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A Life That Is Changed

Does being forgotten on a dusty shelf kill a book? Or does having no one to read it or its pages being used for paper bags kill it. And what kills a person? A life without books perhaps? Is it holding on to one another that keeps the books and people alive?

One may find themselves asking these questions while watching The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011). The film tells us the story of a young man, Mr. Morris Lessmore, that starts on the porch of the hotel he stays in. He gets caught by a strong wind and then picked up by a tornado while he is spending time with his books, and his memoir. The tornado rips through the city. It sends Mr. Morris Lessmore, his books, and even the words on the memoir he has been writing flying everywhere. Everything tumbles down and loses its color. A comedy of errors! Then a young woman appears in the sky guided by a festive squadron of flying books. There flies a two-legged blue book smiling next to the woman, a book that can talk with the illustrations inside. It flies down towards our protagonist and asks him to follow.  As Mr. Morris Lessmore starts following the blue book, the lost colors on the path he is following begin to come back. The path leads to a special library and Mr. Morris Lessmore starts to spend his days caring for the books there. When gray men and women visit the library, he offers them the books he “healed”. As people meet with the books, the colors return to their lives. The reason the library is special is that the books inside can walk, eat, sleep, and basically act like normal human beings. A magical atmosphere, don’t you think?

We can come to these conclusions after the summary: Books color one’s life, books are the best friends, you will age but you will not get ‘old’ as long as you are with books. Every movie has hidden plot points. This one has too. If we wanted to dig deep to find them, what would we find? First, the movie is silent. The colors and the images do the talking. What does this say to the audience? There is a journey in the film. Mr. Morris Lessmore’s life changes in a blink of an eye. He thinks he has lost his way but as soon as he reaches the end of the path, he realizes this is his real purpose in life. He understands that this is his way. The movie is about a new way of life that has come after a wrecking ball of change. The journey starts with chaos and ends with “logos”.

Life is flux, says Heraclitus. The universe has no beginning or end and it is in a state of constant flux. Since living in a dynamic universe like this requires change, everything inside continuously changes. It happens in a certain extent and regularity. Logos means plan, reason, wisdom, order, and law. It allows this change to be stable. It pieces everything together. Change and the new situations it brings have a dominant side where they can steer the course of all things. This side of them is almost eternal and supersensuous. Logos makes this possible. For Mr. Morris Lessmore, logos is the blue book that guides him, because it explains to him how things work in this special library like an administrator. It shows the protagonist what it feels or what he needs to do in different situations with the pictures on its pages, showing a face with open eyes and raised eyebrows for a surprising event or showing a smiling face with blushing cheeks for happy occasions. That is how it shows Mr. Morris Lessmore the books that need to be moved or in a manner, to be operated on. As he performs restorative surgery on the books, their physical conditions improve while their essence stays the same. We can see some changes in the books that visit Mr. Morris Lessmore’s surgery room, as he performs restorative surgery on their hardback spines, stitches, pages, and other things that need taking care of. And in the meantime, what happens to our protagonist? At the beginning of the journey, he moves from one place to another. As he watches the colors of the world fade, some changes happen in the way he perceives the emotional world. Even though he has many books around him same as before, his relationship with the books changes. He used to be someone who was only learning from books, and now, he becomes someone who also helps them. The intellectual effort he has been making turns into a physical one. The chaos brought by the tornado calms down. It is as if the chaos has brought “logos”. His relationship with the books levels up. This likely moves the protagonist’s thoughts and emotions to another dimension, changing their form.

As for change, it is important to keep in mind that it is inevitable. Yet, to change things around you, you should change yourself first. If you try to do it vice versa, you will likely end up in the same place. Your preferences and behaviors certainly stay the same, but your approach to everything should change up one side and down the other. Mr. Morris Lessmore experiences exactly this in the film. He prefers to fit into this new environment of living books and even dance around with them rather than sitting around and waiting for this new environment to match with him. It is not enough for him to do nothing but read books and write notes in a memoir anymore. Yes, he still spends time reading books but there are some visible changes in his behavior.

It is not so subtle that this change requires a new order, a new “harmony”. As our protagonist walks down the aisle of the special library, he sees some pictures of men and women hanging on the wall. One of the pictures catches his eye. It is a picture of the woman he has seen earlier with the festive squadron of flying books. The place also wishes for order. At this moment, the audience feels that these people are some librarians, the ones who look after this place. Without them, the books would have a hard time deciding which one of them would be the leader, or what they should do and how they should do it. We can make a whole list out of problems that may occur in this kind of situation. Long story short, this place wishes to calm the chaos within and it invites another life to the system. This new life is the one to calm the chaos and maintain the routine. It seems like ‘logos’ is something everyone wants.

At the beginning of the film, we see that the protagonist sits on his porch with a pile of books. Then a tornado picks him up and throws him in another pile of books. As he begins to rewrite his memoir in this new world, the words on the memoir that once flew away come back. This time, he does not only write about himself but about the incredible structure of the world around him. Mr. Morris Lessmore scribbles down the sentence “I knew my eye beheld true magic and majesty.” on the memoir. In other words, he says, “I know that my eyes can see the real magic and glory” because he lives with books that can walk, fly, eat cereal, play piano, and dance around. He witnesses their ability to give people the colors they lost. He does not tell them that their true purpose in life is to age on dirty shelves. On the contrary, he supports them, and he keeps up with their special world. He takes this special library as it is and knows that it has a magical place in the emotional world. He can think of new words, sentences and theses with the help of physical and intellectual actions that taking care of books required.

“If life is enjoyed, does it have to make sense?” asks Mr. Morris Lessmore in his memoir. “If one enjoys life, must his/her life have a meaning?” This question is similar to this one: While change is inevitable, does it have to be rational? Visible changes can be understood. One can guess the road ahead of them. Each place and each era has a specific way of changing and finding peace within. Yet, sometimes unaccountable events may occur because abstract things can happen in life. Naturally, different perspectives may arise and different possibilities may increase.

Betül SEZGİN

She was born in Denizli/Turkey. Her stories were published in the magazines such as Post Öykü, Muhayyel, Turkish Literature, and Mahalle Mektebi. Her book reviews, movie reviews, various articles, and interviews have been published in various press organs and websites. She continues her education in the Ph.D. Program in the Department of Philosophy, in Istanbul University.

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