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Dharma Movie Review:
Is "About Schmidt" about You?


I know we're all pretty small in the big scheme of things.
And I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference.
But what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?

–Warren Schmidt

Scoring 5 Golden Globe Award Nominations for 2003: Best Picture, Actor, Director, Supporting Actress, Screenplay (and winning for Best Actor), "About Schmidt" is "part comedy, part tragedy, mostly masterpiece." Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has arrived at several of life's crossroads all at the same time. He retired from a lifetime job and he feels utterly adrift. Furthermore, his only daughter is about to marry a boob. And his wife dies suddenly. With no job, no wife, and no family, Warren is desperate to find something meaningful in his thoroughly unimpressive life. He sets out on an unexpected journey of self-discovery, as he experiences what I would call a late existential crisis or late life crisis. But like any existential crisis taken positively, it is better late than never.

This movie is a hopeful story which suggests that it is never too late to look at our life as long as we are willing to confront ourselves. It is never too late to make a difference - even if it is only to our self. If our life has been meaningless, we need to find a way to make meaningful. Until we are dead in this lifetime, there is time to change who we are. We have immense existential freedom to create the meaningfulness which we want – since everything is intrinsically void of any fixed meaning.

The opening scene sees him avidly watching the second hand of his office's wall clock, as it inches towards
5pm. It is the last day of his working life. He takes a prolonged glance at his emptied office before he closes the door. We wonder what it is he will miss, and it seems not much. He was counting down to oblivion - in the sense that he had absolutely no idea what to do with the rest of his life.

We see him bumbling about, trying to make up for lost time between his daughter and himself - sadly, with not much avail - as his daughter finds him a sudden nuisance more than helpful, as he offers "help" for her wedding planning.

We see him questioning himself as to who his wife truly was, what he truly loved about her, as he suddenly lives in the moment and realises he had gotten so mindlessly used to her that upon careful observation, he never really understood her. Much of the movie was about his failure to connect to any fellow human being. For instance, we see him losing his best friend over love letters sent to his late wife. His friend sincerely apologises but he hankers on the past instead. And when he somewhat connected to a stranger, he got too intimate and was shooed away instead.

Just when things seem pretty much hopeless, the last scene shows him reading a letter written on behalf of a needy child he had earlier adopted via monthly cheque donations of $22. Throughout the show, he had comically written his many poignant adult lamentations to him, for there was no one to listen to him, of which of course the child would not understand... He unfolds a simple crayon picture drawn by the child personally for him- showing a man holding hands with a happy child. He looks at it, stunned, and bursts into tears, weeping unrestrained, incredibly touched, glad? (This scene made me cry too.) He had found his salvation in connecting to a single human being. There was nothing the child could give him in return. And there was no reply to his letters of desperation - but the picture was good enough. The seemingly anonymous and random act of kindness, of helping a child, was the only thing that brought meaning into his life.

Yes, like I said about the resolving of any existential crisis, better late than never. Compassion will save the world. Let's have the wisdom to connect to all beings, to bring meaning, no matter how little, into each other's lives. Do a random act of kindness today - don't wait. Feed a hungry child today by a single click @ .


Too often are we lost in details, forgetting the big picture of our worth and purpose. What are you here for? Let us spend 15 seconds like Schmidt reflecting – now, and at least once everyday.

Question 2

Ray's retirement tribute to Warren:    Anyway I know something about retirement. And what I want to say to you out loud, Warren, so all these young hotshots can hear is that all those gifts over there don't mean a goddamn thing. And this dinner doesn't mean a goddamn thing. And the social security and pension don't mean a goddamn thing. None of these superficialities mean a goddamn thing. What means something... What really means something, Warren, is the knowledge that you devoted your life to something meaningful. To being productive and working for a fine company. Hell, one of the top-rated insurance carriers in the nation. To raising a fine family, to building a fine home, to being respected by your community, to having wonderful, lasting friendships. At the end of his career, if a man can look back, and say, "I did it. I did my job." then he can retire in glory, and enjoy riches far beyond the monetary kind. So, all you young people here, take a good look at a very rich man.

After the above speech,
Warren walks out quietly as if in doubt of what Ray said - to a bar. Everything Ray said breaks down in time as the film progresses… as he realises he was in reality a very poor, not rich man. Are you a rich person? Why? What are you going to do about your riches or the lack of riches?

Question 3

Warren has what seems to be a perfunctory congratulatory phone call dialogue with his daughter Jeannie. Are you sometimes perfunctory and non-genuine? Why?

