In the writer-director's new film, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts' characters befriend a younger, free-spirited couple.
The past year will be remembered for a seemingly endless and nasty election, super storm Sandy and the tragedy in Newtown.
But New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik sees several bright spots, even in the midst of tragedies.Interview Highlights
1) 2012 Presidential Election
While the election was ugly in its vociferousness, Gopnik says it was beautiful in the passions it evoked.
On the Republican side, Gopnik said the election was passionate. On the President’s side, he said it seemed to evoke a deeper engagement than 2008 – a genuine realization that change is difficult. Gopnik says that people realized that while much has been accomplished, much needs to be accomplished.
“I had a very positive take on this election. Young people turned out in huge numbers, as did minorities. Young people could not be more engaged,” Gopnik said.
2) Euro Crisis and Les Misérables
Gopnik said that the Euro crisis that hasn’t quite happened is another bright spot, and it ties in with the release of the new film, “Les Misérables.”
He said that while everyone expected the European Union to fall apart and the Euro to fall, those things didn’t happen.
“Germany and France, the two great countries and historic enemies, who are at the core and the heart of the European project, put themselves together and said ‘We will not let this happen,'” Gopnik said.
And Gopnik said that people tend to forget that Victor Hugo was not simply a great democratic visionary or a great romantic humanist, he was also the prophet of the European Union.
“[Hugo] said the solution to our problems of warfare, nationalism and poverty is a union of Europe. A union that will reflect and recognize all the profound differences of the European Union, and will allow those peoples to escape from the bounds of tyranny and poverty and move towards a plural and prosperous future.” Gopnik said.
And, Gopnik argues, that is what “Les Misérables” is all about.
“The miserable of the world, the poor and oppressed will never be able to escape their bonds until they escape the traps of nationalism. Until they are unified. So the EU is not just a bureaucratic arrangement. It has a romantic aspect which is the legacy of Victor Hugo,” Gopnik said.
In 2012, Penn State was still dealing with its sex abuse scandal, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles after doping allegations and the New Orleans Saints had its “Cash for Hits” scandal. But Gopnik said professional football is actually a bright spot for the reforms it initiated.
Until recently, concussions were assumed to be part of professional sports. It was called “getting your bell rung” and considered a test of manhood. But we now know that meant getting a severe concussion, which would set off a series of reactions that would disable people in their 40s or 50s.
Gopnik says that Americans and the NFL no longer accept concussions as part of the game, because of the effect it may have on players later in their lives.
“It is a general advance on altruism,” Gopnik said.
While the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo. are a source of limitless depression, Gopnik points out that there is a general decline in violence.
Of all the books Gopnik read this year, his favorite was “The City that Became Safe” by Franklin Zimring. The book showed how over the past 30 years, New York City went from being a center of violent crime to a place where violent crime is extremely rare.
Gopnik said police began to police in more intelligent ways.
One example was how police dealt with drug violations. Gopnik said they realized that if you drive a drug market off Compton Square, it doesn’t necessarily drive it to Washington Square. It may just evaporate. They discovered that if you make crime difficult, you make it rare.
“That is a source of pragmatic action and some comfort,” Gopnik said.