Saturday, August 8, 2015

Movies That Make Me Cry Without Meaning To: Argo.

When Argo won Best Picture in February 2013, I hadn't seen it. I wasn't very good at watching Best Picture nominees beforehand, so when they won, I didn't know how grateful I would be for the recognition of the film's importance.

If you haven't seen it, (SPOILERS) the movie opens with a pictoral telling of the social and political history of Iran in the 20th and 21st centuries. If you don't know the social and political history of Iran, you'll learn from this that their recent history is a giant, western, bummer. It is this brilliant prologue that really sets the stage for an empathetic, and somewhat inaccurate, though very compelling, account of this true event.

This movie does not take its time. Within the first ten minutes, Iranian protesters have invaded the US Embassy and have taken several hostages. Six embassy workers have made it out and taken refuge in the home of the Canadian Embassador and his super cool wife. Also, holla out to Ben Affleck and his casting directors for choosing a Canadian to play that role. Victor Garber is a Canadian treasure that I am in love with.
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Most of the rest of the movie is a very entertaining telling of how Ben Affleck got to Iran on government falsified documents, ready to make a bogus film with his 'crew' that had 'arrived two days before he had'. His interaction with them is from where most of my emotions stem. Up until this point, what we had seen of the hostages was them having political debates around the dinner table drinking wine and having a seemingly legit good time. There was a tense moment when Jimmy Cooper (from the OC guys, that's not his character name) stepped outside for a cig. "I was only out there for three minutes," he said defensively. Other hostage looks at him sternly, "it only takes one for someone to see you." Until Ben arrives, you don't fully understand the gravity of their situation. If they are found, they will be killed. There is no foreseeable end to this situation. They could be in that apartment for another three years.

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Amid the anxiety of their impending doom, the group decides to go ahead with Ben's plan. They will adopt new identities, adjust their current appearances, and aim to make it through airport security. Things start to fall apart when it's realized that their paperwork doesn't quite match up. The group is interrogated for several minutes overlapping with their boarding time. Through an act of sheer brilliance, one of the hostages explains to the security guards - in Persian - the plot of the movie, after which they are let through to board the play. This act has always emphasized the reality that there is no replacement for first language communication when entering someone else's country and culture.
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They board the plane and take off, anxiously awaiting their entrance into International Air. The seatbelt light goes off, and the flight attendant announces that the beverage cart will soon be making its way around. The hostages celebrate. They are free. They are safe. They have made it. It's with this celebration that my tears being to flow.

I cannot express to you how safe my life has been. This isn't surprising; I grew up in North America. While I went through a period of fairly constant and paralyzing fear when I was twelve, it wasn't because I was in actual danger. The greatest thing about this movie is that it presents the Iranian/US tension in such a way that you don't see the invasion of the embassy as an act of terror or rebellion. Rather, it seems almost necessary. While we empathize with the embassy workers, the Iranians are not vilified. You can argue against that if you'd like. As I watch the celebration of safety and freedom on the plane, I am awestruck by how I've never felt that. You live with something forever and it starts to feel like a right. And while I know enough to know that I live in a sort of safety exception, not a safety norm, Argo brings to light the anxiety, stress, and lack of calm that go along with living in constant fear.

Despite all its inaccuracies and controversies, this movie made me better. So thanks, Ben. (Amy Schumer flirty face) I love you.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Movies That Make Me Cry Without Meaning To: Signs.

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Today in my teenage angst, I cry. A lot. Not typically about myself, or on my behalf. If I cry about myself it's because I'm stressed, and I'm very tired; but not because anything bad is actually happening.

I relate really closely to the premise of Inside Out. My emotions are big, and individual, and identifyable, and I feel them; all the time. Because of the size and individuality of my emotions, I connect to emotional narratives really easily. Everything makes me cry. And I'm not sorry about this. Things are meaningful, guys. But not always in the way I expect them to be.

A lot of movies are made to entice emotion out of the viewers. Others are not. For me, this doesn't seem to matter. I cry in a lot of movies that don't necessarily warrant it. The emotional expense, though, warrants me telling you about it. 

I love M. Night Shyamalan so much. I think he presents aspects of the human experience in such a novel way. I totally get that people don't like it. I get it. But if you set aside the fantastical elements, and look at the deeper message, and the unique method of communicating that message, you can't deny the film's value. If you want to talk more about this, because you haven't noticed the underlying messages of The Village or Unbreakable, you just let me know.

So anyway, I'm sitting at home a few weeks ago on a Friday night and trying to decide whether to watch Signs, a movie I love and haven't recently seen, or Center Stage, a movie I love and haven't recently seen. I went with Signs. I was in an M. Night mood, and Signs is just so good.

Mel Gibson (Graham), a minister who has recently renounced his faith, is dealing with the loss of his wife (Colleen). More specifically, this man, whose profession was faith, is wrestling with the meaninglessness of his wife's death and what that means for the rest of his life, how he raises his children, and how he approaches big existential questions. Questions like, what does an alien invasion mean for us and our world? Joaquin (Merrill) has come to live with Graham and help raise his children, played by Rory Culkin (Morgan) and Abilgail Breslin (Bo). As an aside this lead cast's chemistry is out of control.

If you haven't seen this movie in a while, here are some points to remember. If anyone complains about spoilers, please realize that this movie is thirteen years old and you need to get your life together.  Morgan has asthma, Merrill is a failed minor league baseball player, Bo has this weird neurosis where she won't ever drink a full glass of water, but also won't pour out any of her mostly full glasses, and Colleen's last words to Graham were, "swing away." Come to the end of this narrative, the family comes out of hiding in their basement, assuming the alien invasion to have passed. They quickly discover the invasion hasn't passed, but an alien is holding Morgan poised to inject him with whatever toxic substance this particular alien-imagining is known for. The family freezes, trying not to react, and Graham, remember his wife's last words, looks at Merrill - standing beside his record- (and heart breaking) bat, and says, "Merril. Swing away." Merrill looks at his bat and reaches up, removing it from its stand. He steps forward and takes a strong swing at the alien, who angrily recoils, shooting his poison into Morgan's airway. Amid his swinging, Merrill hits one of Bo's many glasses of water that have been left around the living room. The water burns the alien like acid. Merrill pauses and survey's the number of glasses around the room and plans his new water based attack. After being burned a number of times the alien drops Morgan, who is quickly retrieved and rushed out of the house. Graham cries out for Morgan to wake up, all the while praising God that his son has asthma. His lungs had closed in a parasympathetic fear response. He had not ingested the alien's poison, and is revived.

It was a little before this point that I had started to cry. This 'cry' quickly turned to a sob, as Graham came to understand the providence of everything that had just happened. All of these stupid, painful details of their lives had come together to save them from this unimaginable, unforeseeable event. In this moment, Graham comes to see his faith, once again, as valuable.

I'm almost thirty. I, for the most part, do not know what I'm doing. Days are long, but weeks are fast. I'm constantly waiting; largely for what feels like nothing. The faith I've held since I was small, requires much more energy that I have to maintain. I'm just tired. As I watched Graham remember the value of his faith, I remembered the value of mine. My faith, no matter how old, is steady, and reliable. My energy conserve, or adulthood oriented skills don't affect that.

To whatever your faith belongs, whether its God, or goodness, or grace, or the Green Bay Packers, it has value. It has life. And so do you.