In his Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain wrote about the effect that learning to be a riverboat pilot had had on the way he saw the Mississippi River:
[T]he romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a “break” that ripples above some deadly disease? Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?
Long-time readers may remember when my PJM author’s bio listed me as “an almost-successful screenwriter”, and I often tell people that I’m a “recovering actor”. Since that bio, I’m a bit closer to being a real screenwriter, and I’ve had a couple of relapses into acting, at least in community theater (which is as bad as my Hollywood and New York friends warned me it would be, but that’s another story entirely.) So it’s inevitable that I go to a movie with different eyes than most people. What’s more, Roger L. Simon, the esteemed Patrón of PJ Media, is a friend and has been rather a mentor to me.
All of which meant going to see A Better Life was an intimidating experience. I love workshopping things with my friends; I’m a lot less comfortable seeing or reading a friend’s work when it’s finished.
I shouldn’t have worried.
This is the story of Carlos Galindo, an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles, working as a gardener. He lives in a little house, so small that there’s only one bedroom, which he gives to his son Luis while sleeping on the couch himself. The basic story is that Carlos is a hard-working Everyman who just wants a better life for Luis, who is — like every 14 year old boy — a complete asshole He has worked for years, for cash, with Blasco Martinez, a legal immigrant who now wants to sell Carlos his truck and move back to Mexico. Blasco has bought himself a farm, a ranchita, near his home town in Mexico. With his own ranchita and the money he’s made from years in Los Angeles, he can move back and be an important man, a Patrón. He clearly likes Carlos, he wants to sell him the truck so Carlos can get ahead just as Blasco did; Carlos wants it, but since he’s an illegale, he won’t be able to register the truck in his own name, doesn’t have a driver’s license; he’s an outlaw in the old sense that he’s living outside the law, and foregoing the law’s protections as well as the law’s restrictions.