This will probably not make me popular with some folks…
This will probably not make me popular with some folks…
Once upon a time, I was an Oscars junkie. I loved everything about the evening: the red carpet build up, the opening monologue, the early acting awards, the major technical awards, the best picture nominee clip packages, the musical numbers, the forced pairings, the uneven feel to the entire proceedings. As a movie nerd, the Oscars were my holy grail, because it allowed me to measure my tastes and judgment against the Hollywood elite. More often than not, I found we had different sensibilities, but on those occasions when Oscar and I agreed, I felt like one of the in-crowd, affirmed for my aesthetic perspicacity.
Over the years, Oscar and I have grown apart. Part of it is life situation: being a parent, there aren’t that many nights when you have the energy to trot out to the local multiplex and catch a flick. And even when those nights do come around, finances are an issue. When it costs $25 just to get in, the number of trips to the cinema drops dramatically.
But the real reason I quit going to the movies is because they kind of pushed me to the side.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of cussing and nudity in movies. Even more recently, graphic violence has also turned me off. Even watching the clip package for Django Unchained on last night’s Oscars left me feeling queasy. Maybe it’s my old age. Maybe it’s things like Newtown. Maybe it’s just the fact that I see enough blood and guts in my news feed every day. I don’t know. And while I know that not all movies are slammed full of cussing and nudity and exploding body parts, I know that some of the ones feted as the best of the best last night had plenty of one or the other.
I didn’t see Silver Linings Playbook because multiple friends said that the F-bomb was prevalent. I didn’t see Django because of the violence (and, let’s face it, Tarantinian dialogue is often fraught with choice words). Same with Zero Dark Thirty (even though I enjoyed Bigelow’s Hurt Locker). I didn’t get around to Lincoln because…well, I never got around to it. Life of Pi seemed like a great rental (no offense to Ang Lee and his golden statue). I wanted to see Argo, but got warned off because of language. Les Miserables was a non-starter for me (I don’t really like movie musicals, no matter how awesome it is to see someone as all-around talented as Hugh Jackman). And honestly, no one I knew had even seen Beasts of the Southern Wild or Amour.
I don’t mind the occasional coarse word or two; I get that PG language isn’t always used in real life. And lest you think this is one of those “bash Hollywood as being out of touch with the mainstream of America”, I’ll tell you that I hear and see those words quite prevalently in the everyday language of our younger generation. So it’s not like I’m a prude when it comes to the reality of American speech.
I’m the same way with violence (less so on nudity). I get it as an artistic choice. And I don’t think we need to scrub movies of anything that might be offensive (otherwise, we’d miss out on some fantastic and thought-provoking work).
What I’m saying is that my life and my values make the Oscars an also-ran. What once would have been appointment TV is now a cultural temperature reading at best and an intellectual curiosity at worst. Even if Morgan Freeman hosted, I’d probably only watch it in pieces, flipping back and forth for the big awards. Last night merely confirmed that fact for me.
I’ll be blunt and say I found Seth MacFarlane tedious at best. EW.com’s Owen Gleiberman has a better assessment of his hosting gig (and overall telecast) than I could ever produce, and his note about the broadcast vacillating between snark and sincerity is spot on. I guess for me, the snark took center stage, and for the first time I found it not only unfunny but unpalatable as well.
It would be hypocritical of me to take people to task for their snarky comments when I spent the majority of my time live-tweeting my own attempts at humor and sarcasm during the telecast. I have no problem with sarcasm as a whole; I understand that in our day and age it’s the stock and trade of our popular culture, and some people carry it to the edges. It’s one thing when you’re using snark to push the boundaries of our corporate fuddy-duddiness as a way of encouraging us to relax and laugh more. It’s another thing when you use it as a blade to slice people out of genuine dislike. Last night, I felt like MacFarlane was slinging his blade very wide.
But hey, that’s the point of this post: what someone thought would make for a good Oscars telecast was outside my comfort zone, which just proves that both the Academy and I have changed. We’re no longer simpatico.
And that’s cool. I saw several people bashing on Twitter last night, and while I can agree with the perspective that might have driven some of the tweets, I can’t agree with the tweets themselves. It does no good to lambaste Hollywood with the same snark it lambastes others. Everyone loses.
My three favorite moments were the last three awards: Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln) and Best Picture (Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Grant Heslov – Argo). Each of the winners showed a humanity that was touching; whether it was Lawrence’s unfortunate trip up the stairs, Day-Lewis’ uncharacteristic humor, or Affleck’s barely contained joy, each moment reminded you of what the movies have always represented: the chance to flesh out dreams.
That’s what I miss from the overall Oscars ceremony: the human reminder that dreams can come true, on film and on that awards stage.
Maybe that’s the beginning point of my disconnect with Hollywood: I miss the humanity.
Over the weekend, Rachel got a wild hair of an idea for something she wanted to do with Ella, and asked me what I thought about it.
“Do you think she would like it?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “She might. Of course, she might also get the fool scared out of her.”
“Well, I think she’ll love it,” Rachel said.
I nodded. “Then let’s see what happens.”
Rachel was right – Ella loved it. Loved so much, in fact, that she became obsessed with it over the course of the weekend. It took the arrival of Halloween and the prospect of 7,000 lbs. of candy to actually derail her train of thought. But I fully expect that she’ll be asking for an encore sometime in the future.
