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.
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.
Like most people, I find that my problems center around, well, the other people in my life. I get distressed when my colleagues don’t work and play nicely together. But my problems are nothing compared to poor Sam Spade’s in The Maltese Falcon. When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. And if that “something” means surrendering the murderess to the police, even though you’re crazy about her, well, that’s just too bad. I’m sending you over, Angel. Bummer.
People problems come in more subtle shades too. As men and women work together in new environments, problems often arise with different expectations. While we’re all trying to play the same game, we’re not always playing by the same rules. Sometimes it seems like those around us are in A League of Their Own: it sure did to the irascible Jimmie Dugan. Are you crying? There’s no crying. There’s no crying in baseball.
When it isn’t people giving me grief, it’s machines. How can the photocopier and my computer malfunction? Let me count the ways. As products of the human imagination, machines seem blessed with a full measure of human perversity and a singular disinterest in negotiating. When I’m faced with a totally unresponsive machine, I try to remember just how bad it could be. Open the pod bay doors, Hal. Back in 2001, Dr. Dave Bowman thought the HAL 9000 computer would follow his instructions, too. I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that. Now that’s a bad day at the office.
The reason the little things get to us — and they are little things — is that schedule is king. Busy? Of course! Even in the fairytale world of The Princess Bride, folks are pressed to the max. I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to kill, and Gildor to frame for it. I’m swamped. Now don’t I feel silly, complaining about my to-do list when Prince Humperdinck has all that on his plate?
At least what I don’t get done today I can always do tomorrow, and that’s true for most of us. Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today! For Phil Connors, Hell is just one Groundhog Day after another, with endless cold showers and the same episode of Jeopardy.
Tomorrow is important not just for getting caught up, but for the new chance it gives us to make things right. If I can’t be quite as irrepressible as Annie (Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow) then I can at least aspire to Scarlett O’Hara’s determination (Tomorrow’s another day). I can’t imagine what it would be like, living without that hope, but Melvin Udall has already imagined it for me. What if this is As Good As it Gets? Melvin, you make me laugh, but you make me tired too.
Finally, the movies show us that even if we can’t choose our problems, we can choose how we deal with them. Will it be the extravagant whining about Aliens from Pvt Hudson, “We’re toast, man!” or the calm announcement from Jim Lovell as commander of Apollo 13, “Houston, we have a problem” or something in-between?
Maybe we’ll use humour to defuse our fear, allowing us to take action on our problems, like Roger Murtaugh in all four Lethal Weapon movies. I’m too old for this shit, we’ll cry, as we take a running if metaphorical leap off the roof of the burning building.
Maybe we’ll follow Dr. Venkman’s example and maintain our enthusiasm when things are uncertain or even dangerous. I love this plan: I’m excited to be a part of it. If the Ghostbusters can do it, so can we.
Or maybe we’ll just hang onto hope. That’s OK. As the Shawshank Redemption’s Ellis Boyd Redding told us, Hope is a good thing…and no good thing ever dies.
Whichever path we choose, we can be sure that the movies have been there before us, showing the way To infinity and beyond.