Still Looking for “My Movie”
[Before I go to far, let me encourage you to read two remarkable essays describing the event I’m about to discuss. Over at “The Cooler” you’ll find a surprisingly moving account by Jason Bellamy here; and the ever wonderful Sheila O’Malley’s (of The Sheila Variations) companion piece here. Go on, I’ll wait…]
A while back, a group of my favorite film bloggers met up at a party, and, as they stood in a small circle basking in the warm glow of a love equally shared, a magical thing happened. Stephen Boone, a blogger for Capital New York, quietly posed a question that crystallized a moment in time, and focused the minds of his companions as sharply as etched and frozen glass:
“I want to know, from all of you, what movie …” he put his hand over his heart. “is your heart.”
To a normal movie fan, this question seems innocuous enough, prompting most to reply with a quick favorite without really thinking. For a collection of critics, however, the question landed like a brick in the water. For what Stephen was something far deeper than just the title of a movie that meant something to somebody, but the one that each member of the group felt had, in whatever way they chose to define, become bound to their definition of self. It’s the kind of conversation I would have killed to be a part of, but alas, I had to relive the experience vicariously through the writings of others – – all the while kicking myself for feeling like the high school outcast consigned to the uncool table at lunch.
As I read through Jason and Sheila’s recollections, my mind drifted back across the years of my own film experience, and I
As I read through Jason and Sheila’s recollections of those shining moments, not only was I jealous for missing out, but I also began to feel an overpowering sense of sadness. So much so, that by the time I finished Sheila’s piece, I was near tears. It seemed, you see, as if each of these people had discovered, purely through the power of film, some crucial insight into who they were as a person; that the films they described were a touchstone into their very being. As moved as I was by their experience, I found myself feeling somewhat wistful as well, for I realized that, after God knows how many thousands of films seen, I had yet to discover a single movie that most closely defined my own heart. The problem had little to do with lack of choice – there have been many films over the years that I once thought might be a good fit, only to later realize they were a little ‘loose around the shoulders.” To cut to the heart of the mater, I simply have not yet managed to find that place where the “me” I want to know exists.
As a child, I was not exactly the most social kid on the block. I was painfully shy, hyper self-aware, and something of a geek (a trait I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake), in other words, somewhat lacking in self-esteem. I became an avid reader at a very early age, and as a result, came to prefer reading about the exploits of others over going out into the world and having my own. While I did play with the other kids, and achieve a certain level of popularity, I nevertheless felt a keen sense of discomfort over putting myself “out there” for others to see.
When I discovered movies, it only added to my isolation, keeping me inside on Saturday and Sunday mornings basking in the glow of a black and white television as William Powell bantered with Myrna Loy or Clark Gable rescued a histrionic Vivien Leigh from the Atlanta inferno. It was a kind of fear, I guess, and one aspect of its manifestation was a curious form of schizophrenia in which an interior “me” oversaw the actions and behavior of the physical “me.” In a way, I “directed” my life (with a Kubrickian coolness and distance) as if it were a performance. In a perverse twist of psychology, my awareness of my “performance” only increased my unease with my sense of self, making it so I genuinely believed that life would be better, or safer, as long as this artificial self kept the world away from my true heart.
That’s not to say I didn’t step outside the boundaries now and then. Like most kids, I had my heroes – characters plucked from favorite stories or films – and I would try on personalities and traits like clothes I desperately wanted to fit. The characters I initially identified with almost always seemed to be the outsiders – the lone cowboy who saves the town and then rides off alone into the sunset, the honorable fighter for justice, willing to trade his very life in service to the greater good, the misunderstood “monster,” condemned to loneliness in spite of a huge capacity for love . Romanticism aside, these were the characters I felt closest to because each had some element of character that they held onto with an absolute faith of purpose. Regrettably, while each offered a tantalizing glimpse into who it was possible to become, none ever came quite close enough to the exact person I wanted to be.
And so it has remained until this very day. I read and watch, and study fictional characters for additional insights into who I might like to be. Hoping, always hoping, that someday I’ll find that elusive clue that opens the doors of enlightenment, and fuses the two selves within into a single being I would be proud to call my own. In the meantime, while I may not be able to identify the movie of “my heart,” I can say that the thousands of stories that have come thus far have each, in their own way, contributed to the quest; bringing me ever closer to a goal. I look forward with a searcher’s faith that someday, someday, I’ll be able to stand in the presence of my online friends and proudly share the results.