Question 4

On the first morning after retirement,
Warren wakes up unsure on the usual hour. He goes to his study and we think he's doing something serious as he frowns... over word puzzles in the newspapers. What will you be doing after retirement at 66? What will you be looking forward to for the rest of your life?

Question 5

TV Ad:   But if all you feel is pity, or perhaps even guilt... and we need people who want to help. Throughout the world, in many of the poorest countries, there is a wonderful organisation called Childreach that is making a profound difference in the lives of children just like these. For just $22 a month, just 72 cents a day, you can become a Childreach sponsor and not only personally touch the life of a needy boy or girl overseas, but also help the child's family and community. Think of it, just $22 a month and a little girl like this will never feel the agony of dysentery from dirty water. A child like this would be able to learn and grow. I'm so glad you watched. But now that you have, what are you going to do? No, pity and guilt won't help. The answer is Childreach.

What are you going to do?

Question 6

If we live to help other, for what do we hope the people to achieve after they are helped? Will they and yourself be truly happy? Why not?

Question 7

Warrren sees his dumped file archives. Does it mean his life's work has been forgotten, rendered useless? Even his visit out of kindness was rendered redundant. What is your life’s work? Will it be forgotten? Will your “visit” to this life be rendered redundant?


Warren’s first letter to Ndugu, his distant unseen 6 year-old Tanzanian confessor:   Anyway, 66 must sound pretty old to a young fellow like yourself. Truth is it feels pretty old to me too. Because, when I look in the mirror, and see the wrinkles around my eyes, and the sagging skin on my neck and the hair in my ears, and the veins on my ankles, I can't believe it's really me. When I was a kid, I used to think that maybe I was special, that somehow destiny had tapped me to be a great man. Not like Henry Ford or Walt Disney or somebody like that, but somebody, you know, semi-important. I got a degree in business and statistics and planned to start my own business someday, and make it into a big corporation, watch it go public, you know? Maybe make the Fortune 500. I was going to be one of those guys you read about. But somehow, it just didn't work out that way. You got to remember I had got a top notch job at Woodmen and a family to support. I couldn't exactly put their security at risk. Helen. That's my wife. She wouldn't have allowed it. But what about my family, you might ask. What about my wife and daughter? Don't they give me the pride and satisfaction I could ever want? Helen and I have been married for 42 years. Lately, every night, I find myself asking the same question: "Who is this old woman who lives in my house?" Why is it that every little thing she does irritates me?

If you have a confessor who will listen to all you say, what would you say? Why not start a diary to speak to yourself? What are some of your dreams that got shattered? Are you sure you can’t fulfill them?

Question 9

Radio:   And it just amazes me the liberals and the media continue to now look for a dark-lining here in a silver cloud.

Do you acknowledge the dark lining or only the silver lining or both? Why?

Question 10

Helen dies suddenly in a heart attack and
Warren breaks down in regret. Have you ever experienced the sudden death of a loved one? Are you prepared? How? Are you prepared for your own probable sudden death? How?

Question 11

Warren:  But now that all the excitement is over, and the smoke has cleared, it's just me and my thoughts knocking around in this big old house… If I'm given a man's age, race, profession, place of residence, marital status and medical history, I can calculate with great probability, how long that man will live. In my own case, now that my wife has died, there is a 73% chance that I will die within 9 years, provided that I do not re-marry. All I know is, I've got to make the best of whatever time I have left. Life is short, Ndugu. And I can't afford to waste another minute. (Falls asleep watching TV aimlessly... repeatedly, over two weeks)

Are you wasting another minute? Why?

Question 12

Letter to Ndugu:   I miss her. I miss my Helen. I guess I just didn't know how lucky I was to have a wife like Helen until she was gone. Remember that, young man. You've got to appreciate what you have while you still have it.

What or who do you have that you should appreciate? How should you show your appreciation?

Question 13

Warren became vengeful when he discovered his wife’s previous fling with Ray, and throws out her stuff and confronting Ray with his letters.

Ray: That was so long ago,
Warren. It's 25, 30 years. I mean... I'm sorry.

What grievances of the past do you still hold? Why? Who do they hurt? Will you hold them to the grave?

Question 14

Warren tossed and turned in bed restlessly in the middle of the night before suddenly deciding to pack for a road trip to visit his daughter.

Phone call to Jeanie:  I have been thinking about things and how much you mean to me, and how little time you and I have spent together these last few years and all of a sudden, I realized what the heck am I doing in Omaha when you're out there and I could be with you?

