Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lately, I've Been Moved

A week or so back on one of our Encore movie channels we get at home, I ran across one of my favorite movies, Beautiful Girls. The Sweet Caroline scene is just awesome, and every time I see it, I want to get together and reminisce with people I've loved through the years. Just watching that movie about a piano player that goes back home for his family reunion turned on my nostalgia button. That movie sort of got me on a movie binge the next few nights.

The next one I caught was... the ending of another all-time favorite, Dead Poets Society. Most reading have likely seen the flick and either love it or are pretty darned blah on it, those have been the two reactions I've gotten. Robin Williams plays William Keating, an English teacher who transforms a bunch of stiff, private-schooled boys with his own passion and frees them to experience life in a different and more lustrous way. Keating, at least to me, is a Christ-figure in the story. When tragedy strikes the school via the suicide of a student, outside forces rail and demand an investigation as to who's at fault. As one student notes, "Schools go down because of things like this." In an effort to find a scapegoat, the administration pins the entire nightmare on the lone Mr. Keating, an innocent save for his part in kindling passion in his students to find a "truer life." The boys most impassioned betray him to school authorities when push comes to shove. Keating takes all the heat for them, and the school itself, never looking down on anyone. Then, in a final rousing scene, the least talkative boy but the one with the most bottled up within, makes the boldest of declarations. Early in the movie, to open up the boys' eyes, Keating had them all ascend his desk and bellow the line from Whitman's famous poem, "O Captain My Captain." In the end, after everything has gone down -- meaning that any student showing favoritism to the condemned Keating faces expulsion (from their world) -- the quiet Tom Anderson (played by a young Ethan Hawke), just as Keating is about to leave class from collecting his personals, shouts out, "Mr. Keating, it wasn't your fault," declaring Keating's innocence, and, "they made us sign." The hard-nosed principal, substituting for Keating for the rest of the term, shouts for Anderson to quiet down and forces him back into his seat. "I know, Tom, I know," forgives Keating. The principal demands Keating's dismissal, and he wears the look of satisfaction as Keating begins to wander out. In one of the most moving scenes I'll ever witness, and filmed perfectly, a dress shoe steps up on the desk seat, and then the camera takes us to Tom spinning atop the desk to face Keating and proclaim, "O Captain My Captain!" Already redeemed from his previous dole existence, Tom redeems himself from his betrayal. Chamber music crescendos as one-by-one three quarters of the class follow suit and aver the same, "O Captain My Captain." Uplifting, tear-jerking, exhilarating. And when Mr. Keating ends the awesome spectacle with a nod and, "Thank you, boys," and as we stare at Tom's figure still standing at attention on his desktop, everything they risked and likely given away seems worth it. Man, what a powerful scene.

The next night, I caught the last half or so of Million Dollar Baby. Notwithstanding the problem I have with how the major characters resolve their issues (i.e. Euthanasia), the father-daughter unconditional love relationship that builds throughout the movie between Frankie (Eastwood) and Maggie (Swank) is priceless. As a father, I want to love like Eastwood does (just not come to the same conclusion at the end). I loved the movie, or at least the first 4/5 of it. Other movies that have really moved me:

The Iron Giant: The giant's Superman-like sacrifice at the end for the town stirs my heart. Just one of the greatest cartoon movies ever. Probably my favorite of all of them. The twisted Kent Mansley is on of my favorite bad guy characters in any movie ever.

Big Fish: Ken mentioned this movie in this post, and I think he loves the larger-than-life aspect of Edward Bloom, a role Ewan McGregor nails, by the way. I really like that aspect, too, but the emotional father-son relationship is key for me. Will Bloom, the son (played by Billy Crudup), genuinely thinks his father has a secret life that he prefers over the one shared with his son and wife, and Will assumes he makes up these unbelievable stories to cover that life. However, when his father dies, Will is surprised to find that all those stories his father shared along the way were at least partially and often mostly true. The revelation happens at the funeral - the giant, the Circus Conductor werewolf, people from the town of Spectre, the Vietnamese twins, they all show up. The way Burton pulls this off is masterful and brings tears to the eyes. What was already a great movie is capped off in perfect fashion.

