Try to imagine a family that is grateful for the ramshackle place where they live even though it's in a constant state of renovation. Darryl, the head of the household, drives a tow-truck and is proud of his work. Each night he says complimentary things about his wife's cooking, and he regularly builds up his children as well. Those nearest and dearest to him can't wait for his birthday when they shower him with gifts. He takes them to the pool room where all his special things are on display.
In this offbeat and endearing Australian comedy, the spiritual practice of gratitude is evident everywhere. While others might laugh at the optimism and old-fashioned togetherness of these people who consider themselves "the happiest family in the world," there is something very appealing about their love of the present moment. And when this family man is treated unfairly, he fearlessly stands up for what he believes in even though his opponents are rich and powerful.
The Castle (1999), directed by Rob Sitch, is a comic parable that touches on many soulful matters including family life, being happy and rich, gratitude, loving the moment, the quest for justice, ways a house becomes a home, and the goodness of being alive.
The Castle runs 84 minutes and is rated R for language. For our review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here.
1. REVELATIONS AROUND THE DINNER TABLE
Letty Cottin Pogrebin has written: "We are our dinner tables. Each family reveals itself by how it gathers around the table, where everyone sits, what is said, who serves, who speaks, how people listen, whether they linger, and how they feel when it is over."
- Who is your favorite character in the Kerrigan family? What do you learn about them as they sit at the dinner table?
- Apply the Pogrebin quotation to your family of origin or your present family. What insights could people draw about how you gather at the table?
2. BEING HAPPY AND RICH
"Who are the happiest and richest people you know?" Shoni Labowitz asks in Miraculous Living. "They are the people living joyful enthusiastic lives. . . . These people possess something more precious than material goods. They possess a spark of God that radiates in all they do."
- Darryl's son Dale narrates this drama and talks with enthusiasm about being part of the luckiest family in the world. What does this clan view as signs of their wealth? signs of their happiness?
- What is your response to individuals who are radiant about the blessings in their lives? Do you tend to connect enthusiasm with happiness?
3. THE POWER LINES
In How to Want What You Have, Timothy Miller suggests being grateful for things we take for granted: "Power lines make it possible for me to keep my children healthy and warm. Power lines make it possible for me to turn on the radio anytime I like and choose from hundreds of different sources of music, entertainment and information."
- Talk about Darryl's spiritual practice of gratitude that enables him to be thankful for power lines and living right next to the airport.
- Pick some unremarkable or lowly object in your immediate surroundings and see how it draws out your gratitude.
4. LOVING THE MOMENT
"You could call contentment being in love with the moment, not just dutifully accepting it like an arranged marriage but passionately rapturously embracing the eternal now as your soul mate," Robert Johnson writes in Contentment: A Way to True Happiness.
- Until the letter from the government arrives at their home, the Kerrigan family seems to be very content. What are some of indications of their ability to be in love with the moment?
- What forces in your present life make it difficult for you to be content? Would you like to be in this state of being more often? What would you need to do to be so?
5. JUSTICE: A SET OF EMOTIONS
"Justice," according to philosopher Robert Solomon, "is not an ideal state or theory but a matter of personal sensibility, a set of emotions that engage us with the world and make us care."
- What bothers Darryl most about the order to move? What is your response to the way he deals with the powerful people behind the airport expansion?
- Share a story about when you have fought against an injustice because you cared deeply about something or someone. What did you learn about human nature, power, and standing up for what you believe in?
6. A HOUSE THAT BECOMES A HOME
"Real estate ads offer houses for sale, not homes. A house is a garment, easily put off and on, casually bought or sold; a home is skin. Merely change houses and you will be disoriented; change homes and you bleed. When the shell you live in has taken on the savor of your love, when your dwelling has become a taproot, then your house is a home," Scott Russell Sanders writes in Staying Put.
- Darryl says he identifies with the aboriginals who saw their land as a place holding their memories and stories. What other words does he use to describe what his home means to him?
- Talk about some of the ways in which your home is a carrier and an embodiment of your energy, attention, and devotion. How has your home taken on "the savor of your love"?
7. THE GOODNESS OF BEING ALIVE
In Deborahann Smith's Work with What You Have, Chogyam Trungpa, the formidable Buddhist teacher, says: "Whether you are a gas station attendant or the president of your country doesn't matter. When you experience the goodness of being alive, you can respect who and what you are."
- Darryl's wife loves him most because of his principles. What character qualities make this David who takes on Goliath special in your eyes? What does he have in common with the film character Forrest Gump?
- Sum up the reasons why this Australian drama celebrates the goodness of being alive. What fresh insights has it given you into the spiritual practice of gratitude?
This guide is one in a series of more than 200 Values & Visions Guides written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Text copyright 2001 by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Photos courtesy of Miramax Films. This guide is posted as a service to visitors to www.spiritualityandpractice.com. It may not be photocopied, reprinted, or distributed electronically without permission from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat — except it may be duplicated for use by groups participating in the e-course "Going to the Movies as a Spiritual Practice." For other uses and for a list of guides in the Values & Visions series and ordering information, email your name and mailing address to: email@example.com.