I rarely go to the movies. By rarely I mean less than once a year. Sometimes years will pass between one movie and the next. Usually, when I go, it’s at the behest of my children.
Sometime in the 1990s, around Silence of the Lambs and Schindler’s List, I reached my fill of movie violence. Both of those were movies I chose not to see despite the rave reviews they received. I think it was about the same time, in my living room, when I saw bodies floating down the Kigali River courtesy of the nightly news. I turned the television off, too. The world is an ugly place and I needed beauty in my life.
Oh, I went to the occasional movie, testing the waters periodically. I saw Tom Hanks in Castaway, which I found insipid. It had been promoted as the new Robinson Crusoe, but in reality bore little resemblance to Daniel DeFoe’s book. When some of the girls I coached told me they were seeing Titanic for the sixth, seventh, or eighth time, I decided I had better see it. Once was more than enough for me. I saw the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice in the theater, but it felt flat to me after watching the BBC version at home. I went to The Lord of the Rings movies, but watched most of the last film through my fingers. I don’t do well with violence.
I decided that I was pretty much done with the movies. I would go for my kids, but little else would oblige me to go.
Then I started to read Jeffrey Overstreet’s book, Through a Screen Darkly. After the first chapter, I felt like King Agrippa before Paul. Paul had boldly spoken to King Agrippa of his conversion to Christianity. While Festus pronounced Paul a lunatic, King Agrippa said, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
After the first chapter of Overstreet’s book, I wanted to say, “In a few pages would you persuade me to be a movie-goer?”
And yet, he would. In paragraphs like this,
I’ve always had a sense that there is another language I once knew, a joy that was mine before I was born. When I get a glimpse of that glory through art, I can feel the memory of it pressing against the back of my mind, and the longing for that peace and resolution wells up inside me….
And in statements like these,
Transforming moments at the movies differ substantially from person to person…
The things that move you will depend, in part, on your own experiences as well as the artist’s own history and personality….
Overstreet reminded me that there were times when I was deeply touched by a movie. I felt like I was being given permission to not necessarily buy into every review and popular opinion of a movie, but to form my own opinions, good or bad, of movies. In the past, when I viewed box office hits like Castaway and Titanic and found them banal, I felt that maybe movie-going wasn’t really for me. The truth is, however, I have had transforming moments via cinema.
The movie that came immediately to mind was Fiddler on the Roof. Maybe it’s that the story is so compelling, but I think it’s more than that. Watching it today, the filming is so 1970s. The filmmakers played with the zoom and telescoping features of the cameras, like new toys, zooming in on Tzeitel’s eyes and telescoping out from Chava as she told Tevye about Fyedka. It didn’t bother me, though, because my heart was too busy breaking for Tevye. I identified so strongly with Tevye, with his plodding life, with his intense love for his family, with his deep faith, that little else mattered in the movie. At the risk of sounding trite, I felt Tevye’s pain.
I also thought of A River Runs Through It, a movie starring Brad Pitt and featuring fly-fishing. Although I can’t tell you exactly what it was (I’ve never gone fly-fishing in my life), there was something about that movie that touched me in a deep place.
The same is true for a movie called A High Wind in Jamaica, from 1965, starring Anthony Quinn. I watched it on television once when I was maybe 12 and got that kicked-in-the-gut feeling. I sort of want to watch it again to figure out why, and I sort of don’t.
My brother once tried to teach me how to golf. I was pretty terrible. No, I was downright awful. I hit the ball well only twice over the course of nine holes. Each time he said to me, “That’s why people come back. That feeling of hitting the ball well is such a good feeling that they want to do it again.”
Not me. I gave up on golf just like I gave up on the movies.
Jeffrey Overstreet reminded that I have experienced golden moments via the silver screen. Maybe I’ll go back and try it again.
First I’ll finish his book.