I was talking with a friend the other day and the subject of things (movies, books, people, etc.) that have helped define us came up. I usually paddle around in the shallow end but sometimes, every once in a while, I like to take a dive into the deep end of my pool. I thought about it and came up with these three movies. I’m sure there’s more, I’ll probably think of 2 or 3 as soon as I hit the publish button, but for now I’m sharing these three. SPOILER ALERT: I talk about these movies, so if you want to see them and haven’t yet, don’t read!
Star Wars: Don’t laugh you cynical young people, I was 8 when this came out and it changed my perception of the universe. I’m too young for the moon landing and when I sat in that theater and saw the big space ship go by…well, the look on my face was probably a classic. I don’t think I moved the entire movie, I was so overwhelmed with feelings I wasn’t sure I liked.
At first the movie scared me, took me out of my comfortable little world (which I still live in), and introduced me to worlds I wasn’t sure were real or not. I was only 8. Having walking, talking, rolling robots was one thing, but the scene in the bar, with all the different creatures, talk about a little kid mind blowing experience. By the end I despised Darth Vader and jumped up and down with the rest of the crowd when the Death Star blew up.
I wasn’t scared enough to stay away though and I’m not sure scared is the right term. Maybe Star Wars made me peek outside my comfort zone and it made me very uncomfortable. Not so uncomfortable I didn’t go back 9 more times to see it in the theater. And by my second viewing the crowds came out in droves. I remember Mom dropping me and my older brother, Eric, off around the block so we could stand in line to see a movie we’d already seen several times. You have to hand it to Mom’s, they make life worth living.
I did go and see the other two movies, when they came out, but they didn’t have the same impact. It was a “been there, done that” experience. I enjoyed the second and third installments (or #5 & 6 depending on how serious a person you are) but I was older and my mind had already been blown.
Aliens: When the first Alien came out, I was too young to go see it. As a matter of fact, my Mom insisted I wait until I was 17 to see R rated movies. Yeah, that lasted until my Grammy got a new thing called HBO! She didn’t care quite as much about damaging the psyche of impressionable youths. I spent a lot of time with my Grammy.
So, I never saw Alien until years later; but when Aliens came out, I grabbed my BFF and we went to see it one night. I want you to realize what a big deal this was for me: I was scared of my own shadow. I had lived a relatively sheltered life and only saw puppies and rainbows. I still don’t like to watch scary movies, but I went because I knew my friends would all see it and I wanted to be able to talk about it. I swear I’m tough.
This movie came out in 1986, so I was nearing the end of my teens, but the effect it had on my worldview was startling. I grew up watching women being either victims or sex objects. I had never really seen an intelligent, deceptively brave woman capable of leading a group of marines to safety. I’m sure there were some out there, they just all seemed to be in the R rated movies I wasn’t allowed to see. At least I hope they were.
I loved the fact that Ripley didn’t want to go back out there…who in their right mind would? She knew exactly what she was up against and didn’t want to do that, no way, Jose. But she went anyway, putting her fear, not only aside, but putting it in a glass jar and facing it down so she could get through just one more night.
When Ripley took matters into her own hands, to get the surviving Marines out, I got very excited. Look! I see a strong woman who smashed through walls so she can rescue people she doesn’t even know. For the first time, this may sound silly, but I realized I too can do or be whatever I wanted to be. I don’t have to be the woman who runs screaming through the woods, only to trip and be devoured by the monster. I could be the woman who saves the day. It’s never come up, but if it does, I’ll be ready. Unless it’s dark, then forget it.
This movie was also the first time I realized how much can be said without saying anything at all. The scene, towards the end, where Ripley carries Newt into the room with the Mother Alien; nothing was said, yet that scene, with just looks and head movement, moved me almost as much as when Ripley yelled, “get away from her, you b!$ch!” Which, if you’re keeping score, is only the second time in my life I have cheered during a movie; I have clapped several times after a movie but only cheered during Star Wars and Aliens.
I carried around the character of Ripley in my heart for many years. If I was clever, which I’m mostly not, but if I were I might have created the slogan: What Would Ripley Do?, instead of the Jesus followers. I still admire the character of Ripley: strong, stable, not a screamer, intelligent, realistic, and will kill an acid blooded alien without batting an eye.
American Beauty: This came out in 1999 and I don’t believe I watched it in the theater. I’m pretty sure I rented this one at a quaint little place called Blockbuster back in the day. I’m also pretty sure I didn’t like it the first time I saw it. Hey, Kevin Spacey’s dead already and we’re not even 10 minutes into the film! I don’t like knowing the end at the beginning. And somebody grab that trash floating about and throw it in the garbage can!
But there was something about the movie that made me think about it for several months before I rented it again. The second time I watched it I saw much more than I remembered seeing the first time. Nothing was as it seemed; which thrilled me to no end. Everything was based on people’s perceptions and what they wanted you to see.
Chris Cooper, one of my favorite actors, plays the weird boy’s dad who surrounds and cloaks himself with his Nazi memorabilia, homophobia, tough guy act when he really just wants to get a little Kevin Spacey action. This movie made me realize how important it is to be true to yourself. American Beauty showed me how one man was not true to himself, went out of his way to be an over the top homophobe, and destroyed every life he touched. Just because he was afraid of himself.