In Praise of Angelina

I have always been one of Angelina Jolie’s biggest fans.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to reward her 1999 performance in “Girl Interrupted” with an Oscar, but I wasn’t well and truly smitten until the second Lara Croft Tombraider movie was released in 2003.  In that film, Jolie, who performs her own stunts, is seen galloping on a dark horse while spinning a heavy shotgun from side to side to shoot alternating targets.  And she is riding SIDESADDLE.  If you don’t believe this, have a look here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz1lCcs9tac  In the Lara Croft movies, she is the epitome of a strong, athletic, intelligent and self assured woman.  It may not seem like much, but I granted Miss Jolie a high honor indeed—in 2004 I named a dark, agile and fast deerhound puppy after her, the soon to be champion Caerwicce’s Lady Croft, aka “Angelina”.

 

In the years that followed the Lara Croft movies, Angelina Jolie went on to surprise her public in more ways than one.  The girl who initially achieved notoriety for wearing a vial of her second husband Billy Bob Thornton’s blood gained a different type of fame when she adopted a Cambodian child, and subsequently became a respected ambassador for the United Nations.  She has become well known for her humanitarian efforts, devoting as much time to improving the lives of refugee children as she does to her own career.  Recently, she has added the titles of author, director, and Mrs. Brad Pitt to an already impressive resume.

 

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all came two years ago, when she went public in the New York Times with the revelation that she is positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA1. In a moving statement, she wrote of her difficult decision, at age 37, to undergo bilateral prophylactic mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries in the hope of staving off the cancers that took her mother, her grandmother and her aunt.  She was clear and concise, reasonable and dispassionate in her account.   Not only did she raise awareness of the heritable form of breast cancer, she gave courage to all women facing the challenge of a mastectomy.  If one of the worlds most beautiful and sexy women could undergo such surgery in the glare of the celebrity spotlight and come out looking stronger and even more beautiful, so could some of the rest of us.

 

Today she has done it again.  In a New York Times article entitled “Diary of a Surgery” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/opinion/angelina-jolie-pitt-diary-of-a-surgery.html?ref=opinion&_r=0 ), she reveals that she has recently undergone removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes to prevent ovarian cancer, the disease that killed her mother.  She describes precisely the terror she felt when informed that some recent blood tests were equivocal, the dreadful anticipation of the results of a PET/CT scan and the realization that now, at age 39, she has entered menopause.  But she also describes the relief she felt once she had made a decision to go ahead with the preventive surgery: “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer’.”

There’s bravery and then there’s true courage and grit.  It’s one thing to perform gymnastics while swinging from the rafters of the Croft estate, or to shoot a rifle off the back of a galloping horse.  It’s quite another to write clearly and objectively the story of being diagnosed with a genetic mutation, and of the careful informed decisions she made to minimize her risks, while at the same time admitting that her decisions were not necessarily the right ones for everyone.  As Angelina says, “Knowledge is power.”  We owe her thanks for sharing hers with us.

 

I Want To Be Daenerys Targaryen

I used to want to be Lara Croft, of Lara Croft Tomb Raider fame. The sight of Angelina Jolie swinging from the rafters of the Croft Mansion in a black catsuit, and capturing the heart of Gerard Butler was more than I could stand. I even named a deerhound in her honor, Caerwicce’s Lady Croft, also known affectionately as “Angelina.” But that was before Daenerys, and Game of Thrones.

 

For those of you who lack the addictive form of television entertainment known as HBO, here is a quick synopsis. Long ago and far away there were seven kingdoms ruled by four main dynasties–the Starks, the Baratheons, the Lannisters and the vanquished Targaryens who ruled from the Iron Throne with the help of dragons. But now the world is dark, and the dragons have died long ago, and the ruling clans are at war, and as they say on the show, “Winter is coming.”

 

Into the fray steps a beautiful young woman, Daenerys Targaryen, the last survivor of her clan, sold into marriage by her greedy brother, and gifted by her new barbarian husband with a set of ancient petrified dragon eggs, pretty to look at but everyone knows that the dragons are extinct. She learns to ride a horse, learns to speak his language Dothraki, and learns to love her centaur-like husband. Upon his untimely death, she walks through the flames of his funeral pyre and emerges unscathed, with newly hatched baby dragons on her arms.

 

In short order, with an evergrowing retinue of devoted followers, and in a flowing blue silk chiffon gown accented by over the knee beautifully distressed brown leather riding boots, she begins her long march home, doing good and championing the oppressed as she goes. At the end of the third season, after winning a battle to free an enslaved city, she stands on the parapet and declares, “I am Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt, and the True Queen of the Seven Kingdoms!”

 

Mother of Dragons, indeed! Here’s to heroic female figures in art, literature and film. Long may you reign!