Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Soup questions

Fair warning disclaimer: This one is in search of a point. I kept thinking I would get there, but at the end of the day have failed miserably. But I want to post it as I haven’t posted in a few days, and I’m trying to get back to an every-other-day schedule.

I think Finding Forrester is one of the best films ever made. I watched it again, last night. It’s absolutely one of my all-time favorites, and one of those I can watch over and over again, still maintaining rapt interest. Some people do this with many films, but I’m sorry, three times was it for Star Wars with me, and once is enough for most others. But I happen to love Finding Forrester with Sean Connery, Rob Brown, Anna Paquin and Busta Rhymes, for so many reasons. It’s about writing, and finding a voice, and dealing with criticism. It’s about overcoming expectation is an essentially racist and sexist society where there is, nonetheless, real opportunity for someone willing to put in the work and display the talent and aptitude. It’s about demanding more of oneself, even when those around you have lower expectations. And it’s also a quintessential New York movie to me, in that it feels and looks like the New York I lived in for 12 years, and still miss, and which very, very few movies ever successfully capture.

My favorite expression from the movie is one that peppers my conversations from time to time, and that no one who doesn’t love that movie as I do (read: no one) ever gets.

Forrester: You better stir that soup.

Jamal: What?

Forrester: Stir the soup before it firms up.

Why doesn't ours get anything on it?

Forrester (looking out of the window through his camcorder): Come on. Closer. Now.

Jamal: You got someone doing that kind of yelling? (a reference to an earlier conversation where Jamal describes his neighbors yelling during sex)

Forrester: What I have is an adult male. Quite pretty. Probably strayed from the park. (Jamal looks at him quizzically, until Forrester shows him the image on the camcorder-a close-up of a bird) A Connecticut warbler.

Jamal: You ever go outside to do any of this?

Forrester: You should have stayed with the soup question. (getting angry) The object of a question is to obtain information that matters only to us. You were wondering why your soup doesn't firm up? Probably because your mother was brought up in a house that never wasted milk in soup. That question was a good one, in contrast to, "Do I ever go outside?", which fails to meet the criteria of obtaining information that matters to you.

Jamal: All right. I guess I don't have any more soup questions.

Later on, they’re talking in Forrester’s apartment, amid his endless volumes of books and papers, and the theme comes up again.

Did you ever get married?

Forrester: Not exactly a soup question, is it?

At the end of the movie, after Jamal makes a stand and proves he’s more than just a black pair of hands on the basketball court, he and Forrester are walking and talking outside the school. This is significant because the reclusive Forrester has panic attacks, and, before Jamal came into his life, would never leave his apartment, and had never left, without Jamal. This last time, to help Jamal, he left on his own.

Forrester: I'm thinking you'll make your own decisions from here on.

Jamal: I thought you'd say something like, "I always could."

Forrester: No more lessons. I have a question, though. Those two foul shots at the end of the game…did you miss them or did you miss them?

Jamal: Not exactly a soup question, is it?

So, I’ve picked up the expression, “That’s not exactly a soup question” as a way of saying, “I’m not sure that’s really any of your business” in a polite, if puzzling way. Now, you might get it and thus be part of a select group in the non-sequitur know.

Part of my problem with small talk in general is that it’s made up of questions masquerading as soup questions. People who are the best conversationalists are, IMHO, those people who can get people to talk about themselves. Get someone to talk about himself, and you’re guaranteed a five minute conversation with little more than slight pushes to get it rolling and with little effort you can keep it moving easily for another five minutes. Snippets along the line of answering the old joke, “But enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”

But the flip side of that is when you’re genuinely interested in someone, in what they think, in their experiences. Then those questions become soup questions, as they help you form your opinion of and expand your interest in the person, thereby establishing or strengthening your bond with that person. I miss those kinds of conversations. It seems I have less and less of them, replaced by something else. That something else is party conversations-those intermingling discussions that are designed mainly to fill the empty void between two people who likely aren’t going to see each other again for months or weeks, if ever. I find myself drifting in those, thinking I’d rather be drawing, or I’d rather be writing. Sometimes, I just plain drift over to a quiet corner and pull out my notepad or my sketchbook, and do.

