I used to think I’d grow into a person who goes to the movies a lot. I didn’t go as a young person—only two times, by my memory. Annie was my first in an actual movie theater. My grandmother was visiting and took me, buying me a gigantic box of Dots that were so deliciously sweet my teeth ached. A few years later my father took me to see Rainman. There were no Dots—just the aftermath of an emotional brick thrown into my face as I worked my adolescent self through all the stuff in that movie.
I fell in love with going to the movies in my late twenties. I finally had the money and time to give to really dedicate to movie watching. Together with a friend of mine, I made it my mission to see all the movies nominated for Oscars. I loved how indulgent and arty I felt, being such an expert moviegoer. I even went alone sometimes, unapologetically buying myself the big tub of popcorn and munching away until the salt made my tongue dry.
And then, two things cut my movie attendance to zero. For one, I was too busy with work and building my family. But I also stopped enjoying movies. They got too loud and frightening, too mired in crime and death—impossible car chases, guns and bombs, people blown to bits in the name of a plotline. Even the previews—“trailers,” they’re now called, which I just don’t understand—even those 2-minute clips would make me tremble. Far from enticing me to see the movie, I’d feel nauseous and overwhelmed and turned off. Too much CGI. Noise. Bombs and guns and blood. Death, death, death, and more death.
So I stopped. I didn’t see movies for a long time. I was embarrassed about it, actually, because I thought it revealed a shameful truth about myself—that I was too sensitive, too raw, too open to injury, too unable to shut off my feeling-ness. Other people could do it, after all; they could watch horrific movies and still get up afterwards to go out for a cheeseburger and a beer.
Recently, though, I gave it another go, and I’m so glad I did, because it helped me make sense of why so many movies are so difficult for me to watch
My husband and I had planned a rare night out, but, restricted by crappy weather and bound by time constraints, we decided we’d see a movie. Skimming the listings, we only had one option I thought I could stomach: La La Land. Okay, then. That would be it.
And there it was, once again, in that sweet and lovely movie: The magic of going to the movies, of losing myself in a simple love story in which there is heartbreak and sadness, but it’s actually okay, and I understood why it was okay. Because I wasn’t slammed in the face with murder or betrayal or bad guys; it was just a snapshot of life happening, and it made me think about the choices we make and what we gain and lose by each choice.
I sought a more clearly articulated explanation by perusing movie reviews of La La Land. The best came from Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle (brilliant writer, by the way). Mr. LaSalle said it beautifully, which is why I quote him directly here. He says the movie whispers, and, “What it whispers is not the usual musical thing, or the usual movie message. It’s saying that a very good path in life cuts off another good path, and that every gain in life, however wonderful, comes with a loss. It’s saying that this is what it’s like to be a feeling person, but that being a feeling person is the only way to go through life.”
Being a feeling person is the only way to go through life.
That’s pretty beautiful, no? That makes me feel a lot better about... well, a lot of things.