I used to blame my parents for my being an English major in college. Ever since I was twelve, when I fell in love with film, I wanted to go to college in LA to study film. But they insisted I go to a liberal arts school and get a degree in English, determined that it would give me a better general background for a career. But in the twelve years since graduation, I have accepted the truth: English and Film are studies of the same thing. When you get down to it, what you study in English is the same thing as what you study in Film: story, character and delivery. Analysis of a book is just like analysis of a film. I was reminded of this recently when I had four totally different film-going experiences, each one a piece of literature in its own right.
The first was Fahrenheit 9/11. Let’s be honest up front and admit that one’s appreciation for this film as art will cut strictly across party lines. That’s no secret. But what this film does do is what great literature can do– ignite something: debate, awareness, political fervor, anything but apathy. There’s nothing visually stunning about it, Fahrenheit 9/11 plays strictly to our emotions, plain and simple. It TRIES to get us angry, upset and motivated. Some call it propaganda, but what art isn’t? What artist is not trying to relate their point of view through their work? How many authors sought to impassion and ignite with their works? Wander through the Current Affairs section of the bookstore and you’ll find ten times the hardcovers with less veiled and sharper commentary than Michael Moore was allowed.
The Bourne Supremacy was next. Here’s the summer popcorn flick, the best-selling beach paperback that can get sand and salt water in the pages and we don’t care. It is what it is. It tries to be flashy, it tries to be deep, but overall, it’s just shiny and forgettable. Everyone talks about it and everyone wants to see it, but for what reason? Escape? I doubt you’d find anyone who goes to see The Bourne Supremacy expecting a deep story and characters you can relate to.
Then there’s Garden State, the third film in my recent odyssey. The debut film from actor/director Zach Braff (from the television series Scrubs), it is a small, quiet, and solid film about one man’s search for himself. Simple and deep, but not pretentious. It carries you along on this guy’s trip back home after his mother has died, only to find himself a stranger in the house he grew up in and desperate to find some meaning for himself. Unlike Fahrenheit 9/11, it’s not in-your-face, and, unlike Bourne Supremacy, this features characters you can actually relate to. We’ve now wandered into the “We Recommend” section of the bookstore: the little-known but much-beloved choices of the bookstore staff, the folks who actually have the time to read.
Finally, a little recent history to wrap up my film fest: Donnie Darko. Released in 2001, Donnie Darko has become a legitimate cult classic among 20- and 30-somethings, for its bizarrely comic story of a borderline schizophrenic suburban teen and his personal battle against his demons. For Donnie Darko’s equivalent, I’ve got to leave Barnes & Noble and head down to some dark bookstore off of Santa Monica in Hollywood. This is where film is beautiful. This is one of those films that you finish watching and just cannot let go of. Fahrenheit 9/11 leaves you the way you came in, just more fired up one way or the other. Nothing really new. Bourne Supremacy gave you what you were looking for: a cool place to spend a hot summer day with a lot of action scenes. Garden State was a nice surprise that made you smile, but you’ve let it go by the time you get to your car. Donnie Darko represents the best of what great film and literature can do: spark that emotional/intellectual/spiritual chord in us, the one that responds to a great story; that need we all have as humans to not be spoon-fed what we need to feel or believe; that burning desire to chew on something and come to our own conclusions; to be challenged, to be trusted with something that doesn’t have a map attached; to be trusted to find our own destination.
This foursome of films not only reminded me of how I continue to use my English degree on a daily basis, but reminded me how I should look at the world for what it is: a collection of vast experiences, a place of opportunities, a place to be challenged and emotionally and intellectually connected. There is no one experience that can sum up a life, just like no one piece of art can embody a medium. We must take it all in and examine and appreciate all the pieces for what they are, collectively and individually.
Don’t let life pass you by.
See a movie.