While Emotional Intelligence (and the EQ-i specifically) offers many riches in helping us understand the complexity of our behavior and relationships, at a very basic level, the EQ-i model focuses on the energy we each devote to self and other—how much attention we spend on ourselves (Self-Regard, Self-Actualization, and Independence) and how much we cater to the needs of others (Interpersonal Relationship, Empathy and Social Responsibility). This year’s contenders for Best Picture give us a nice spread on this critical focus. Some are self-focused narratives while others are about a shift from self to other. Most interestingly, a couple of these movies hold an interesting tension between the two—honoring, and even questioning, the often contradictory energy of caring for yourself and someone else. Let’s take a look at EQ and this year’s race for Oscar gold.
Others Before Self
With 10 Oscar nominations, including one of Best Picture, this mile-a-minute thrill ride is a visual feast and a visceral experience, but not far beneath its hard-pounding action story is a classic tale of sacrifice—of heroes who put themselves at great risk for the good of others and for the hope of a future for the collective. A strong female lead who is driven by a sense of other-focused duty from the start slowly brings around the title character, Max, who comes to belong to and believe in a cause bigger than himself. And this EQ message is wrapped up and delivered in a rock em’- sock em’ movie unlike anything you have ever seen or experienced.
Steven Spielberg’s latest gem is a true story set at the height of the cold war. Tom Hanks plays attorney James Donovan, who is asked to defend accused Soviet spy Rudolph Abel. Reviled by American society, Abel becomes the object of our nation’s collective cold war fear and hatred, and Donovan must stand alone—against friends, colleagues, and even his own government—to defend his appointed client. By so doing, he reminds us of what is so unique and important about America and our values and court system. Throughout the movie—also nominated for Best Picture, we see repeated examples of someone willing (even driven) to place the greater good and the cause above personal needs and concerns.
Self Before Others
I would not have believed that a movie concerning the details of the mortgage and banking crises of 2008 would be entertaining, much less funny, but this movie is a delight. Tracking many different players, each driven by different motives, this story is about bankers and investors who could see the looming mortgage crisis on the horizon and their resulting decision to bet against the market. By so doing, they were betting that a crash would occur. When their predictions come true, they made many millions of dollars while people all over the world lost their homes and jobs and while the world’s economy teetered on the brink of disaster. The EQ energy in this movie doubles down on Independence, Self-Regard and Self-Actualization. The storm was coming, and these people took care of themselves.
One of my favorite movies of the year, Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, an Irish immigrant to New York in 1950. Eilis’ sister and mother sacrifice to help her get to the United States and attempt to create a life for herself—away from the stagnant confines of her depressed Irish village. Through the course of this beautiful and poignant movie, Eilis discovers compelling reasons both to return to Ireland and to stay in her new home in Brooklyn. In the end, she must decide whether to live her life for herself or for the good of others. Side-stepping clichés and obvious Hollywood solutions, this movie—and the EQ choice at its core–had me captivated until the last scene. I truly did not know (and could not wait to find out) how Eilis would decide and what she would do.
Holding the Tension
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My favorite movie of the year, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, The Martian is a story of Mark Watney, an astronaut abandoned by his five crew mates on the surface of Mars. Believing Mark dead, the crew leaves for Earth, and thus kick-starts Marks heroic, ingenious and often funny drive to survive and be rescued. Visually rich and narratively fast-paced, the movie affirms the value and fragility of life and the sacrifices that some will make to save a friend and colleague (and the extent to which Mark Watney will go to save himself). While most of the movie is about Watney and his struggle to save himself (Self), a critical sub-plot is the attempt by his crew mates, as well as much of the population back on Earth, to save him (Other). This movie holds this fundamental EQ tension beautifully.
The most complicated (and difficult to watch) movie I saw this year was Room, also a Best Picture nominee. Based on the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name, this movie tells the disturbing story of Ma and her son, Jack. Ma was abducted five years before the movie begins and has since that time been held against her will in a furnished shed in the abductor’s back yard. Ma has a son (as a result of her sexual assault), named Jack. Ma and Jack live together in this 10’X10’ shed. This room is the only place Jack knows—it is his idea of the whole world. The movie—which is marvelous—is the story of Ma as a mother and the challenges they both face transitioning back into the real world again.
The EQ tension in Room is pronounced. For five years in captivity, Ma’s entire life is about tending to Jack and his development and well-being (Other), but once free, she begins to wonder why she did not insist that her captor remove their son for the boy’s own good (anonymously delivering him to a hospital or to child services). She wonders if she kept Jack with her for her sake (Self). While Ma is a sympathetic character, even a heroic one, her motives are not clear—to us or to her, which makes her the most layered, realistically ambivalent and EQ-compelling character I’ve seen this year.
Remember to hold the tension between self-care and relationship management, and of course, keep going to the movies.
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