The Tortilla Curtain and Crash
We finished the California Culture class with T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain. It seemed to be a good way to conclude. To create dramatic conflict, Boyle pits different aspects of the California Dream against one another. For example, the illegal immigrant's dream of economic opportunity threatens the Anglo nature writer's dream of suburban comfort with easy access to "wilderness."
Along the way we hear echoes of earlier California writers, especially Muir and Steinbeck. Boyle throws in some Continental references for good measure; the illegal immigrant is named Candido, and his ordeals easily match those of Voltaire's hero. I'm glad we also watched Real Women Have Curves, if only to balance the depiction of the immigrant experience. Because we also read Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory, I don't think anyone will leave the class thinking that this complex social phenomenon can be represented simply, but some interesting patterns emerged from those three works.
Our last film was Paul Haggis's Crash. It's an adroit film, and I was moved (again) by one scene, but many have challenged its depiction of race relations in Los Angeles. I wonder if that response isn't partly due to the film's high Hollywood finish. Crash is about collisions, but the plot is very tidy, and each character receives a carefully rationed moment of epiphany or redemption. Still, I think it might be a keeper for this class.