Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

Strong women (2 movies)

December 30, 2008

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4monthslrg1The impact (on me) of these 2 movies about women with forceful personalities was huge. I just happened to see them back-to-back and feel compelled to write this note. The first movie is Happy-Go-Lucky, and the main character, Poppy, is a very determined young woman who insists on a “glass-half-full” approach to life and people. The second movie is 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, and its main character, Gabita, is also determined — not to accentuate the positive, but to assert her honest and powerful sense of self in a harsh world (1987 Romania).  Both characters border on being irritating at times, yet I came away admiring them. You may not agree with the choices Poppy makes; and you surely won’t agree with some of Gabita’s decisions.  But you will not soon forget either one.  Warning: while the first movie is a pleasure to watch, the second is very disturbing (it graphically shows an illegal abortion, and many of the scenes will make you extremely uncomfortable).

The opposite of Happy-Well, in movies and in life

May 25, 2008

I just watched the movie that won Best Picture of 2007: No Country for Old Men.” I also watched another big movie this week: “There Will be Blood.” What do these very dark and pessimistic movies have to do with this blog, which is focused on how to be happy and well? Well, as I wrote previously (Life and death in the movies), good and bad, life and death, are two sides of the same coin. In Aging Well, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant did not find that people who aged well had especially charmed lives free of stress and tragedy; rather, they were able to look at the glass of life as half-full rather than half-empty. They experienced deprivation and loss, but managed somehow to look at the positives. At the same time, denial of reality does not help one attain happiness and that is not what he is recommending. Nor am I.

Dark movies about evil people can jar us out of complacency and challenge us to dig deep to find something positive to hope for. In the case of both of these grim movies, one can come away appreciative that it was a movie, and not our own life. Depictions of evil, if done artistically and with a certain amount of irony, can themselves show goodness, in a paradoxical way.

I had not planned this, but it seems I will use movies to generate thoughts and feelings about life and viewing the glass as half-full. I love movies, and probably have seen 20 or 30 per year for the last 5 decades. (I have also read hundreds of books, but I find movies easier to use in discussion — partly because more people have seen them than may have read a particular book.) Some movies grab us intensely in a brief time, and that can be a powerful experience.

Disturbing movies can shake us and challenge us in a way that mostly happy movies do not (I loved “Juno” and “Enchanted,” for example, but did not feel particularly challenged by them). Other movies present a balanced view of good and evil, and affirm the better sides of our nature, while still challenging us with tragedy and loss (for example, the movies I discussed in my previous post).

Which other movies capture the hopefulness of positive attitudes in the face of adversity, loss, or despair?  Several come to mind immediately: “The Band’s Visit,” “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor,” “Walk on Water,”  and “Once.” I risk making enemies when I praise specific movies, because we all have such unique taste.

Of course, movies cannot really capture the stark contrasts of dark and light that most of us experience in real life. As a psychiatrist for many decades, as well as a person living a complex life, I have experienced tragedy and loss up close and very personal. But movies can be shared and discussed and can illustrate the kinds of profound dilemmas we experience in real life.

And some movies can help us “reframe” an event or response in a more positive way, or a way with more potential for hope, as described in Weight Management for Your Life:

When we consciously look at a glass as half full rather than half empty, we are doing what many therapists teach their patients to do: using willpower to reframe, or change a negative way of looking at a problem into one with positive features. This does not mean we should automatically tell a person who just lost a loved one, “Be happy, s/he is in a better place!” Usually, reframing is most useful when applied to our own situation. It should be done intelligently and sensitively, and the rule of thumb here is to reframe in a positive way unless there is a good reason not to. That is, do not use reframing as a way of putting on rose-colored glasses in order to deny or distort reality. A successful reframe is both potentially true (factual, realistic) and positive. “Half full” and “half empty” are both true, but only one is positive.

Life and death in the movies

May 23, 2008

I watched 3 movies in the past few weeks which deal with the essence of living and dying. The first was “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” based on the autobiography of Jean-Dominique Bauby who was completely paralyzed from a stroke but survived long enough to write a book by blinking one eye. The movie certainly confronts the viewer with questions about the meaning of life. To me, it emphasized the importance of communication and creativity. It also showed how important compassion can be. The second movie was “The Savages,” a work of fiction about a family (mainly a brother and sister) dealing with the declilne and death of their father, who was not a very positive force in their lives. To me, this movie also explored the meaning of life and the relevance of compassion.

Finally, I watched “Into the Wild,” based on the true story of a young man who leaves his parents and sister to strike out on his own, without money or attachments. I felt I was confronting the very essence of what it means to be alive and was, once again, impressed with the compassion shown by various individuals. I recommend all 3 of these movies.

I believe that, in order to fully live life and find some measure of happiness and emotional well being, one must in some way confront the inevitability and finality of death, including one’s own mortality. Hopefully, by so doing, one learns the importance of caring for oneself and others and also learns to give and receive compassion.