I went with my wife and sister-in-law to see the RENT movie this past Saturday night. What you need to know upfront is that we are all huge fans of the musical; it is, to use the cliché, one of those things that changed our lives, to each in a particular way. In my case, RENT has always been about the Now, about the power of dreams to shape your life, about not giving in and selling out. The tag line, "No Day But Today," pretty much sums it all up. I've seen the musical only once, and as a traveling show at that, not on Broadway, but the CD has been one of those perennial favorites that we play to death, put aside for a while, and all of a sudden pick up and start playing again.
I've known about RENT for a few years now, which means I have grown with the message of the musical and indeed have it shape who I have become in some ways. At first, in my mid-20's, when I was angst-ridden and non-conformist and still had the luxury of that lofty idealism that rejects anything even remotely smelling of The System, RENT was a war-cry, a banner behind which to rally in our desire to never sell out and go for our dreams, even if we rarely did anything beyond talk about it. As I grew up, and entered my cynical stage in which you cannot see a way out of becoming another cog in The System and you are torn apart by the impending doom that is your future, RENT was a good memory of what I had once believed in, what I had wanted to do with my life, what society had crushed out of me. After I finished university, when I was more or less in control of myself, my actions and my future for the first time in almost a decade, RENT was a reminder of what I once thought possible, and what now could be a reality if only I applied myself. Perhaps now I could truly follow through with Mark's call in the song La Vie Boheme, "being an Us for once, instead of a Them."
The movie was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had some weird issues with timing at the beginning, and I still can't figure out why set it in 1989-90 and not in the mid-90's when it was released (it causes some anachronisms, like referencing Thelma & Louise, which didn't come out till 1992). I agree with my wife that Chris Columbus' directing style was way too soft for this movie, and ended up removing a lot of the grit and grunge that is associated with RENT. These minor complaints aside, the movie did justice to the musical, and having 90% of the original cast was simply amazing (the two new additions, Rosario Dawson and Tracy Thoms, were very good ones and both help their own with the original cast wonderfully), giving the movie a timelessness that will allow it to survive the years to come.
The funny thing is that we live in such a different world than we did in the early- to mid-90's that a lot of the themes of the story seem now symbolic, as opposed to current, as they were back in the day. People don't necessarily die of AIDS as portrayed in the movie anymore, and NYC is a different place than that depicted in the musical/movie. This isn't a bad thing; we still have drug problems in the city, and AIDS is very much still a problem, if not an immediate death sentence as it used to be. You can substitute any current problem for those depicted in the movie, and the themes remain the same, though, which is what signals how good the story truly is (after all, RENT is a remake of Puccini's La Boheme, and that is still a valid work of art).
As for me, seeing the movie brought up those old feelings of rebelliousness back to the forefront. Coupled with my current state of mind after returning from Paris, RENT stirred up something in me, a desire to once again be one of Us instead of a Them. Things aren't as clear-cut as they once were, but then again, neither am I as naive as I was, and the options available to me are far greater now. I do have the tools to follow my own dreams, and in some respects I already have done so (Highmoon Media Productions). Now I just have to achieve that next step, where you find a way to have your dreams sustain you. That next step, for me, is my Travel Store, and that is what I am focusing on from now on.
I don't know that anyone can truly live La Vie Boheme anymore, but it is good to dream about it. Better yet is to make that a reality. It doesn't quite look like the one in the movie, the one in tales--even the artists who went to Paris to live and love and create art worked to do all this--but it can be done, and I intend to find the way to do it.