Notes from the Heart
06:32 AM CST on Tuesday, February 26, 2008
"Thank God for teen pregnancy," cracked Academy Awards host Jon Stewart during the 2008 Oscar ceremony Sunday night, after ticking off the grim themes of the Best Picture nominees. By comparison, the teen-pregnancy film Juno, which shared the category, was a day at the beach.
But there was at least one real-life triumph of the human spirit at this year's Oscars. The Irish indie film Once, a modest modern musical made on a shoestring budget, won a Best Song award for its stars, singer-songwriters Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
In the movie, the pair play strangers who meet on a Dublin street, where Mr. Hansard's character, a sad-eyed musician, is playing guitar and singing for donations. Ms. Irglová's character – the viewer never learns either's name – is a Czech immigrant struggling to make a living.
The two become unlikely friends and help each other honorably and gracefully through the pain of loneliness and broken dreams. Once is an unconventional love story, an achingly tender meditation on the power of art to console, redeem and inspire. The world may or may not reward our sincere efforts, the film says, but true art is reward enough.
Once became a critic's favorite and, though it didn't have a big showing last year at the box office, won an Oscar nomination for the gorgeous ballad "Falling Slowly." And guitarist Hansard fell in love with pianist Irglová while promoting the film. Theirs is now a real-life romance.
And there they were, against all odds, these two obscure musicians, stars of a movie made for less than the catering budget of a Hollywood blockbuster, performing their love song live for a worldwide television audience. Moments later, they both held Oscars in their hands. "Make art," an ebullient Mr. Hansard said in his acceptance speech. "Make art."
Amen to that. It's a cynical world, full of violence, mayhem and evil. But every now and then, the good guys win.
The story of Once, on-screen and off, reminds us all how much we mortals need art to keep hope alive and to illuminate the goodness, the beauty and the hope beneath the somber overlay of an ordinary life's burdens.
A film is just flickering images on a screen, but as in the case of the quiet miracle that is Once, it can also be the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.