Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Situation Room

Shortly before the Academy Awards, I was channeling my inner Roger Ebert and sharing my thoughts on many of the movies I had seen during my annual movie blitz before the Oscar Derby rolled around and I lost again. My emails went something like this:

Changeling - Liked Angelina Jolie more than I expected to, but it was depressing.

Milk - Sean Penn was amazing. He was so uplifting, but this world as so far to go, it still seemed depressing.

Doubt - Amazing. And depressing.

Rachel Getting Married - Anne Hathaway surprised me in a good way, but wow. Depressing.

Revolutionary Road - Holy unbelievably depressing movie, Batman. Saw this right after 'Rachel Getting Married' and wow. And ugh. I need to find a happy place, stat.

Duchess - Beautiful costume drama. Depressing circumstances. Life, I guess.

Wrestler - Micky Rourke. Great character who wanted to be different but really only knew how to live a self-destructing life. Depressing.

On and on it went. It seemed to me that the 2009 Oscars had found its theme, and it needed to be sponsored by Prozac. One of the few films I saw that was definitely NOT depressing was Happy Go Lucky, a film about a woman who is happy. And go-lucky. ALL THE TIME. To be completely honest, I sat through more than half of the film utterly confused and wondering what on earth was wrong with her before I broke my "no reading reviews until the movie is done" rule and went in desperation to find out what I was missing.

What I was missing was the utterly foreign concept that she was happy. All the time. It didn't what the situation was, she always maintained a happy-go-lucky demeanor. Critics praised her for deftly pulling off a difficult, seemingly one-sided role. Despite the fact that I misinterpreted "happy" for "certifiably insane", once I looked at it through wiser and more objective eyes, I had to agree.

Looking back on the other films, I discovered that while I was mired in the sea of cinematic depression, I had missed an important character trait that existed in all these movies, and that was strength. These films featured characters that portrayed many different aspects of strength: physical strength, strength of conviction, strength to fight the system, strength to carry on despite the rules of the prevailing culture, strength to want to fight for a better life.

On first viewing, I missed this nearly every single time, because I was so focused on the situation. In most of these films, the result was not a happy ending, and oftentimes there was no discernible ending at all. The meek did not inherit the earth, the underdog did not miraculously emerge as victor and the tortoise, who may have been still pushing along, had long since lost the race by the time the credits rolled. Depressing, right?

It's easy to get lost in the tangled web of circumstance and lose sight of the bigger picture. Every situation, be it good or bad, is only one of the many thousands of scenes we will experience in our lifetime. The question is, do we let situations define our character, or do we recognize our strength of character and let that work to define, refine and even change our situation?

I'm not anywhere near enough of a cock-eyed optimist to believe that a simple attitude adjustment will turn everything from cloudy skies to sunshiny days. Whether it be in film, literature or one of the local newspapers that has not yet folded, at the moment there are plenty of situations that can only be described as depressing. It's so much easier to sit back and moan and wish for the good old days (which frankly, really weren't good old days either. They were just old days when we were complaining about something else). But rather than paint our current situation with a big black brush of depression, how much better would it be to live and recognize our own strength of character? If life is an ongoing story, a happily-ever-after ending might be nice, but isn't realistic and isn't even necessary. All that's really required is to recognize the strength we already possess, and use that to define our character and change the scene.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent points. The Oscars seem to have a deep and abiding love for films about people who start unhappy and become much, much unhappier (and that are released in December or January).
But you're right - they tend to be stories about people trying to deal with what has happened to them - often times through their own mistakes.
And if they learn a valuable lesson along the way...