Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

published: Summer 2004

The Quest

Happiness is a difficult word to grasp. Everybody wants it but no one really understands how to achieve it—including me.

Where can I find happiness? That is the question that constantly recurs in my life and in the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun. As I watched the film’s closing credits, I had a glimmer of where to find it.

Under the Tuscan Sun is a story of Frances Maye, a woman who is the epitome of security and “happiness.” She works as a book critic and she is married to a wonderful husband. Everything is perfect -- until her paradise suddenly crumbles as her husband divorces her and leaves their life together for another woman. It turns out that her “happiness” was simply a veneer that, when chipped away, reveals a sadly lacking life.

Without a husband and a home, she is bereft. Her best friend and incidentally a lesbian, Patti comes to the rescue by presenting her with a trip to Tuscany. While there, she finds herself impulsively buying a rundown villa. Throwing pragmatism aside, she attempts to rebuilds the house and her life along with it.

The Guides

While the movie presents viewers with breathtaking Italian landscapes, it also introduces them to characters that inevitably help Frances on her journey.

One of these is Katherine, an eccentric and beautiful actress for the great Frederico Fellini. She introduced heartily licking her ice cream along the cobblestone streets of Tuscany and what ensues is one of my most favorite scenes in the movie. She playfully asks Frances if she will be buying that small villa for sale. Frances replies, “The way my life is currently going, that would be a terrible idea.” Katherine responds with a mischievous smile saying, “Terrible idea... Don't you just love those?”

With this short exchange of words, I thought about my own terrible ideas… ideas that only seemed terrible because it asked me to step out of my comfort zone. How many of us have had those? After some time, I came to the conclusion that it’s precisely these ideas existing in our wildest imaginations that make us feel alive and vibrant. I thought to myself that perhaps these terrible ideas deserved a second look.

Under the Tuscan Sun is brimming with hints of wisdom hidden under careless conversation. It weaves its story quietly and subtly as we are taken along the sights of Italy. Polish workers, Italian villagers, and American lives mingle in this story with such heart and warmth.

The Lessons
Original cannot be said of Under the Tuscan Sun. There is nothing new in its wisdom. However, it is among a long line of movies and works of art that gently remind me to undertake life without second guessing myself.

It is easy to forget that life is truly a journey. Amidst the schedules, routines and safety nets we have placed upon ourselves, there is a greater world out there for us to live in. Most of us are cowered by circumstance and convenience. We take what life has to offer us because it is the easiest way. Psychology terms this “the path of least resistance” versus Robert Frost’s “road less traveled.”

If there is one thing that we should remember after watching the movie, it is Katherine as she says, “You must live your life spherically, in all directions. Never lose your childlike enthusiasm, do this and everything will come your way.” Under the Tuscan Sun challenges us to live spherical lives, wonder-full lives. What else must our lives be but that?


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