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DVD Review: East of Eden (1981)

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John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is given one last opportunity to work itself into the fabric of society with the release of this mini-series on DVD. The mini-series is based on Steinbeck's book, which traces three generations of the Trask family from the Civil War to WWI. The Emmy-winning 1980s mini-series stars Jane Seymour, Timothy Bottom, Bruce Boxleitner, Lloyd Bridges, Warren Oates, Soon-Tek Oh, and Anne Baxter.

I used a sick day to lie in bed with my laptop and watch the entire eight hours, start to finish. Since I've never read the book or watched this before, I can truly say this is an original review.

Jane Seymour plays Cathy/Kate, a woman who is entrancing, yet sickeningly, evil. This character gives us quite a bit to think about, especially if we are parents. You will notice that Cathy learns about evil as a little girl. As she grows older, she learns that bestowing evil on others gives her power over them.

The character of Cathy/Kate is one of the most hideous women I've ever witnessed on screen, and I believe she proves that physical beauty is unable to manifest itself when the heart is filled with such ugliness. I found this quotation, and it summarizes the motivation for such evil in Cathy’s life: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my lords, that where laws end, tyranny begins." (William Pitt the Elder, in a House of Lords speech in 1770)

Learning and using such power is one aspect of the mini-series that stood out for me. There was also a sub-theme involving the act of bestowing favoritism toward one child over another. Although I don’t believe this behavior originates from the same hellish place, nevertheless it was equally as damaging to the children of Cyrus — Adam and Charles — and again in Adam’s children, Aron and Cal. We watch as the pain, suffering, anguish, and anger manifest itself throughout their lives because of such an indulgent act as favoritism.

Most of the story is about the collateral damage caused by the evil and cruelty of these characters, but the antidote to this evil is offered by Adam's servant, Lee, in the expression he uses, "timshel." His character embraces goodness, yet he gives us the reason for it when he explains a discovery he made with a few learned scholars, particularly a rabbi. They determine the word, “timshel,to mean “thou mayest.” Lee considers this translation to be an extraordinary revelation, as it implies that God has given human beings the choice of whether or not to overcome sin — essentially giving humans the freedom to choose their course in life. At the end of the story, we are left with the hope that Cal will have the chance to break free from the evil in his past, and thus prove how one can choose goodness, even when steeped in, or surrounded by, evil.

The mini-series brought quite a nice reprieve from the complexity of my everyday life, and reminds me that evil can be learned, and good can be chosen.

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About Alie James