To look at the deeply etched face of Dot Fisher-Smith, the focus of the film "An Ordinary Life," is to be captivated.
To look at the deeply etched face of Dot Fisher-Smith, the focus of the film "An Ordinary Life," is to be captivated. Her smile is wide, embracing, her eyes bracketed by laugh lines, her cheeks broken by fissures of time and experience, her brow furrowed from reflection and pain and wonder, haunted still by the question: "What matters?"
It is a question that Fisher-Smith asks in the film, a question that resonates, but then "An Ordinary Life" is a meditation on meaning and purpose and a remarkable reminder that ultimately all we have is time. And using her life as a template, we realize that we are the architect of our days, days that seemed, at first, endless, strung together like luminescent light bulbs. Only later comes the realization that this seemingly endless supply of time is not endless at all but finite, and, like Fisher-Smith, now more than 80, we are moved to ponder our own mortality. With a hint of sadness and loss and resignation she asks, "How can the world go on without me?" And then, glancing off into the distance, "Will the sun rise if I'm not there to see it?"
"An Ordinary Life" is not a bio-pic. It is not linear; rather, director and film editor Patricia Somers has, with sensitivity and a probing touch, created a montage of interviews and photographs, a glance back to Fisher-Smith's early years of protest, tempered by her youthful and heartfelt convictions, a life lived during a time when the gestalt of the '60s was in full swing.
Seeing those images of Fisher-Smith, and hearing her reflect on those days, is to understand the tension created between a desire for self-fulfillment, for spiritual awakening, and the exigencies of family and children. Her journey has taken her to Zen Buddhism, giving voice to her desire for ever greater enlightenment, while simultaneously linking arms with fellow protestors as they opposed, through acts of civil disobedience, the cutting of old-growth forests.
She finds joy in her art, creating dramatic mountainous landscapes using salvaged canvas from a yurt, the uneven surface weathered from sun and rain and lichen, her work possessing an engaging, multi-dimensional feel. And while contemplating those mountains on canvas, images drawn from her travels in Tibet, we learn that her son has died and her life is suddenly framed by grief.
Thomas Merton once wrote, "If God confronts Rabbi Stein, the question he would ask is not why was he not more like Moses, but why was he not more like Rabbi Stein." As is evident in "An Ordinary Life," this would not be a question posed to Fisher-Smith, for she clearly has been and continues to be, simply, courageously herself. Which is extraordinary.