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.
The Commitments makes me want to be in a band
You’ve either seen this movie and loved it, or never seen it. Many of you are in the second boat. It’s the story of a bunch of people from Ireland who form a soul band in the early 90s, which is an admittedly oddball premise. But damn, does it make being in a band look fun. Most modern pop music I can’t even fathom what that would be like. I mean, Justin Timberlake’s a super-talented guy, but it’s not a band. He’s an entertainer. It’s a show. This movie is about a band.
I can relate to that. They don’t get along – sometimes they’re literally punching each other seconds before going on stage. They get drunk and make stupid choices. They’re small-time. The never really blow up. But man, when they come together on stage and make something happen, it’s magic. It makes me want to do that, because they’re not so good that I think “I couldn’t do that.” And I’ve been close enough, musically, to know that it’s at least in the realm of possibility if I met the right people and the stars aligned. I watch them doing “Try A Little Tenderness” (link below), and I think, “there’s no earthy reason I couldn’t get there if I tried. I should try harder. Oh damn, is it time take out the trash again?”
Never Let Me Go makes me incredibly grateful to be alive, healthy, and free, all at the same time
I suppose this one is cheating a bit, since it doesn’t actually inspire action as much as it does a feeling, but the action is in the gratefulness. It’s important to step back once in a while and take stock of things from many perspectives. A human life kind of sets the way we think about things – 80 years, give or take, to make whatever changes we can or want. And everything is set to that metronome: days, weeks, months, years. But there are other modes; mountains measure heartbeats by the decade, and by the time you’re finished reading this sentence, your computer will have had a chat with your wireless router more times than you’ll ever talk to your best friend in your entire life.
Anyway. The point is, a lot of our basic, foundational perspectives are based on things that we don’t even question. And we should question them from time to time. And that’s what this movie makes me do. I can’t really go into detail, because like all good movies, the more you know about it going in, the less you’ll think of it when it’s over. Suffice to say that it’s not a movie I talk about a lot, or list among my favorites, but nonetheless, if I’d missed it, I would have been missing out.
Let The Right One In makes me want to befriend someone who doesn’t fit in
I just realized this is another movie I can’t go into detail about, for reasons mentioned above. However, unlike Never Let Me Go, this one is my favorite movie ever (probably) and I will recommend it at the drop of a hat. Just make sure you have the right subtitles, because the DVD version’s are bastardized and – oh my god, do I sound like a pretentious asshole right now.
One of the takeaways from this movie (besides how unbelievably beautiful its cinematography is and oh my god, the soundtrack, and if you can point to two better child actors in a modern movie I’ll point to the hole in your skull from where you suffered a traumatic brain injury) is how so totally I would have done what Oskar did. I would have been the kid to befriend the weird girl. Even if she did turn out to be… slightly more than “weird”.
But aside from gushing about how amazing the movie is, part of its appeal is a personal one: a motivation to make friends with an outcast. Not out of some misguided attempt at charity or to make them normal, but as a basic, practical, logical thought process: 1. It’s hard to make connections with people. 2. It’s even harder if you’re not intrinsically gifted at social situations, or charismatic, or emotionally intuitive, or whatever you want to call the skill set that breeds popular people. 3. If I’m not making an effort, why should I expect anyone else to make an effort for me? It’s pretty much that simple.
Let The Right One In makes me go through that chain of reasoning every time I watch it. And damn, is it worth watching a lot.
By the way… just in case I wasn’t already being a pretentious cliche right now… the book (same title) that it was based on is really, really good as well.
Shakespeare in Love makes me want to buy a green leather jacket
I mean, right?
I guess there was also that thing where it kinda completely won me over in spite of its… you know… mushiness and made me think that tragic, passionate, storybook love was not only better than the real thing, but attainable, somehow, even when it ends badly. Jesus. I blame Tom Stoppard for writing this movie too well, but boy does it play a number on my heartstrings when I watch it. (Which, by design, has not happened in the last 5 years).
Actually, just scratch that. It’s all about the jacket.