Warren:   I've decided to visit some places I haven't been to in a long time. So much has happened in my life that I can't seem to remember. Whole sections of my life are just gone. So you might say I've been trying to clear a few cobwebs from my memory… I thought it would be enlightening to visit the house I was born 67 years ago... and I've often wondered what our old house would be like today... An awful lot had changed since my day, but it was still good to be home again. Very good indeed.

Should you make any spiritual pilgrimage to someone or somewhere? Why are you delaying?

Question 15

Well, you put a pretty good face on things, considering everything you've been through lately... and the feeling I get from you is that despite your good attitude and your positive outlook, I think inside, you're a sad man... I see something more than grief and loss in you, something deeper... my guess is anger... maybe fear, loneliness...

Do you put on a front? Why? To whom should you remove this front entirely?

Question 16

Warren accidentally erased a recorded phone message to Ray about reconciliation of friendship - and didn't connect back. Would you attempt to re-connect to an old friend after an attempt? Why?

Question 17

As Warren drives on the road, caged cows in a truck make eye contact with him. Perhaps their destination is unknown, like himself, trapped in a big empty invisible existential cage. What sums up your existential cage? Why are you not able to break free?


Warren’s confession to the stars:   Helen, what did you really think of me... deep in your heart? Was I really the man you wanted to be with? Was I? Or were you disappointed and too nice to show it? I forgive you for Ray. I forgive you. That was a long time ago and I know I wasn't always the king of kings. I let you down. I'm sorry, Helen. Can you forgive me? (A shooting star whizzes by.)

To who alive or passed away should you seek forgiveness? Why are you not doing it? Shouldn’t
Warren forgive Ray in person? Who should you forgive?

Question 19

Warren:   I must say it's been a very rewarding trip. And this morning, I awoke from my night in the wilderness completely transformed. I'm like a new man. For the first time in years, I feel clear. I know what I want. I now what I've got to do and nothing's going to stop me ever again.

What’s stopping you in doing what you wish? What’s stopping you from doing something about it?

Question 20

Jeannie:  All of a sudden, you're taking an interest in what I do? You have an opinion about my life now?

Have you ever not cared enough for someone such that when you did, it became unwelcomed?

Question 21

Warren at Kearney Interstate Arch:   An arch that commemorates the courage and determination of the pioneers who crossed the state on their way west... It kind of got me thinking. Looking at all that history and reflecting on the achievements of people long ago kind of put things into perspective. My trip to Denver, for instance, is so insignificant compared to the journeys that others have taken, the bravery they've shown, the hardships they've endured. (Sign: The cowards never started. The weak died on the way. Only the strong arrived. They were the pioneers.) I know we're all pretty small in the big scheme of things. And I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference. But what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me? When I was out in Denver, I tried to do the right thing, tried to convince Jeannie she was making a big mistake, but I failed. Now she's married to that nincompoop and there's nothing I can do about it. I am weak and I am a failure. There's just no getting around it. Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow. It doesn't matter. Once I am dead, and everyone who knew me dies too, it is though I never even existed. What difference has my life made to anyone? None that I can think of. None at all. Hope things are fine with you. Yours truly, Warren Schmidt.

But what kind of difference have you made? What in the world is better because of you?

Question 22

Warren have intervened in Jeanie’s marriage plans? Why? Did he understand her love? Should he let her make her own mistake? Was it going to be a mistake in the first place?

Question 23

Sister Nadine Gautier:   Ndugu and I want you to know that he receives all of your letters. He hopes that you are happy in your life, and healthy. He thinks of you everyday and he wants very much your happiness. Ndugu is only 6 years old and cannot read or write, but he has made for you a painting. He hopes that you will like his painting. (Unfolds a simple crayon picture of a man holding the hand of a child.)

As Warren stifles a smile and his eyes light up for the first time, was he crying tears of gladness or sadness? How did this scene make you feel?

Question 24

Nothing is more important than Compassion for oneself and others. You can make the world a better place through small random deeds of kindness, if not big thoughtful ones.

What are your resolutions after the show?


Share the About Schmidt Childreach Program :

“Children are the seeds of the future.”

– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
The child, called Ndugu in the film, is actually Abdalla, sponsored by Childreach/Plan programs in Tanzania, East Africa. The Director selected Abdalla as the child to be featured after reviewing some photographs of children available for sponsorship. After the filming was completed, the production team and crew pulled together to sponsor Abdalla.

(Pics from and Review by Stonepeace)