Why We Need the Movies
It has been a long time since I offered anything up here, and I confess that I have no logical reason for that. All I know is that in the last month my mind and heart have been consumed by the chaos of our society at large, I’ve felt awash in acrimony, hatred, and despair for the cruelty which shows up all around us almost every day. It is hard to write from the most authentic soulful place when that place feels injured and enraged.
Last Saturday I went to the movies with a new friend, to a picture I felt would surely satisfy my desire to “escape” from the reality of 2018 politics. And I was right. “A Star is Born” — the fourth iteration of a classic tragic love story was just the right escapism choice. This raw and emotion laden movie sweeps you up and carries you along on a journey filled with both the pulsing joy and exhilaration of love and the inevitable downward spiral into failure — both of character and of that idealism that tells us love is perfect and everlasting. The chemistry of new love in the film is heady and it makes your body feel energized and happy as you sit there in the dark nibbling on your popcorn. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga inhabit these roles perfectly, as though they were replaying them from a former true experience. But as with every great melodrama, there is the fatal flaw, the chink in the armor that spells doom: in this instance it’s alcoholism and its cruel consequences. This disease prevents those who are sick from giving real love to another. I grew up surrounded by this sickness, and I know. And so the fulfilling, heart-thumping movie descends into tragedy, slowly and inexorably, as a sweet golden dog sits outside the garage door one night.
I loved this movie because it felt like I was experiencing the life of real human beings. I thought not only about my own sad experiences growing up, about the hundreds I’ve read about, the many that I’ve known along the way, who became crippled by addiction and forgot that love was the most important force in our human lives. An expensive Hollywood melodrama can offer you this slice of real life when they treat the story with deep respect. Cooper did that, and he produced a deeply touching film.
Meanwhile, outside the movie house there is another kind of movie unfolding, and it doesn’t last for a mere two hours. It is ongoing. It is also surreal … the kind of experience that makes you feel dizzy and exhausted. It looks like this: a Supreme Court nominee with a sketchy personal past rides to confirmation with the help of an antiquated community of Republican senators hell bent on doing their presidents’ bidding, children from South and Central America are still being held in detention without much hope of connecting with family, women are being either ignored or mocked for coming forth and telling intimate and painful stories, money still lies primarily in the hands of the wealthy, black people are being assassinated in large numbers on city streets by untrained, racist police, and they get little justice, minority voters in many states are being denied, and fear and hatred seem to rule the day… Sound like a disorganized horror film? You bet. And guess what, it goes on and on and on… too many people seem immune to responding to injustice - or are they just plain exhausted? This movie that is unfolding in front of us has a terrible script in which the same dark, dishonest, corrupted behavior occurs while an investigation into obstruction of justice quietly grinds on in the distance. All this has become something resembling an epic narrative because of social media and the like. There is a never-ending spooling out of narratives from the political world, both domestic and international, and it it is virtually impossible not to witness it, unless one were to flee into monastic retreat far away to sit in silence and find peace. This is the movie none of us chooses to watch. But there it is.
I grew up a romantic like my mother. I wanted to read and watch love stories, great historical sagas where human nature was shown for its magnificent and flawed qualities and in the end resolution inevitably emerged. All dramas have an ending, don’t they? Think of War and Peace, Grapes of Wrath, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, Macbeth, and To Kill a Mockingbird, just for starters. All these generous and heartfelt works of art finally reach their conclusion, and the audience sees how the flawed and dark qualities of mankind create serious consequences. The same is true of the great film dramas like Casablanca, An Affair to Remember, High Noon, and City Lights. We traverse the great arc of love and tragedy and we arrive at a settled, sometimes satisfied place.
Today we wake up day after day and this film of our political circumstance rolls on. The narrative through line is not clear, and that causes us to be afraid and anxious. Where this dark film we’re living through will take us we don’t know, but we do know that the journey depletes our spirit and makes us want to rush off in search of some kind of beautiful escape, if only for a few hours, like the marvelous “A Star is Born.” I urge all of you who share some of what I feel to find a movie that beckons you, and take yourself there with a friend (or without) to sit in the dark with your bag of popcorn, and to feel at one with our real human story, if only for a brief moment.