Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Great Expectations

In typical cinematic fashion, I had an epiphany yesterday—on the subway, while listening to my Broken Heart playlist. I was thinking about my broken heart, and trying to figure out why it’s taking so long to heal. As I was pondering all the greatest romances, the romances that influenced my definition of romance, I realized there wasn’t one real relationship among them—they all exist in a two-dimensional universe: film.

Thus, my epiphany: movies have ruined my life. Books have no doubt added to the damage— Jake and Brett, Catherine and Frederic, Lily and Selden, Catherine and Heathcliff and Romeo and Juliet break my heart every time I re-visit them—but my most vivid connections to fictional romance have been conveyed through film.

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t love movies. My father introduced me to classics like The Godfather, High Noon and Bridge on the River Kwai. My mother introduced me to slapstick comedy—she loves High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein and Airplane! Often it was her reaction—if you know my mom, you can picture her chuckling away—to broad comedies that amused me more than the actual movie. She also loves horror films; I love the fact that while most kids were shielded from scary movies, my mother actually called me into the room to watch Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street with her. If it was cheesy and scary, we watched it. One of her favorite horror films is a cheese-fest called Happy Birthday to Me; in it, there’s a scene in which the killer brutally and hilariously kills her lover by shoving a shish kebob down his throat. This scene cracks my mother up. Her deep appreciation for both smart humor and cheeky horror definitely added to my reverence of film.

However, at some point, my love affair with movies turned on me. I’m not satisfied—in fact, I’m disappointed with—the ordinary and uninspired aspects of everyday life, especially in regard to endings. I crave the drama of movie endings—the theatrics and suspense, the convergence of emotions, the tension of a compelling finale. I want the underdog to win, I want love to conquer all and I want everyone’s lives improved, even though I know life doesn’t function in this manner. I was devastated when the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. New York City had been torn asunder by 9/11, literally and figuratively—how could our home team, the celebrated New York Yankees, not win the World Series? It would have been a storybook ending—a movie ending—that my city deserved.

Thus my lifelong love for movies has become problematic. I always look for the dramatic ending, the grand gesture. I want a life-changing epiphany, a torrential rainstorm, a David vs. Goliath victory. I want star-crossed lovers to reunite. I cannot fathom why my Ex doesn’t show up on my doorstep to declare I am all that matters to her—she was put on this earth to love me—not because I think I’m so fabulous but because it would be so very romantic, like Fred and Holly Golightly in the pouring rain searching for Cat.

Reality is boring, and difficult, and more often than not, sad or disappointing, but not in a poignant, cinematic way. Is it so wrong to want life to be more vivid, more touching, more romantic? Is it too much to ask for a little more drama and a little less heartbreak? After all, in the end, Lassie does come home; Luke, Leia and Han Solo do defeat the Dark Side; Harry does love Sally; Willy is eventually free; Edward does climb up to Vivian; Maverick does prove his worth; Amanda Jones does stand on her own two feet; Diane does fall for Lloyd Dobler; the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess and the criminal do become friends; the St. Elmo’s group does grow up; Dan and Debbie do get back together; Princess Buttercup and Wesley do live happily ever after; Thelma and Louise do find freedom; Red and Andy do reunite in Zihuatanejo; Erin Brockovich does defeat PG&E, Seabiscuit does win the race; and Ennis del Mar does love Jack Twist forever.


ab said...

Your love of movies, as you describe it, is indeed problematic. You're not wrong to want life to be more vivid, touching and romantic. But absent, say, the daily assistance of tricyclics or amphetamine salts, reality's going to go on being a whiny little bitch.

Possible remedy I: Cue up the Bergman. Diminish hope. Exceed expectations.

Possible remedy II: Get off on movies precisely for the fact that they do not represent reality, especially in and around act iii. As a writer and lover of literature, you eschew easily received ideas and Hollywood bow-tie endings. You follow similar instincts on the job. Perhaps movies can just be a place of basic pleasure where, after viewing, the demarcation lines between reality and escape can remain clearly drawn.

Or maybe romantics are, in some essential fashion, pre-wired for perpetual disappointment. Can that be? Ouch.

angem said...

I have to agree with the comment above, the notion that perhaps(constant) exposure to Bergman, Maddin or Louis Malle, say a weekend with nothing to drink but fresh squeezed grapefruit juice might snap you out of the fugue by which you are gripped. I see a bowl of lemons & onions set out as snacks for optimal viewing pleasure. Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't the films you credit your state all made in the U.S.? hmmm. suspect right there. Don't get me wrong, I know you are exposed as anyone to world cinema, but the deep set response you have to film is full of expectation. Expectation that all should be well is truly an American trait. Expectation will only lead us to what is desirable, not plausible, thus your suffering heart.

This comment comes from what some may call a cynical place, true. Your love of film is admirable but we all know how many writers it takes to twist and re-shape and write and re-write for an ending to satisfy producers, test audiences, etc.

I am thinking of a quote by an unknown source: Life is simple, it's just not easy.

The fact that it is of an unknown source is enough for me!

I loved your blog BTW, very thought-provoking. It got me thinking & oddly enough, responding.


Meri Weiss said...

You're both right. I would never tolerate tidy or sappy endings, in my own (or another's) fiction. The blog was a bit hyperbolic; I overstated in order to make a point. For the record, I studied Bergman for an entire gray, wintery semester at Michigan. It was intense, and probably my first true taste of ennui. [Wild Strawberries is my favorite.]

And yes, AM, I referenced American movies, but only because I was (mostly) reflecting upon movies I watched over and over while growing up; I didn't become an international cinephile until college. And while I love/respect many foreign films, I do find that I'm not drawn to them beyond a few viewings, nor do I quote them in everyday life, though the fact they don't get put into circulation on TNT, TBS, HBO, etc., could be to blame. The only exceptions I can think of are Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures and PJ Hogan's Muriel's Wedding, which I LOVE and own (a Kiwi and Aussie are probably not the best examples, actually; they're even more carefree than Americans!).

I am, as you both know, a cynic, but I'm also (unfortunately) a romantic, and perhaps AB is right--disappointment is unavoidable. But maybe film is my elixir, the medium that forces some optimism into my soul?

BTW, the original script for Pretty Woman was called 3,000 (the amount Richard Gere's Edward pays Julia Roberts' Vivian). It was a dark, realistic peek into the life of a Hollywood Blvd hooker. In one scene, Edward literally pushes Vivian out of his car into the street. It was sold to Disney, experts did re-writes, it was re-named Pretty Woman and it made billions. 20 years later, I still quote it on a regular basis; I don't think that'd be true of 3,000. I suppose I just have to appreciate & enjoy the escapism of film, but remember the reality of life.