Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pessimism in the Movies and How to Stop It

Okay, I made a big, big, BIG mistake. I watched the movie Blindness. It's one of those disaster-style movies, but these days the disasters, like in The Hot Zone or 28 Days Later, are deadly diseases. This disaster's in the title. For no apparent reason, people start going blind, instantly. So all the blind people are quarantined by the terrified public and helpless medical community. Then it turns into a concentration camp-style movie, where we get to see how depraved people really are. Ugh. Dreadful movie.

But what do you do when you get this garbage in your head? How do erase the images? You watch a better movie, something clever, with humor and style. Watch a movie that you make you glad you watch movies. I have a couple of suggestions: The Young Visiters and My Family and Other Animals. Both of these are charming, funny, but with sincere sympathy for the human being. These are movies about beauty and love.

The Young Visiters is a story written by a young English girl. It recounts the adventures of Mr. Salteena as he falls in love and seeks to win the hand of Miss Ethel. With Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, and Bill Nighy, this Victorian fairy tale pokes fun at English social-climbing. Mr. Salteena knows he must "better" himself, put himself "on the right side of the blanket," to impress the pretty and snobby Miss Ethel. Try as he might, he may never succeed. Presented as a children's story, the film keeps all the innocence of its nine-year-old writer, while sweetly demonstrating the shallowness and injustice of that world.

My Family and Other Animals recounts the biography of Gerald Durrell, a zoologist. His English family relocated to Corfu, a Greek isle, for a short time in his childhood. Young Gerald spends all his time exploring the countryside, collecting a wide and varied zoo of creatures of all kinds. His eccentric family of his widowed mother, two brothers, and his sister all pursue their interests as well. One brother writes, another hunts, and his sister collects boys as Gerald does animals. This all occurs in the brief happy days before World War II, when Greece was invaded by Mussolini's fascists, then the Nazi's, then the Marxists. But what an idyll they spent, of sun washed beaches, warm, welcoming neighbors, and enough adventure for a lifetime.

While it may seem as though I am encouraging movie lovers to watch only sweet, pleasant movies and avoid the harsh reality of gritty truth, make no mistake. Films based on horrific historical events can be amazing and thrilling, while also being compassionate to humanity. And when there are already so many real-life examples of man's horror to his fellow man, why would a movie-maker make up a dreadful, new scenario that demonstrates how evil humans can be to each other? It seems to all be part of a world view, be it pessimistic and hateful or confident and sympathetic. I know which side of that comparison I'm on. Which side are you on?