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Significant and Transformative Discoveries Are Made When We Face and Deal With Confronting and Provocative Challenges

New Perspectives And Reevaluation of Ideas

Confronting and provocative challenges act as a trigger for significant and transformative discoveries as the force of the shock provides the individual with a new perspective on life and force a reevaluation of previously held ideas. Three composers whose work reflects these notions of discovery are Robert Frost in his poems ‘The Tuft of Flowers’ and ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ Michael Weisler in his short film Missing Her (2011) and Jason Reitman in his film Up in the Air (2009). Each of these texts illustrates how the confronting challenge of isolation provokes the individual to have a new perception of their surrounding nature. As a result, they make the transformative discovery of nature’s ability to renew the spirit.

Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Poem

Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Poem

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

In the presence of a confronting challenge, individuals are forced, through personal reflection, to discover their own outlook on life and develop a new understanding of the world. This is achieved by the overwhelming nature of isolation that forces the individual to contemplate their predicament. This reevaluation is seen in Frost’s 1922 poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ where through the interior dramatic monologue the reader is introduced to the persona’s conflict between the real world and the world of nature during isolation. In the opening lines, the narrator uses alliteration in ‘whose woods’ to indicate his lack of human connection which sparks his provocative discovery. This forces the persona to learn that he finds comfort and enjoyment from his momentary escape from his responsibilities during a state of solitude within the woods. This is accentuated by a gentle atmosphere being established through the use of visceral and auditory imagery; for example, the gentle image and assonance of ‘the sweep of easy wind’ and the softness of ‘downy flake’ presents a hushed setting, devoid of any harsh sentiments. This highlights the persona's significant discovery of his surrounding nature that renews his spirit as he considers his place in the world. However, this fluidity and dream-like state that was augmented by enjambment in the first three stanzas, is jarringly broken in the final stanza with the realization of the real world. This accentuates the temporary nature of the discovery, but nevertheless stress how even short lived discovery can be transformative. Furthermore, the tonal contrast through the different rhyme pattern helps stress the nexus between self and society, nature’s beauty and social demands. Therefore the repetition of the final two lines, ‘And miles to go before I sleep,’ reinforces the responsibilities of the persona and the inability to fully appreciate nature. However Frost significantly ends the poem by acknowledging that ‘sleep’ referring to death must wait as he still has ‘miles to go’, symbolic of life yet to be lived and experienced. Thus nature has renewed the individual's spirit and has transformed him to see life in a new and informed perspective.

Short Film: Missing Her

Short Film Missing Her by Michael Weisler

On the other hand, confronting isolation can cause much confusion but may lead to unexpected and transformative discoveries for an individual. This is best seen in Michael Weisler short film Missing Her, which follows a young rural Thai boy discover his spiritual connection to Thailand while being adopted by an Australian couple and relocated to Melbourne. The protagonist Henry is forced into the confronting situation of being alone and isolated in a new environment. This intimidating readjustment is shared with the audience as the composer uses Thai dialogue in the opening scenes. This creates an unknown and isolating atmosphere for the audience that manifests Henry’s alienation in Australia. In addition, Henry’s sole connection to Thailand is the natural stars in the sky. This is established in the first frame by the point of view shot through his symbolic binoculars that allow him to be spiritually connected to Thailand. Moreover, the diegetic sound of ocean waves breaking on the beach establishes a serene and calm atmosphere. This is juxtaposed with the diegetic sound of car horns in Melbourne’s busy streets where unfortunately Henry experiences the confronting reality of not witnessing any of his beloved stars and symbolically his binoculars are crushed. In doing so, the composer accentuates how the confronting situation of isolation forces us to undergo a transformative discovery. Like the narrator in ‘Stopping by Woods’, the protagonist encounters the challenge between the real world and the world of nature. This is seen by the panning high angle shot of the clear night sky, which illustrate Henry’s emotional distress. However, the film ends symbolically with artificial stars glowing in the dark above Henry’s bed. This signifies his transformative discovery of how he will always be spiritually connected to Thailand.

A Tuft of Flowers

A Tuft of Flowers

A Tuft of Flowers by Robert Frost

Isolation may also catalyze an individual to reevaluate a personal sense of loneliness and discover the loneliness of the entire human condition. This is seen in the confessional monologue form poem ‘A Tuft of Flowers’ (1896) by Robert Frost where the persona discovers human connection and an escape from the loneliness he feels. This is illustrated in the repetitive use of first person pronoun and the metaphor of ‘isle’ in ‘I looked for him behind an isle of trees; / I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.’ Moreover the theme of human disconnect and isolation is further reinforced and broadened in the direct speech, ‘As all must be, I said within my heart / whether they work together or apart.’ Here, Frost broaden the lonely state to include all individuals. However, Frost outlines how the discovery of nature through the ‘Tuft of flowers’ can be immensely meaningful. Frost uses vibrant description in the metaphor, ‘a leaping tongue of bloom,’ to emphasize the beauty of nature as the bridge that connects humanity. Here the persona gains a new perspective as the tufts of flowers serves as a catalyst for reconciliation with mankind. This spiritual companionship can be impactful for an individual. This is highlighted by the symmetrical syntax of ‘I worked no more alone.’ In contrast to the line, ‘And I must be, as he had been – alone.’ This accentuates how a transformative discovery has renewed an individual’s spirit and helped discard a previously held idea, as he now feels connected through nature to the rest of humanity.

The Film Up In The Air by Jason Reitman

Isolation can also force an individual to learn of their lack of human connection and shock them into a reevaluation of their previous belief of being happy while alone. This is illustrated in Jason Reitman film Up in the Air, where the protagonist Ryan travel around the United States assisting firms terminate employees. However he reevaluates his isolated lifestyle when he significantly discovers that important moments in life are rarely unshared. This transformative discovery is made when his sister’s wedding interrupts his isolated lifestyle. This forces him to realize his limited connections with his family. The composer portrays this in the mid angle shot of Ryan and his sister standing distantly apart when talking. Thus highlighting his separation and disconnect from them. Consequently Ryan reevaluates his secluded life and this is seen symbolically in the film’s conclusion where a close up of Ryan releasing his hold on his luggage handle. In doing so, the composer accentuates the protagonist’s release of his previous lonely lifestyle and his newly acquired perspective on life. This coupled with the non-diegetic joyful background music and Ryan’s demand gaze emphasizes to the audience his transformative discovery of his prior lack of human connection.

Transformative Discovery That Renews the Human Spirit

Ultimately, the confronting and provocative situation of isolation can trigger an individual to gain a new perspective and thus reevaluate their previously held ideas. As a result, individuals such as seen in Robert Frost, Michael Weisler and Jason Reitman’s texts, make the transformative discovery of nature’s powerful ability to renew the human spirit.

© 2018 Billy Zhang