Why do we watch documentaries and read biographies? I suspect, if I were to consult my Boswell or a variety of other sources, I would find many good answers to this question, but that first and foremost among them would be this–because they inspire us, and we want to be inspired, perhaps even motivated. After all, we get one shot, all of us, at least so far as this world goes anyway. Knowing this, it’s interesting to survey those generally considered the greatest and most productive among us–artists, world leaders, intellectuals–from a distance, to look at their use of their time and ask, hummm, what did they do with it? The film “Marley,” direct by Kevin Macdonald, gives us just such an opportunity.
As a story to inspire and motivate, Marley works on multiple levels, providing both positive and negative examples. Roger Ebert, in his review, notes that “Marley seems not to have had a concrete goal for his career, other than to use music to bring people together,” implying that Marley, in this simple purity and nobility of aim, was atypical, and indeed I must believe he was. As a man who preached freedom and unity, he himself, provides a beautiful example of someone who was incredibly free–free of the constraints of bigotry; of political dogma; of the trapping of wealth, vanity, and the drive to consume. Free of many of the things the rest of us are ensnared by. But not free, of course, of the limitations of his own body. On this last note, it’s difficult not to be overcome by the sadness of what was apparently an entirely avoidable loss, the premature death of not only a great musician and activist, but of one who had the power to bring disparate people together in a way few possess. The thought of him pointlessly undergoing chemo treatments, of losing his dreads in an effort to avoid what was already by that time inevitable, is heart breaking. The movie and the story of Marley’s life, though, is anything but.