So I watched the Oscars on Sunday night, and it got me thinking about movies. I’ve seen a couple of high caliber films in the past few months. Two of them, Little Miss Sunshine, and Stranger than Fiction fell into the thoughtful, quirky, intelligent, feel-good category. Two others, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Pan’s Labyrinth fell into the thoughtful, depressing, going-to-go-shoot-yourself-in-the-parking-lot-afterward category. Guess which category I appreciate more?
As much as I enjoyed the former set of movies, the latter set impressed me more, because I think the fact that “entertainment” can be depressing is a fascinating oxymoron. Being able to arouse joy and depression in movies isn’t the hard part. Shoot, just show me video of a monkey on a unicycle and I’ll be grinning from ear to ear. Put a child with Down syndrome on screen, and you’ll likely elicit a tear from me.
What I find interesting is why I “enjoy” depressing subject matter in movies and television. I think it’s similar to the roller coaster effect-we enjoy roller coasters because it gives us the rush of fear, but without the actual danger. I enjoy depressing cinema and TV because it gives me a rush, but without having to deal with the real circumstances surrounding the depression.
Before you start sending me Paxil in the mail, or try to cancel my Blockbuster card, let me just say that the “depressing rush” is only a part of the reason I enjoy these movies. Dealing with dark subject matter, and not trying to tack on a happy twist is something else I admire about these movies. Life’s dark at times and doesn’t always have happy endings. Any movie that attempts to show this earns my respect, because they didn’t go for the easy, less realistic, rosy picture.
Finally, I’ve become convinced that I must see West Bank Story, the winner for Best Live Action Short Film. Any movie that describes itself as “A little singing, a little dancing, a lot of hummus,” has to be freaking awesome.