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 . 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
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.
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 @ www.thehungersite.com .
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
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
Warren has what seems to be a perfunctory
congratulatory phone call dialogue with his daughter Jeannie. Are you
sometimes perfunctory and non-genuine? Why?
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
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
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?
Question7 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
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?
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?
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?
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)
you wasting another minute? Why?
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
What or who do you have that you should appreciate? How
should you show your appreciation?
Warren became vengeful when he discovered
his wife’s previous fling with Ray, and throws out her stuff and confronting Ray
with his letters.
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
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
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
Should you make any spiritual pilgrimage to someone or
somewhere? Why are you delaying?
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
Do you put on a front? Why? To whom should you
remove this front entirely?
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?
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
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
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
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?
Jeannie:All of a sudden, you're taking an
interest in what I do? You have an opinion about my life now?
you ever not cared enough for someone such that when you did, it became
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.
kind of difference have you made? What in the world is better because of
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?
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.)
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?
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
What are your resolutions after the show?J
the About Schmidt Childreach Program : www.childreach.org “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,
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
(Pics from imdb.com and childreach.org. Review by Stonepeace)