not in our stars, but in ourselves
Sometimes, you watch a movie because you have nothing else to do. Sometimes, you watch a movie because you feel like having a laugh. Sometimes, you watch a movie because you particularly admire a given actor, director, screenwriter, cinematographer, whatever.
But sometimes, you watch a movie because you want to wallow in an emotion that has overpowered you. Sometimes, it helps to be overtaken by someone else’s emotions and dreams and visions, because your own are just too much, and you want to try to merge them with something else. Maybe that’s just me. But to that end, here is a small and ever-growing list of movies that help me to immerse myself in emotions I already feel, and want reassurance that others have felt them too.
The Iron Giant (1999) – Movies that are ostensibly aimed at kids can, and often do, pack the hardest emotional punch. To wit: I was describing the ending of this movie to a co-worker once, and – completely involuntarily – I started fighting hopelessly against tears and sobs that welled up as soon as I remembered “Suuuuuperrrrmaaaaaan!” UGH. If you need the crying-like-a-little-kid kind of catharsis, this is the emotional manipulation for you.
Imitation of Life (1959) – Do not watch this movie for Lana Turner and Sandra Dee. In fact, unless you’re overly interested in a costume/hair & makeup department gone mad, don’t bother watching them at all. Watch it for Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner. Watch it, and descend into hysterical weeping at the end – complete with Mahalia Jackson singing the hell out of a spiritual, just in case you weren’t crying already. Those ’50s melodramas, man. Sometimes they were not fucking around.
WALL-E (2008) – It picks up and ends happily, because this is Disney after all, but lonely little WALL-E – desperate for companionship and love after watching Hello, Dolly! a few thousand too many times – wandering the wasted planet Earth with only a cockroach for company is heartrending. And, perhaps, an easily identifiable feeling. Maybe you’re not the last remaining robot on a thoroughly polluted trash heap, but you might have an idea of what that feels like.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) – A mousy Mia Farrow watches the same movie so many times that the male lead jumps off the screen to be with her. It’s about the power of movies, but it’s also about finding out that everything – movies and real life alike – is just so much illusion and smoke and mirrors. By the end, she returns to the same rundown little cinema, this time to watch Fred and Ginger, just to try to defer thinking about her troubles for another couple of hours. Can you relate? Yes, me too.
American Psycho (2000) – One of the things about rage is that it’s such an emptying emotion. Patrick Bateman repeatedly refers to the fact that he has nothing inside – just anger, just the need to control his appearance and everyone around him. He doesn’t gain anything for his (real or imagined) serial killing. The rage just keeps hollowing him out. I mean, if you’re pissed off and you need a cautionary tale in reasons it’s really bad to let yourself run away with that feeling, this is a pretty good one.
The Dark Knight (2008) – Look, I’ll just admit right here and now that I am a sucker for Christopher Nolan’s pseudo-intellectual action flicks. And this is the greatest, by a long shot: it’s a world with no hope of redemption unless, as Alfred says, they burn down the forest. I often find myself somewhat agreeing with the Joker here: life is cruel, life is immoral, and life is unfair. Chaos is the only leveler. His form of insanity isn’t much more insane than the form of insanity most of us have taken: hurting ourselves and others around us, working at jobs we hate, resenting people who love us, destroying our bodies and mourning their destruction but never doing anything to improve them – one man’s insanity is another’s daily routine.
Amadeus (1984) – If you devote all your life to one thing, and you’re just not very good at it, and then some upstart comes along and beats you at your own game without breaking a sweat, that can be pretty frustrating. If you’ve devoted your life to music and to God, and you’ve begged God for musical talent and you’re just a mediocrity – and then along comes a manchild who writes divinely perfect music without seeming to take notice of anything but parties – that’s a pretty deep burn. If you think you’ve got it bad, just remember that God hasn’t sent Mozart to laugh at your failure.
Black Swan (2010) – No, hear me out. This totally belongs in the betrayal category, because it’s about what happens when you split so far in half that you sabotage yourself. You ruin your own life. You attack yourself as if you were the object of a mob hit. It’s the old doppelganger legend writ large: working to bring about your own death and destruction. Not to get into too many gory details – but that’s a pretty bad way to be. Trust.