Lastly, I'll mention Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. I'm neither here nor there about how much of this movie was technically correct or if the crucifixion happened exactly this way. In my opinion, Gibson did enough to have me thinking all movie long just how much the Almighty did for me coming to earth, first as a poor child born to poor parents, then living perfectly, followed by a three-year, Heaven-bent mission that showed and told us how to live, and finally to accomplish the means and ends of this mission to defeat sin, death, and separation from God by submitting Himself to die on a cross. All those feelings, while watching Gibson's depiction of my Savior being beaten, mocked, and nailed... well, from beginning to end, my cinematic experience of watching Passion moved me like nothing ever has and likely never will. I don't even know if it was a great movie, but it was good enough for me.

Sorry for the length of this. I wanted to open up the Comments to anyone else's thoughts on movies, TV shows, or even songs that move them. Don't figure on a lot of takers -- most people probably won't even get this far in the reading, and bless your hearts if you have -- because talking about something that truly moves you is sort of personal. But anyone who has anything to share, I'd love to hear it. Thanks for bearing the load.


16 comments:

codepoke said...

Movie moment I'll never forget (Amusingly enough, I cannot find it on any of the quote sites, but it was the key moment of the movie):

William Wallace is talking to Hamish and the crazy Irishman just before riding to talk to the Bruce, who has already betrayed him once. They are trying to discourage him from probable suicide. Wallace reminds them that they can die, but without a government, the country will be nothing. Finally, he asks,

Wallace: "Do you know what will happen if we don't try?"

Silence

Wallace: "Nothing"

I yelled at the screen 6 or 7 times during the movie, and that was one of them. The cello they play in that movie still plays in my mind a lot.

Amen, Wallace.

Rich said...

Yeah, Braveheart had some good ones.

I got sort of a similar feeling (I imagine) in Gladiator when Maximus removes his helmet and reveals himself to Caesar, stating his good name and just what his plan was. Just gives me chills.

Betsy said...

Shadowlands is one of those movies that really moves me. The love that is shown in that movie is breathtaking.

Also, Les Miserables gets to me. Not just the love that is shown, but the mercy given and the struggle with accepting mercy. Amazing!

The newest version of Pride & Prejudice was also touching, but I am not really sure why. There was love, yes, but there was something else. I need to see it again.

By the way, I am enjoying your blog.

Rich said...

Betsy,

Thanks for the kind words! We always love to hear new voices (and we love the old ones, too).

Also, Les Miserables gets to me. Not just the love that is shown, but the mercy given and the struggle with accepting mercy. Amazing!

Les Miserables - What an awesome story. It's one of my favorite pieces of literature, all 1106 pages of my unabridged, tattered paperback version. I've mentioned before on the blog, I think, that the Alamo was my favorite war story as a kid. The scenes at the barricades in Les Miserables give me those same excited "us against the world" feelings. And combined with Jean Valjean's redemptive story... well, you're right, amazing. None of the Les Mis movies have ever really captured it for me just right, but the (off) broadway musical sure does, and of course, the book.
-- -- --
I haven't seen the latest P&P, but I did really like the A&E version (I think Colin Firth played Darcy in it). Most of Jane Austen's works seem to translate pretty well to movies or TV. Each time her protagonist (whichever one in whichever story) finally "wins" in the end, which usually means she gets the perfect guy for her, you get that lump in your throat and that "aaaaah" feeling from all the tension that had been building to that point.
-- -- --
It was Ken that gave me A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis' memorable struggle with Joy's death laid bare in writing. In his pain, he exemplifies the real agony death often brings. I should know such love. Shadowlands did a great job of bringing that love to life.

Rich said...

I meant to include that Ken gave me A Grief Observed just after my grandfather died, which was the first death in my family that really hit me.

Sorry for the omission.

Scot said...

It is interesting to hear about what movies "move" people rather than movies they "liked". I share common feelings towards several of the ones mentioned (especially Les Mis, the musical and to a lesser degree, the movie. In fact, I've had "One Day More" in my mind this week).
I think we must examine what it is that moves us so. (I sort of talked about this in a previous post, but for me it bears repeating.) Common themes are overcoming struggles, pursuing passions, and fighting for a cause larger than yourself. According to my favorite author, John Eldredge, in his books, Wild at Heart and Captivating, he says that movies like these move us because they address basic questions that men and women have.
The question that haunts a man is: "Do I have what it takes?" When you are faced with the challenge, and the pressure is on, will I rise to the occasion and deliver like a man?
Again, according to Eldredge and his wife, the woman's question is: "Am I lovely? Am I worth fighting for?"
We like putting ourselves in the shoes of the characters and answering a resounding "Yes!" to these questions. They move us because we want the real answer for our lives to be "Yes". I think these questions are embedded by the creator and they can explain a lot about how those around us behave based on their own answer to that question.

codepoke said...

