Flash of Crisis

The intermittent windshield wiper.

They made a movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper.

Siwsh...pause... swish...pause...

I’m watching the movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper.

Is this truly what my life has come to? And it’s not even like I was forced to watch Flash of Genius. I chose it through Netflix, to watch one night while Samantha was out. I like Greg Kinnear, have seen most of his films, and though this one got mixed reviews (and tanked at the box office – just $5 million worldwide), I thought I would give it a shot.

I won’t review the film per se; that’s not my gig at C?WC? But I will recount some of the thoughts it stirred as I watched, some with relevance to the Crisis.

I always thought it had something to do with dancing...

First off – though this has nothing to do with my life, except as a recovering Catholic – I watched Dr. Kearns (Kinnear) and his wife wrestle with their six kids and I thought, I bet Catholics are so glad they can use birth control today. I mean, just popping them out like that – wait. What? You mean they still can’t use birth control? Every sperm is still sacred? Hoo boy, glad I got out when I could. So all those good Catholics I know with just two or three kids, just good at the rhythm method, eh? OK, got it. Let’s move on.

The flasher of genius (hmm, that doesn't sound right...)

The invention of the intermittent windshield wiper (the wiper from now on) during the 1960s is handled pretty quickly in the film. The meat is Kearns’ perseverance against Ford when it screws him over the rights to the wiper. The money is not important, Kearns says. It’s giving credit where it’s due. It’s about telling the truth. That theme, and the David vs. Goliath legal battle at the end, give the film its thematic/emotional heft.

(And perhaps if the film were released now, after the spate of federal bailouts, the populist message of confronting evil corporate empires might resonate more with audiences. Though when the film came out in October 2008, the bubble had burst. GM and Chrysler had their hands out, though not Ford. We just hadn‘t yet had a collective chance to let our anger seethe.)

One line hit me, and I wrote it down. As he struggles with getting his wiper our there, and then getting the credit he deserves, Kearns says, “Makes you wonder what it is that makes a man successful.“ Because brains are not always enough. Talent is not always enough. You need luck, maybe. And what Kearns had – faith in yourself, the righteousness of your cause. Even a bout of mental – delusion, let’s say – didn’t knock him off his path.

I respect that in others. Me, a hangnail or some heartburn is enough of an excuse to put down the pen for a day, or ball up in a corner and bemoan my lack of success, as I define it. And Kearns’s determination contrasted sharply with the guy who was making the news the day I watched Flash of Genius. Screw the courtroom and perseverance; I’m more likely to teach myself how to fly a Piper Cherokee and take aim at a theater that rejected one of my plays. Only problem is, how could I decide which one to target, after years of rejections?

No, I would not pull a Joe Stack, for myriad reasons. And I guess the fact that I am still writing/submitting/getting rejected and starting it all over again speaks of some perseverance of my own. Though more often, it feels like insanity. Kearns found out what it is, for himself anyway, that makes a man successful: Pursuing the truth. And not just the objective truth of who invented what, who stole what. The truth about his character. For me, the Crisis is partly about coming up with the answer to that for myself.

The search continues.

And the next time it rains, think of Bob Kearns when you set the speed on your intermittent windshield wipers.


~ by mburgan on February 19, 2010.

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