Color Purple is about the traumas and triumphs of a Black woman named Celie. Set in the Jim Crow South, the story radically centers complicated relationships between Black people, even as whiteness and racism loom in the background. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s classic novel was released in 1985. Both tellings have been beloved companions to Danez Smith, a queer writer and performer. Smith says Walker’s story helped them embrace the messiness of life; “to let life exist best within that brilliant complication that lives somewhere between the joy and pain of a single experience.”

We’re increasingly attentive to the many faces of depression and anxiety, and we’re fluent in the languages of psychology and medication. But depression is profound spiritual territory; and that is much harder to speak about. This is an On Being classic. Krista opens up about her own experience of depression and talks with Parker Palmer, Anita Barrows, and Andrew Solomon. We are putting this out on the air again because people tell us it has saved lives, and so many of us are struggling in whole new ways right now.

As much as it is a coming-of-age story, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is also about the complicated relationship between a teenage daughter and her mother. Even as they argue, they want to connect; to be seen and understood as a complex and ever-evolving person by the other. Their on-screen dynamic resonated with writer Kyle Turner, who has had his own challenging relationship with his mother. He says Lady Bird helped him begin to develop compassion for her — and to explore the possibilities of expressing empathy.

The ornithologist Drew Lanham is lyrical in the languages of science, humans, and birds. He’s a professor of wildlife ecology, a self-described “hunter-conservationist,” and author of the celebrated book The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature. His way of seeing and hearing and noticing the present and the history that birds traverse —through our backyards and beyond —is a revelatory way to be present to the world and to life in our time.

This conversation is part of the 2021 Great Northern festival in On Being‘s hometown of the Twin Cities.

Our podcast about how movies teach, connect and transform us will be back for its final season on February 2. Join us every Tuesday for a new conversation about identity, possibility, and self-discovery as told through the movies Lady Bird, The Color Purple, The Way We Were, Real Women Have Curves, The Fly, Blockers, Selena, and Love & Basketball.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts.

In so many stories and fables that shape us, cold and snow, the closing in of the light — these have deep psychological as much as physical reality. This is “wintering,” as the English writer Katherine May illuminates in her beautiful, meditative book of that title — wintering as at once a season of the natural world, a respite our bodies require, and a state of mind. It’s one way to describe our pandemic year: as one big extended communal experience of wintering. Some of us are laboring harder than ever on its front lines and also on its home front of parenting. All of us are exhausted. This conversation with Katherine May helps.

Our colleague Lucas Johnson catches up with one of his mentors, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. Now a member of the National Council of Elders, she was a teenager when she joined the Mississippi Freedom Summer. She shares what she has learned about exhaustion and self-care, spiritual practice and community, while engaging in civil rights organizing and deep social healing. Dr. Simmons was raised Christian and later converted to the Sufi tradition of Islam.

It feels good and right this week to sit with the beloved writer Nikki Giovanni’s signature mix of high seriousness, sweeping perspective, and insistent pleasure. In the 1960s, she was a poet of the Black Arts Movement that nourished civil rights. She’s also a professor at Virginia Tech, where she brought beauty and courage after the 2007 shooting there. And she’s an adored voice to a new generation — an enthusiastic elder to us all — at home in her body and in the world of her lifetime even while she sees and delights in the beyond of it.

“Having tasted beauty at the heart of the world, we hunger for more.” These are words from Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek in his book, A Beautiful Question. It’s a winsome, joyful meditation on the question: Do cosmic realities embody beautiful ideas? — probing the world, by way of science, as a work of art. He reminds us that time and space, mystery and order, are so much stranger and more generous than we can comprehend. He’s now written a wonderful new book, Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality.

Underpinning all the great challenges of our time there is the human drama, the human condition. And as we move beyond 2020, we turn to Mary Catherine Bateson to help us understand the puzzle of being ourselves, of rising to our best capacities and gifts, in all of our complexity and strangeness. She is the daughter of the great anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and she is a linguist and anthropologist herself.

Gaelynn Lea’s voice and violin land like a balm — an offering of both clarity and gladness that can still be mustered in this midwinter, this upended Christmas season. She first came to the attention of many when she won NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2016. This fiddler and singer-songwriter moves through the world in an electric wheelchair, and plays the violin like a cello because of the disability she was born with — a genetic condition that has made her bones more breakable. So much of what she’s learned through life in her body lands as wisdom, right now.

Who are the friends that, despite different paths chosen, have remained steadfast in your life?

In this poem Christian Wiman recalls the changing beliefs of his friends: this one has a new diet, this one has a new relationship, this one is slipping away, this one is verdant. While doing so, he holds the love for his “beautiful, credible friends” as the thing to hold on to while the planet turns faster.

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