What this blog has become is a place to have those conversations-to answer the unasked soup questions, if you will. This is a place to talk about some stuff that matters. To ask some questions that, perhaps, give some insight into information that matters to me. To whom? To whoever wants to read. And to some (selfish) degree, to myself.

So, ask more soup questions, friends. Make them count.


himura said...

i love that movie as well, especially that soup question part...

mccoy said...

i'd really appreciate your explanation about the "soup question" thing. however, based on my understanding about the movie, "soup question" is a question that basically requires answers that matter to you the most. it's not really telling people to mind their own business in a polite way.

mmclaurin said...

McCoy, I agree with you to a point-"soup questions" are questions whose answers are significant and useful to the asker, beyond simple curiousity. So saying a question is not a soup question is tantamount to saying the answer is not significant or useful to the asker. The question is just asked out of curiousity, without a concrete reason that can be traced back to helping the asker in any tangible way. So in that sense, it is not any of their business. I think the dialogue supports that. Soup questions, then, do deserve to be answered. It's saying that the question is not a soup question that is telling someone to mind his own business in a polite way...

phil said...

soup questions are not so defined because of how they relate to the asker, but because of how they relate to the one asked. thus, a soup question is a question that requires no personal or private information or opinions from the one asked. if a personal wants a part, or their entire selves to be cloaked in secrecy, soup questions will allow them to remain so. soooo, err umm, did he miss on purpose??

bluegirl said...

yes. he did miss on purpose because he wanted to show robert crawford that he was more than just a basketball player and that he deserved a chance at the school because of his academic ability and not because of his athletic ability.

mmclaurin said...

Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. The best-the very best-of players sometimes miss a shot under that kind of pressure. But in the end it doesn't matter, because the scene was about his right to still be at that school, regardless of whether or not he made that shot. That's why I like the fact that Jamal never answers that question.

And I still like and believe in the idea that a soup question is determined by the perspective and opinion on the part of the askee, not the asker, as to whether the question has pertinence to his or her life, or contains information that he asker can use in a concrete manner beyond idle or simple curiousity,

Elle said...

After watching the movie, I also picked up using the soup question expression. No one ever gets it and I don't bother explaining. lol Also, I agree with Mclaurin on the meaning.

Doug said...

Thank you...I like your analysis?

Just thinking said...

I, too,love this movie. I have a slightly different reading of the "soup question" albeit similar. I think that a soup question is a non personal or factual question as "Why doesn't ours get anything on it." When Jammal asks why William doesn't go outside, he is told he should have stayed with the soup question and told "do I ever go outside fails to meet the criteria of obtaining information that matters to you." At this point, William believes that Jammal really doesn't care why he doesn't go outside, but is just curious about William's odd decision not to do so. He is not prepared to answer such a personal question. It follows that when Jammal asks William "Did you ever get married? He replies in a much gentler tone, as he knows that Jammal does care for him, "Not exactly a soup question" meaning, not exactly a factual question meaning that it is personal. It is his lack of response that communicates that he is not willing to share, and thus in a kind way, none of his business. I agree it is a great line and one of my favorites. Jammal then gets to playfully throw it back at William at the end of the film when Jammal is asked the extremely personal question, "...did you miss them or did you miss them?"He is not saying that it is none of William's business, he is just saying, now that IS a personal question (Not exactly a soup (factual) question.)

spaceboy said...

Personally, for me, the soup question also must fulfill the criteria of soliciting information generally unobtainable in any other way, than asking. For example, "do you have a necklace on?" and knowing full well that you can see one. Or information already gotten in a prior question. So, for me, there are two criteria: pertinent, and non-observable (non-prior info). I remembered the movie wrong. I though there were already two criteria.

Also - questions can also be asked in writing, or code, or body language. Communication is richer than question/answer.

Thanks for such a fun topic. :-)

disgilzfly said...

I am glad to see I am not alone... I absolutely love this movie.

