Category Archives: Movies

Life lessons summed up in snippets of movie dialogue. Oh, to be a screenwriter.

Everything I Need to Know about Everything, I Learned at the Movies

Shut up Mr.Burton!  You were not brought upon this world to ‘get it’! snapped Lo Pan in the midst of Big Trouble in Little China.  What a relief!  Like Jack Burton, I often don’t ‘get it’.  Not the world; not life.

But at the movies, at least, I’m in good company.  The movies are full of people who don’t get it: not life in general nor their situation in particular.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could both qualify for lifetime achievement awards for nil situational awareness—from Sundance’s grudging explanation of his reluctance to leap off a cliff into rocky rapids far below: I can’t swim!; to Butch’s misplaced relief that the Pinkerton men aren’t in the Federales force assembling outside: For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.

Sundance and Butch are extreme examples, but not singular ones.  After all, as A Fish Called Wanda’s Wanda (the woman, not the fish, if you follow me) pointed out to Otto, The central message of Buddhism is not: Every man for himself. At a more basic, less philosophical level, some of us are even still fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing, like Ghostbusters’ Dr. Venkman.  Inconceivable, you might say (as Vizzini did, repeatedly, in the Princess Bride), but true.

But, as always, the movies do more than show us that we are not alone.  They also tell us how to make the most of our lives, despite all this confusion.     Continue reading

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Everything I Need to Know About Communication, I Learned at the Movies

Week #4 of my tribute to the movies, in honour of the upcoming Oscars.

Wicked one-liners, great come-backs, perfect put-downs.  The movies are full of people who say the right thing in just the right way.  What wouldn’t we give to be that quick on our feet?  Well, if our feet are failing us, we can always borrow the work of screenwriters.  Look at the dialogue that’s moved into our collective consciousness; consider the phrases we use with confidence even if we never saw the movie.

Annoyed with someone?  Inspector Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry to his friends, helps you out.  You’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky?  Well, do ya, punk?

Annoyed with someone you love?  Rhett Butler gives you the polite way to be Gone with the Wind: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Have to break bad news to the boss?  Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell shows you how to make the ultimately nonchalant call to the office: Houston, we have a problem.

Of course we can’t always use lines from the movies: sometimes we have to speak for ourselves, and that’s generally where the trouble starts.  What we got here…is a failure to communicate, said the Captain, Road Prison 36 in Cool Hand Luke.  We don’t want to fail at communicating, so let’s do more than lift lines and let the movies teach us something about the underlying principles of communication.      Continue reading

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Everything I Need to Know About Love, I Learned at the Movies

Herewith, Week #3 of my 5-week  ‘tribute to the movies’ series.  As Valentine’s Day looms, this week’s topic is love, true love.

Men can’t help lying about sex; women can’t help telling the truth.  I don’t know which is worse. In 1962, Boys’ Night Out romped through the not-very-romantic premise that married men had higher priorities than sex, even sex with a gorgeous babe in a push-up bra that would pierce steel.  What those men really wanted was to talk and be listened to, to fix something with their hands, and to eat high-fat foods in peace.

Forget Harlequin Romances and Dr. Ruth—even forget the TV version of Sex and the City.  Everything we really need to know about love can be learned at the movies.  Assuming, first, that we’re willing to suspend our disbelief at Kim Novak in a role as a psychology graduate student.  And why not?  Is it any sillier to accept Michael Douglas or Kevin Kline as a fictional President than to accept Arnie as a real-live Governor?  The real world is stranger than the movies could ever be and suspension of disbelief could be the beginning of wisdom.

So what do the movies teach us about love?  Boy meets girl, falls in love, loses girl, regains girl.  Or not.  There must be a million variations on the theme.  I think I’ve seen half of them.  What’s that you say?  You want me to pick out just the highlights?  As you wish.     Continue reading

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Everything I Need to Know about Business, I Learned at the Movies

Week #2 of my tribute to the movies, marking the 5 weeks from Oscar nominations to Oscar speeches.

I’ll drown and you tow me back to the ship. It sounds like an abysmal plan, doesn’t it?  It was sort of an Abyss-mal movie.

Yet, to be fair, it’s hard to think of a better plan for their situation.  Two people trapped in a submerged and disabled submarine, water level rising, just one set of breathing apparatus.  So she drowned, he towed her back to the ship, and love (and CPR) conquered all.  That’s the movies for you.

Even though it’s a Hollywood scenario, it illustrates an important point—the best plan isn’t necessarily a good one.  And that’s the movies for you, too.  They taught me everything I need to know about organizational life.  Let’s look at the high points.    Continue reading

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Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned at the Movies

In honour of the 2011 Oscar race, officially launched on 24 January and due to conclude on 27 February, each of the 5 intervening weeks will see an additional, mid-week post about… the movies!  Herewith, Week #1.

Never get involved in a land war in Asia—it’s one of the classic blunders.

Time is not important.  Only life is important.

K-Mart sucks.

Most of what I know about life I learned at the movies, or most of what I know that I know.  Thanks to screenwriters and their memorable lines and situations, the movies help me grasp their lessons, from reminders about not giving up (You get what you settle for, according to Thelma & Louise), to advice on how to treat other people (Be excellent to each other, Bill & Ted told me), to reassurance about treating myself sometimes (it’s OK if I just want it the way I want it, as Harry & Sally pointed out).

I’ve heard of people who don’t like movies because they aren’t real.  What’s with that?  The lack of reality is part of their charm, allowing us to escape from our problems for a little while.  But the movies are real enough—true enough to life—that we can also use them to get some perspective on our problems.

No matter what we’re facing, it’s been done before—and done bigger—in the movies.     Continue reading

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