Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fate Up Against Your Will

For a couple days last week I had been wanting to rewatch one of my favorite movies, Donnie Darko. So when I had a day off from work yesterday I finally did. And I told myself, "I'm not going to bother to blog about this one." Because anyone who's seen Donnie Darko knows, it's kind of (i.e., VERY) hard to wrap your head around. But when I woke up this morning I decided I was going to give it try anyway.

One of the best things about any work of art is the way it can impact the people who consume it. For some people watching a movie is just something to do to kill time. And that's perfectly fine if that's the way you like to watch movies. But I like to take everything in. Some might call me weird but I think it's entirely possible for a movie to have a profound impact on your life. And Donnie Darko was that movie for me. The universe made a little more sense to me after watching it.

After watching the movie yesterday, I was browsing through the special features and ended up watching the trailer.

Had the trailer been my first exposure to the movie, I don't think I would've felt any urge to see it. It wasn't bad, per se, but there was nothing engaging about it. I actually ended up watching it through sheer randomness. I was hanging out with a friend during the early days of the semester one year, and he mentioned that some of our other friends wanted to watch Donnie Darko. And I ended up sticking around while they watched (like I said, it was the early days of the semester, so I wasn't inundated with homework yet) and by the end I was completely enthralled. I remember going online and trying to find whatever I could to help me understand it more. (By the way, there is an archive of the official site here. It'll wrinkle your brain even more.) I wanted to watch it again so I could try and pick up on things that I missed. To me it was like one big mystery that you were still trying to solve even after all the pieces were laid out in front of you.

It's funny that my introduction to Donnie Darko was through sheer randomness, because that's kind of what the movie's about. How the little things that happen to us can actually impact our lives in a profound way. How getting out of bed at particular moment can actually save your life. How a busted water main can actually lead you to meet the love of your life (whatever that might mean at 16). How words written on a chalk board in school can lead to certain doom. And it also poses the question, if we knew what the future had in store for us, would we still make the same decisions, and take the same actions?

What I love about Donnie Darko aside from its brain wrinkling abilities, is the way it doesn't fall into any one particular genre. It's an existential science fiction movie about young love and troubled youth in upper middle class suburbia that takes place in the 1980s but it's not defined by any one of those things.

This quote, said to Donnie by his therapist, is my favorite bit of dialogue from the movie and is actually the thing that helped shape my perspective of the world.
If the sky were to suddenly open up, there would be no law, there would be no rule. There would only be you and your memories. The choices you've made and the people you've touched.
It just makes so much sense to me. And I feel like it's the kind of philosophy that can help everyone live a better life, regardless of what your faith or beliefs might be.

Or if that's too deep for you we can always close with this gem:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I've Never Felt This Way Before

It's a movie from 1987 that took place in 1963, but there's something about Dirty Dancing that is simply timeless. It has all the elements of good storytelling: romance (complete with a musical montage), the right balance of drama and comedy, and a touch of social commentary. It also had a stellar cast, including Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, and Jerry Orbach. And as a bonus, a hula dance so awkward words don't really do it justice.

But if you're like me, what really sticks out about Dirty Dancing is that it's an excellent coming of age story. (And if you've read any of my previous blog posts, you know I do love a good coming of age story.) While watching a few days ago, I realized that I actually identify with Baby quite a bit. I'm not talking about falling for an older man while on vacation. (That was not a part of my teenage years. It did, however, happen to just about every member of the Baby-Sitters Club.) I'm not even talking about Baby, who was always considered to be the good girl, openly defying her father, although that is something that most teenagers, male or female, can relate to at some point. No, the coming of age story I identify with is one that's far less dramatic, but equally poignant.

We're first introduced to Baby as an idealistic youth. She plans on going to college to study the economics of underdeveloped countries, and when she graduates she wants to join the Peace Corps. During dinner, her parents joke that her leftovers be sent to feed starving children. Baby feels that it's up to her to save the world, and she truly believes it's a task she can accomplish. When Baby finds out that Penny is in trouble, she takes it upon herself to make things right. Despite the fact that she wasn't involved in the situation to begin with. Despite the fact that Penny wasn't particularly nice to her when they first met. Baby still wants to help. Because that's who she is. Altruistic and compassionate.

Baby thinks that all she needs to do to help Penny is talk to Robbie, the jerk that got her in trouble in the first place. It's as simple as that, right? The guy did something wrong, he should be culpable, no? But Robbie simply shrugs the situation off, telling Baby that "some people count, some people don't."

And that is the coming of age moment I was referring to.

As children and teenagers, so many of our heads and hearts are filled with dreams of saving the world. We want to fight global warming. We want to cure diseases. We want to end poverty and put a stop to racism. But when we grow up, something heartbreaking happens. We realize that the real world doesn't seem to mesh with the vision of the world that we painted in our minds. We realize that even if we recycle all our soda bottles it won't end deforestation and even though the civil rights movement has made significant leaps it still has miles to go. We realize that we can stand up for our friends, but that won't prevent other people from being jerks.

But even though Robbie refuses to help, Baby doesn't give up. She finds another way to help. Because that's who she is.

Later on in the movie when Johnny's in trouble, Baby has to take the very difficult step of defending him, even though it means forever changing the way her family sees her. And though she takes this step, she still doesn't save the day. But he assures her it was not for naught, because just the fact that she was willing to stand up for him means a lot to him.

Because even if there are too many problems in the world for us to face, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to face them. We just need to be ready for an uphill battle. And even if we don't win, the fight is still worth something.