I linked you over on my site, where I explain why that Braveheart scene means so much to me.

I cannot say enough about Les Miserables! I memorized every song on the CD at one point. I'm afraid to watch any of the movies, but every one of the songs can hit me between the eyes. "The Tigers Come at Night" is just crushing. The counterpoint between Javert and Valjean as well, and Javert's suicide.

"Empty Chairs and Empty Tables," though, is too perfect. I don't believe there's ever been a song so perfectly written to bring a man to open weeping.

Go Betsy!

P&S said...

Reserving the right for go-backs, here are my moving movies, in no particular order:

The Breakfast Club - especially when Claire, Molly Ringwald's character, makes herself vulnerable and shows her talent for putting on lipstick and then Bender, Judd Nelson's character, mockingly cuts her to the bone - I feel the blood rush to my ears every time I see it. You'd think I was the one who'd been humiliated.

Pearl Harbor - I know it was panned by many, but this movie does it for me much more than Private Ryan and other WWII movies. I think because it not only shows WWII veterans as unsuspecting kids who were thrust into heroism rather than John Wayne taking the hill, but also because you see how it affected everyone not just the soldiers, sailors, and airmen and how dramatically their everyday lives were changed in an instant. The interplay between Rafe, Danny, and Evelyn and the bar scene after Rafe comes back. Unnhh. Pain. Just a lot of emotions for me in this one.

Say Anything - I could probably list several John Cusack movies, but this one especially punches me in the gut. When Lloyd Dobler gets crapped on by Diane, you can almost see him physically suck up the hurt to move on. And then you learn that she is in even more pain than he is. Watching one hurting person hurt another just seems so real to me.

Big Fish - for the reasons Rich has already mentioned.

Braveheart - This one makes me angry. Every drop of Scotch blood in me just boils and I want to be with the Bruce at Bannockburn.

Sense and Sensibility - What gets me about this one is how people could so easily tell one another about their feelings and for whatever reason (pride, machismo, self-pity, etc) just don't and then live their lives with regret. Elinor Dashwood is similar in some regards to Lloyd Dobler above in her stiff-upper lip mentality. But the scene that does me in is when Edward comes in and Elinor learning that he is not married, can no longer contain her emotion and just loses it. That's when I lose it, too.

Serendipity - The casual way Jonathan Trager and Sara Thomas treat love is so tragic. Though in fairness, it was mostly Sara's doing. I guess this one also hits on the theme of missed (or nearly so) chances and how precious the moments you have are. Features Cusack and Beckinsale who are both in movies above as well.

Much Ado About Nothing - The romance between Hero (Beckinsale again, hmmm) and Claudio is tragic, but it's the unrequited love of Beatrice (Emma Thompson again) and Benedick that really gets me. The scene where they each pick different sides of the fight and immediately regret it is particularly moving to me. A great movie despite Denzel's annoying performance as Don Pedro.

Lastly, a Christmas movie. The original Natalie Wood version of Miracle of 34th street. The whole movie is good, but the scene at the end where Susan jumps out of the car and runs up to not "a" house but "their" house puts a lump in my throat and gives me chills at the same time. And while the faith is misplaced in this movie, I think it shows powerfully what "childlike faith" is all about.

Rich said...

Ken,

Before you wrote your comment, I had been milling around my next Top Ten list in my mind, and I had been thinking Top Ten John Cusack movies. Now, I think I'll have to put that off. But you listed Number 1. I think Say Anything fell off my Blogger profile (likewise did The Breakfast Club) of Favorite Movies because I guess they only let you have so many. But those two were on my list. You just don't see them. I'd prefer to watch either of those to Star Wars (IV), which remains on my list, but oh well.

And yeah, Lloyd Dobler is the man. "I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen." Classic.

