I have issues with popcorn. I can’t eat it one puffy kernel at a time, but am somehow compelled to cram it in my mouth as though stopping a hole in the Hoover Dam. It squeaks and groans as I shove, like the sound of a fat man climbing into a bathtub.
The other day I was doing just that while waiting for the feature to start at our local Cineplex. I enjoy the previews, sometimes getting so engrossed I forget what I actually paid to see. I was struck by the theme of so many of the upcoming movies, portraying what is called a “Dystopian Future,” a term so oft-used it’s cliché. The previews were for the latest Star Wars and Hunger Games movies. Why do we insist our future will be nightmarish and dominated by totalitarian regimes? Why all the pessimism?
And judging by the fact there are multiple sequels and pre-sequels (whatever those are) for each franchise, we really can’t get enough of picturing a future where we have to fight tooth and nail against the indifferent, limitlessly wealthy and technologically superior “Man.”
A few weeks later, I was lucky enough to be back for another feature. This time, all the previews were for movies about the unfeeling violence of the natural world. The first, Everest, was about how mountains are deadly. The second, The 33, was about the famed trapped Chilean miners and how being under the Earth’s crust is deadly. And the third, The Finest Hour, was about how the ocean is deadly.
Add to that all the movies about deadly tsunamis, earthquakes, fires and tornadoes and we’ve got it coming from Mother Nature one way or another.
Cormac McCarthy, who has had several books made into movies, believes mankind will not be destroyed by a single apocalyptic event, but by many individual acts of violence. How’s that for pessimistic? If you’ve seen The Road, No Country For Old Men, or The Counselor, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Even “good” characters in McCarthy’s world and their best intentions are no match for the evil lurking in the hearts of every other living being.
Geez, lighten up, already!
The only favorable popular view of our future is The Jetsons, presenting a utopian world in which the worst happenings are humorous tech malfunctions and yet another tirade by George Jetson’s boss, Cosmo Spacely, the buffoonish owner of Spacely Space Sprockets.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the world is egregiously horrific a lot of the time. The international refugee crisis and seemingly unending wars are bad enough, but they are happening on the other side of the planet and therefore somewhat unreal. I saw a chart today that said America has had 944 mass shootings, in which four or more people are shot, in the past 1,004 days. That’s nearly one a day and pretty close to home. A bunch of them happened in Florida. The fact seemed so unreal to me, I actually thought someone made it up.
All this negativity made me wonder if people would be interested in a book (and eventually a movie if all goes well) with a generally sunny outlook. Sure, some bad things can happen, but in the end there’s hope and genuine heart-swelling optimism. I am wracking my brain to think of another (good) book so unabashedly positive. Let alone a movie. At least one that wasn’t on the Hallmark channel.
Years ago, after high school one day I saw a weird film at my buddy Dave’s house in which a beautiful woman is disfigured in a car crash and has facial reconstructive surgery using skin grafts from her woman parts. I don’t remember anything about the film other than that brief synopsis and the title, Why Me? And I only remember that because for several months afterward Dave would periodically look at me and mournfully cry, “Why me?”
Dave still does this sometimes and it’s been more than 30 years since we saw the film. Such is the power of cinema to shape our lives.
One place you can still find an unabashedly cheerful view of life is in commercials for Apple products. I used to worry that my life wasn’t enough like a beer commercial and I was missing out on something, but Apple has provided a new barometer for how well my life is going. The people in ads for iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads are hip, successful looking, happy and also appear to be well showered. They’re not gorgeous, but they radiate goodness and health. They go on bike rides, visit pristine waterfalls and they end their days enjoying rooftop parties in pollution-free cities.
I really feel like I’ve made it if I have a photo on my iPhone that looks like it could be part of an Apple ad.
So, who’s closer to the truth, movie studios or advertising agencies? Well, both want something from us (attention and money, but mostly money) and both are acutely tuned to our most base desires, yet they are world’s apart in terms of how they attempt to capture our interest.
Today my oldest child Finley turned 12. A friend gave him a copy of the popular video war game, Call of Duty. I was conflicted about this. When I was 12 I would’ve loved a game like that. Instead, my friends and I spent hours running around the neighborhood and surrounding woods pretending we were at war. Since, I’ve grown to understand war’s true costs and despise it. But I still enjoy a good war film.
What’s going on there? Is the enjoyment of conflict and violence as entertainment necessarily the same as condoning it in real life? Can you abhor killing but still like watching movies in which it’s featured?
It’s only a few weeks until the release of the latest Bond film, Spectre —an event I am genuinely jazzed up for. I likely won’t worry too much about my moral conflict when I watch it. Cramming my face with popcorn, of course.