Splendor in the Grass (1961), directed by Elia Kazan

Splendor in the Grass posterI saw Splendor in the Grass in 1961 when I was 19 years old. I was in college taking a course in English Literature and we had just read Wordsworth’s “Ode to Intimations of Immortality” focusing on the classic lines which make up the title of the movie: “Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower, we will grieve not; rather find strength in what remains behind.” The lines penetrated my psyche, and I had one of those “aha” moments as I connected the words to my own experience. I was not in love with anybody at the time, but I still had memories of my ninth grade infatuation that ended badly when I was rejected by my then girlfriend for another boy. It was devastating and it took me a long time to recover my psychological equilibrium. I too had come to the realization that I could not recapture the past; all I could do was “to find strength in what remains behind,” and reconstruct myself emotionally.

Splendor in the Grass is a sad but very wise movie. Although it ends with a piece of senior wisdom, a lot of teenage angst is portrayed along the way in all its raw emotion. Bud Stamper, the high school jock, cannot have an honest conversation with his father who wants to make Bud in his image rather than allow Bud to discover who he is on his own. Deanie Loomis, his girlfriend whom he loves dearly, cannot have a conversation with her mother without her mother depositing a truckload of guilt behind. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” is the famous tagline from the popular film Cool Hand Luke, but it fittingly describes the relationship between Bud Stamper and his father and Deanie Loomis and her mother. Parents talk at their children but do not see beyond their own perspective and interests.

The story begins in 1928 in Kansas. Deanie and Bud are in love, and as a teenager in love once myself, their love seems real, not deep but definitely real. Bud’s dad does not want Bud to marry right after high school. He wants him to attend Yale and then embark upon a career. He even encourages Bud to be promiscuous, naively thinking that Bud’s desire for love can be assuaged with a coarse physical relationship. Dad, in truth, has little understanding of true love as can be seen from his loveless relationship with his own wife.

Bud and Deanie feel a strong physical attraction, but Deanie wants to remain virginal, and Bud thinks of Deanie as a “good girl;” inwardly he does not want her to be like others who might compromise their innocence. All this leaves them passionately connected to one another but under enormous emotional stress. Eventually, they break up with catastrophic consequences.

Years later they meet. Both have moved on with their lives, but they recognize the specialness of what they once had. They know that their strong affinity for one another cannot be resurrected, but that does not diminish the possibility of each one having a happy life with someone else.

In Jewish matchmaking, there is the notion of one’s bashert, one’s destined one or soul mate. I have wondered what happens when you meet your destined one, but do not recognize her or you do recognize her but lack the will to move forward. Time passes and your destined one marries another. What are you left with? Many Sages think that the notion of bashert is not part and parcel of Jewish law and should be applied only metaphorically. Rabbi Josh Yuter, in a masterful article explaining the concept, opines that bashert applies to how you view your spouse after marriage. In other words, when married couples go through rough spots, they should view their spouse as their destined mates and resolve to solve their problems rather than escape from them. Alternatively, one can say that the bottom line is that you have to seek out someone who fits with you emotionally and intellectually as well as physically.

One cannot be fatalistic in Judaism and just wait for the right one to appear. Rather we should find the missing part of ourselves that Adam lost in Eden and build our lives using the best information we can obtain at the time. Splendor in the Grass reminds us to do our best at whatever stage of life we are. Let us find glory in the flower even in the autumn of our lives.

Purchase this movie from Amazon.com.

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