Rich said...

Almost forgot to say --

Thanks for the link, Kevin! Much appreciated, and I enjoyed your post.

Betsy said...

Codepoke:

I agree that the musical for Les Mis is amazing. The songs are so powerful. I also really enjoyed the movie with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. It's not quite as good as the musical or the book, but it's very close. You should give it a try.

Rich:

Austen's novels do translate well into movies. But, most of them are missing something; usually depth. The latest P&P is nearly perfect. Each of the characters (minor or major) are dead on. Everything that makes me love the book so much is in the movie. For the first time, I enjoyed the movie just as much as the book. My husband and dad had to be dragged to the movie, but afterward they said it was one of the most well-done movies they had ever seen. It is one of those "beautiful" movies.

Rich said...

Betsy,

I'll definitely see it. My wife's a fan. But it'll probably have to be a rental. Anymore, if it's not a movie we can drag at least our boys to, we're waiting for the rental. I'm glad you've given it an A+. I'm psyched!

P&S said...

Betsy,

Shadowlands is definitely one of my favorites.

And I went out and bought the A&E P&P today!

I knew Rich and Scot would jump on Les Mis, too. I guess you've struck a chord with all of us.

I'd also like to add Secondhand Lions to my list. One of the best and most moving under-the-radar movies I have seen in a while.

Brett said...

Some movies just don't age well. Dead Poets Society is one of them. While it was considered a "serious" film (including its "I'm a serious thespian" performance from Robin Williams), the premise is ridiculous. And every adult in the movie, save Williams' character, is either a coward or a moral cretin (or both). Absurd. The movie has all the seriousness of The Breakfast Club, which is a much better movie, though it - like Dead Poets - essentially lets individuals moving toward young adulthood (the "kids") off the hook in terms of any sort of accountability. Adults get all the blame - in both movies.

The main point I'm making, though, is that Dead Poets Society is just a well-dressed, well-behaved John Hughes film.

The movie from the last few years that took me longest to shake was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's the least showy, most human (and humane) of the Charlie Kaufman movies. It has a fierce, fragile performance from Kate Winslet that should have won her an Oscar. And the themes in the movie, I suspect, resonate with anyone who has ever experienced the disappointment, regret, and frustration that accompany the end of a major relationship.

Another underrated (though generally well-liked) gem is High Fidelity (also a dynamite novel by Nick Hornby). I cannot imagine anyone around my age disliking this movie.

P&S said...

Brett,

I agree with you on the accountability issue with The Breakfast Club and that seems to be a constant theme in many entertainment products be they movies, TV, books, or whatever.

Breakfast Club would also not be on my list of favorite movies. But the scene I mentioned above, and a few others, did force it into my mind when thinking of moving movies.

Regarding High Fidelity, I love Cuscack and I felt Hi-Fi was a passable Cusack film. Though he didn't blaze any new territory for me. But Jack Black is another story altogether. His portrayal of Barry was dead-on. It was as if he knew the role so well that he wasn't even acting. I have rarely seen an actor play such a real role in such a real way.

Their use of top-fives rings true around here as well. And I think makes commentary on our socially thinking.

I must admit I only made it about 30-45 minutes into Eternal Sunshine. So, I'm not sure I can give fair comment on its moveability, I'll have to give it another try.

For what it's worth, I feel your ageability comment about Dead Poets has some merit too. But I can't quite put my finger on what it is. At the time, I found it quite powerful, but the rewatchability (sorry for another -ability) just isn't there for me. I believe this is probably the case with other movies as well. Perhaps that's a later post.

Scot said...

You guys have already mentioned my top stories...Les Mis, Braveheart, Sense and Sensibility, P&P, Shadowlands.
I couldn't even make it through Dead Poet's Society. It just seemed like it was trying to be an
"important" film and just fell flat for me.
Some others, honorable mentions, and classics are:
The Patriot
First Knight
Chariots of Fire (Didn't everone love the slow motion part with the music?)
Gone with the Wind (So depressing, but so compelling)
The Love Letter (Hallmark movie where a man corresponds with a woman across time via an antique desk.)
Tale of Two Cities (1930's version with Ronald Colman)
As far as recent movies go, it won't be a classic or favorite, but I enjoyed Saint Ralph.