The vast majority of movies are simply entertainment. That’s no knock on them; good, quality storytelling can nourish and provoke us in very real ways. And even ‘bad’ entertainment can still be fun as hell. But there’s a certain class of movie that actually inspires us to action.
Inspiration. It’s a fleeting concept. We all want to be motivated, to be shown an example that shows us the way like a beacon of light. But for most of us, we don’t want to be beat over the head with it. It’s a tricky balance. I wasn’t so enamored with Wanted‘s direct appeal to the audience at the end – “what the hell have you done today, you lazy asshole? Go work out or something.” The heavy-handed approach rarely works; most of us want to be led by example (so it doesn’t feel like we’re actually being led, because of, you know, evolution). We want that shining moment where we see what’s possible, and to yearn for it, but don’t tell us what to do. It’s left to us to actually act.
Whether or not we actually act is another thing. These are five movies that worked on me.
American Beauty makes me want to run and get in shape (for one specific reason)
One of my favorite exchanges from the first season of House was the following:
- [The hospital’s just been bought by billionaire drug mogul Edward Vogler]
- Dr. House: No, I have seen every scary movie ever made. Six-year old twins in front of an elevator with blood. Boys’ choirs. Those are bad omens. This is much more mundane. A billionaire wants to get laid.
- Dr. Wilson: Billionaires buy movie studios to get laid. They buy hospitals to get respect.
- Dr. House: And the reason you want respect…?
- Dr. Wilson: To… get laid.
While it’s certainly more nuanced when you put some deep thought into it, at first blush, it’s an amusing and startlingly accurate idea that if you trace back the desire of everything you do, much of it is for sex. I mean it’s not hard to come up with counter examples. I want to buy a new Xbox… I certainly don’t expect that choice to lead to sex (insert obligatory nerd joke about virginity / loneliness here). But sometimes it creeps up on you.
I mean, I’m writing this column at 10:27 PM on Christmas and I have to be up at 5:30 AM to go to work. Do I want to go to sleep right now? Yes. But instead, I’m writing this, and not 100% because I feel like my highbrow pop culture commentary needs to be expressed to you, my faithful readers. No, I’m afraid an embarrassingly large percentage of that motivation is because that someday, somehow, my writing will impress a woman enough that she’ll have the following conversation with me: “You write for Unreality? No way! That’s my favorite site. I read all your pieces. Your words are so…. penetrating. I never thought of comparing The Muppet Movie to the Industrial Revolution before. Can we have sex now?”
I may be all alone on this. I don’t know. But Lester Burnham got what I’m talking about. All he wanted to do was bang a teenager, and dammit, he went after it with a degree of earnestness that basically carried the movie.
Anyway. American Beauty makes me want to get in shape. And I’m honest enough to admit it has very little to do with health for its own sake.