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Zorba the Greek

Director: Michael Cacoyannis
Starring: Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates,
et al.
Length: 146 minutes
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox

I recently rewatched this classic movie and was struck at how it makes visual and palpable, through two opposite characters, living in the mind and living in the body. Zorba, a Greek peasant, is a sensual, in-the-moment kind of guy. His boss, Basil, an English landowner, is a bookish, analytical, in-his-head kind of guy. While both have much to learn, Zorba lives for the moment and extracts every bit of joy from life that he can. And that, in a nutshell, is one of the great messages of the movie.  While Zorba’s zest for life leaves some sorrow in its wake (he describes his marriage and fatherhood as a catastrophe), his ability to dance and feel leaves the viewer imagining living life more freely.

Zorba’s relationship with Basil creates the tension throughout the movie between mind and body. Basil is the personification of someone going through life as a spectator, numb to his feelings and his ability to take action. There is a saying, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Zorba challenges him regularly, and in that way can be seen as coach-like: “I like you too much not to say it: you’ve got everything except one thing – madness. A man needs a little madness, or else, …he never dares cut the rope and be free.” Through his relationship with Zorba, Basil begins to feel, and eventually sees Zorba as a philosopher, teacher, and life-giver.

In a metaphorical way, the union of the two characters in dance during the final scene speaks to the integration of body and mind. Their dance also showcases the beauty of being able to choose joy over sorrow. For that final scene, this movie is worth seeing. Zorba and Basil represent two extremes. That they come together and each recognizes the value of the other speaks to the integration that we as coaches help our clients to achieve.

There are other characters in the movie besides Zorba and Basil who represent hope, fear, madness, and longing. There are things that happen in this movie that exaggerate the dark side of humanity, and which left me feeling angry and provoked. But some movies are there to be provocative, and this movie succeeds in helping us to ask ourselves some new questions.

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