Monday, September 7, 2015

Good Movies, but Can't Recommend Them

This Labor Day Weekend we've been taking it easy.  We had my niece, Ellora, with us for all of August, which was great fun, but she's back in New York now with her own family and we're getting back into a rhythm of it just being us around here again.  That all gets flipped around soon when Ian leaves for Army stuff out of town and my mom comes to help out, but for a few days we are in our normal state.  It' nice.  We've been experimenting with a new chocolate chip cookie recipe, slowly tackling chores and homework and practicing... and watching movies.

I love to curl up with my family and watch movies.   I love introducing films to my kids that maybe their peers haven't seen but that give them a greater understanding of other references.  At 13, 11, and 8 my kids are old enough that we've been able to expand the range of movies into ones with more mature themes, but Quinn is just young enough that there are still a few things I'd like them to see that we aren't ready to do for movie night yet.

Selecting movies foe everyone remains an interesting challenge.  I don't worry about swearing, I'm okay with occasional sexual references, and with enough warning the kids can handle a certain amount of violence.  Bigger problems for me in older movies are outdated gender roles and racial stereotypes.

For instance, we checked out a couple of Buster Keaton movies recently.  We wanted Ellora to see The General, which is a great movie, and we also checked out one called College that we hadn't seen before.  College had some clever, funny parts.  But in the middle of the movie suddenly the main character is in black face.  I drew the line.  I explained to the kids that it was a different time, and it may look harmless, but the racist implications were not funny to me, and we stopped the film.  We decided the next day to fast forward past that section and did watch the end of the movie, but I couldn't let that sort of reference slide.

A more interesting problem for movie night is when things are too effective, and too good.  I decided the kids were old enough to handle Dead Poets Society, I just warned them it ended sadly.  There is much in the film that is uplifting so the balance makes it easy to watch.  I'd seen it before and was fine to watch it again.

But then there are films I think are great that I don't want to watch again.  We watched one of those this weekend.  Aden had picked out Grave of the Fireflies from the library, and we curled up together to watch it yesterday.  It's a Japanese animated movie from the late 80s, and I don't know where she'd heard of it, but she said she knew it was good but sad.

Oh wow is it sad.  It's beautiful, excellently made, and a powerful anti-war statement, but I can't imagine choosing to sit through that again.  Two children in Japan during World War II who are orphaned and eventually starve to death.  No spoilers there, because they are dead at the beginning and it's all told through flashback.  It's a gorgeous movie.  I should recommend it but I can't.

It got me thinking of other films I can't recommend.  The first such one I can remember is The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover, which came out when I was in college.  It played at the student union and was one of the first movies to get an NC-17 rating because it was too strong for R but not porn enough for X.  It's the only thing that almost caused me to throw up in a movie theater.  I probably don't need to ever see it again because I remember it so vividly, but it's visually unique and a striking bit of storytelling.  Good movie.  I have never been able to recommend it.

Another is Melancholia.  I would understand completely if someone found fault with it, but I found it remarkable.  It's an end of the world story told in an isolated way that leaves out the kind of mass panic you would expect in such a film.  It's quiet, and agonizing, and it wore me out.  There were beautiful images in it I would like to see again, but I just can't.  The end of that movie was so distressing to me I still get upset if I think about it too long.

I told the kids at the end of Grave of the Fireflies that that was saddest animated movie I have ever seen.  I joked we should just top it off with the first ten minutes of Up and call it a day.  The kids wanted to know what movies I've seen that are sadder.  I mentioned that there are some Holocaust films that are up there.  I'm bracing myself to show them Schindler's List one day, because they should see it, but that's another one I haven't seen since I watched it in a theater.

In the meantime, they enjoyed The Jerk, and the only question they had (despite some swearing and sexual references) was "What's a thermos?"  That's a question I can handle.  (And I can watch Steve Martin over and over and over.)


  1. Replies
    1. Huh? I'm pretty calm. I'm just musing about how a movie can be good and still not something you can recommend comfortably. My kids liked Grave of the Fireflies, so I'm glad they can handle sad.

      Unless you are referring to my stopping the movie with the racist bit in it? When those things come up I explain it because they don't have any context for that kind of thing. Good teaching moments, but still doesn't mean I want to sit through certain things myself.

  2. Yes! Melancholia messed me up. Beautiful but never again. Also, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. No thank you.

    1. Oh, I liked Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I just don't know if it was a really strong movie. Melancholia I would put in my top ten list. I am fascinated by the fact that I would put Harold and Maude in that list, too, and that makes me cry every single time, but I can watch it over and over. Maybe because ultimately it's hopeful? Whereas all hope is lost in Melancholia and you're left with nothing.