However, I didn’t catch on to the "soup question" until I watched the movie a second or third time [guess I wasn't paying attention]. I think this part of the movie was simply genius and truly made the movie a classic. Not in a sense that it was the only good part in the movie, but that it resonated so well with viewers (including myself) and has become a part of our lives. Now, I truly feel we should ask questions that concern us and not questions out of simple curiosity. With that said, I apply the “soup question” to my thought process daily and I feel it has helped me grow as a person.

CRAIG said...

my wife and i both love the movie too. a soup question for all of you: what do you think of the "human animal"? in detail.....in depth...........craig

akila said...

i saw the movie last night for the first time. a brilliant one indeed! gonna watch it again sometime. my students ask all kind of soup questions in my class instead of clarifying their math doubts. now, i know how to respond to them

martymac said...

My husband & I use "not exactly a soup question," all the time. Pitiful that I didn't recall which movie we stole it from. For us, it is a shorthand way of saying, "I don't have time to give or receive a long long explanation." It works for us, regardless the intent of the movie, although we both love the movie!

rodgriff said...

Sitting here in the UK, watching finding Forrester, yet again, I think you are right, the Soup question is one of the memorable concepts. I also rather like the idea of simply writing, copying, or whatever until something clicks. I use it all the time and it usually works.

P Wilson said...

Love the discussion. I think the "soup question" refers to a question that has a simple easy answer.


P Wilson said...

Love the discussion. I think the "soup question" refers to a question that has a simple easy answer.


Anesu Murapa said...

amazing film... that "soup question" respond at the end just goes to show that Jamal was simply pure genius (copy until it makes sense) It was just the perfect ending to an awesome film.

Glad I'm not the only enthusiast..... shame films like this are rare and quite frankly disregarded.

You all should be movie critics to have such passion.

Jeff Green said...

Finding Forrester is not just a soup q film, although I do like the references. FF runs way deeper and I have yet to FIND others who have clued in on all the clues...which I am still FINDing each time I watch the film. This film has so much symbolism connecting it to Arthurian legend and Alchemy. 'Read and re-read the signs' that is your first clue from me. I am a high school english teacher and I love using this film as a vehicle to have students write about which characters relate to various Arthurian characters and to also identify symbols ie. the sword in the stone ex. the letter opener that Jamal's removes from Forrester's apt. The letter opener appears again at the end of the movie after Jamal inherits the 'key' to the kingdom from Forrester aka Merlin. Jeff Green English teacher San Dieguito Union High School Dist. CA

Kenton Gates said...

First of all I absolutely love this blog and I loved the movie also.

I would define this movie quote by using another movie quote - <i>"it's never just one thing."</i>

mmlaurin, your summations, articulation, structure & vocabulary are so identical to my own that I was blown away ( do your friends accuse you of being longwinded too? - oops, not a soup question ;D ) Dude, I thought you nailed it. But as I read on I discovered several more pertinent substantive perspectives which I agree with.

Like a prism or a diamond there are so many different angles/answers/perspectives emitting from one single 'unit'.

As I was reading this blog, and replaying the movie in my head, I saw something else;

As mentioned above words are but a single component of communication. Also as the married couple indicated above, the definition of a phrase can be a product of how that phrase is used. IMHO, 'Relationship' was a significant situational factor;

The characters in Finding Forrester weren't merely 'asker' and 'askee', More significantly they were <b>mentor</b> and <b>mentee</b>.

When Jamal asked 'the soup question' it was rooted in the same curiosity as his other questions. Forrester, as his mentor, distinguished which answers would <b>advance</b> Jamal & which would not.

In the end when Jamal flipped it on Forester, It was an adorable way of saying I've learned the distinction and the answer to your question will not advance you (Touche').

My personal evolution through reading and writing here brings me to conclude the following:

The person with the answer is the only one with the context to distinguish whether or not it would advance the asker.... Thus the phrase <i>"not a soup question"</i> is tantamount to saying <i>"the answer to that question is substantively irrelevant"</i>.

I've never used the phrase <i>"not a soup question"</i> Conversationally because I know my audience wouldn't get it. But I would like to thank the OP & everyone here who contributed because absent the context here I probably would not have reached the conclusion I did... And now that I have I am going to start using the phase, <i><b>"the answer to that question is substantively irrelevant"</b></i> because that is something my audience will understand. :)