What exactly was this magical thing to which we exposed our daughter?
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. You know, the good one from 2005.
Ella loved it, and I was genuinely surprised. I shouldn’t have been, but I was afraid that the story might be a little too slow for her, what with the back and forth between reality and Narnia. I was also concerned that Ella wouldn’t grasp that Narnia was an independent place that existed outside of time and reality (and to be honest, there were a couple of headache-inducing discussions on that topic). So it was with much delight that I watched as my daughter settled into the movie with rapt attention and thoroughly enjoyed it.
And I know she enjoyed it because she asked questions throughout the entire thing. All 3 times she watched it.
I’ve written before of Ella’s movie questioning habits, and how I hope that they lead to a career as a writer or other such weaver of imaginary realms. Her questions with TLTWTW were no less interesting, and a great deal more insightful. With human actors, she was much more empathetic with each character (indeed, she even felt sorry for Edmund at the beginning because he was obviously “a very sad and mean little boy”), and she seemed even more attuned to the nuances of the story.
“Why is it always winter but never Christmas?”
“Why does the White Witch treat Edmund nice?”
“Why does Mr. Tumnus get turned into stone for being good?”
“Why does Santa Claus give them swords and weapons?”
“Will Lucy use her magic stuff to heal everyone?”
But my favorite exchange came at what should’ve been the movie’s climax (and, movie critic hat on for a moment, that this scene is treated a little too mutedly is my biggest gripe with the film). Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia, has voluntarily given himself up as a sacrifice to the Deep Magic of Narnia, in the place of the human traitor Edmund. Brutally beaten by those creatures who serve the White Witch (and a hideous imaginarium of creatures it is), Aslan is finally shaved of his majestic mane, tied down like a helpless house cat, and tossed onto the Stone Table at the feet of the Witch (played by Tilda Swinton with some seriously malicious joy). After gloating over the deposed cat’s figure, the Witch plunges a dagger into the lion with near ecstatic abandon and the great cat’s eyes close in death.
Ella turned to me, her eyes wide with horror, and said, “Daddy, why did Aslan have to die?”
“Because he loved Edmund and was willing to take his place.”
Her eyes rimmed red. “But that’s not fair. Aslan didn’t deserve to die.”
“No he didn’t,” I said, “but that’s what sacrifice is all about.”
“But why did Aslan have to die?”
“To satisfy the law.”
“Just think of it this way, Ella: Aslan is like Jesus, who died for our sins, even though he didn’t deserve to. That’s who Aslan represents: Jesus.”
She went mute for the next few minutes as the story turned. The forces of evil seemed poised to take Narnia for themselves. The forces of good seemed deflated (if still courageous) with the news of Aslan’s death. The opposing armies marched to face each other on the field of battle and suddenly Ella turned to me.
“Is Aslan going to come back to life?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“If Aslan is like Jesus, is he going to come back to life?”
“Just watch and see.”
“Please? Just tell me.”
“Nope,” I said. “You’ll just have to watch and see.”
Now, if you’ve seen the movie, you know that they do a good job of building up the tension to the big reveal: at sunrise, the Stone Table cracks and Aslan does indeed rise from the dead (personally, it was hard for the movie to capture my favorite part of the book; Lewis writes of the resurrected Lion, “There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again), stood Aslan himself” I just love that small detail that communicates so much!).
And as the camera reveals the Living Lion, Ella turns to me and says, “He’s alive, daddy! Just like Jesus!”
Now, plenty of people before and after me will better communicate the importance of Aslan in fiction, and there have certainly been plenty of essayists who have debated whether or not Aslan was really intended to represent the Christian Savior (personally, I say yes). All I can add to the discussion is merely this:
Sitting there, watching one of my childhood’s favorite stories played out onscreen, accompanied by my daughter, I was able to use the magnificence of art and imagination to communicate something deeply held and more deeply felt with my daughter. In a way that my mere words could never do, the character of Aslan told my daughter of the unfathomable love of Jesus for humanity and made that love live inside her heart. Her eyes when she said, “He’s alive, daddy!” were lit in a way that I’ve never seen them before, as if something greater than she’d ever known had taken root inside of her heart.
I won’t tell you that Ella Tebowed right there and made a profession of faith. I won’t even tell you that one glorious moment stuck with her the rest of the weekend (it didn’t; as usual, Ella was more concerned with why the White Witch was such a bad person). But for that one moment, the central truth to which I’ve dedicated my life to proclaim was as clearly and powerfully communicated as I’ve ever seen it. I will never, with mere words of theology or inspiration, accomplish what Lewis’ little fiction did. And as a writer, reader, and father, I couldn’t be more pleased to have shared that moment with Ella.
I’ll end with one of the more famous passages from the entire book. I think it sums up quite nicely some things that many preachers could never say in a lifetime.
“Is–is he a man?” asked Susan.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
I grew up a fan of comic books. Not all comics, mind you – I was specifically into Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Batman. Now, each of those characters had at least two or three titles running monthly, so that meant I accumulated quite a few comics, all assiduously kept in see-through mylar bags, taped just so to prevent any kind of damage from occurring – not because I viewed the books as investments, but because the books were my escape into another world.
My friends and I spent endless hours talking about the books, re-imagining the characters’ exploits, thinking of which ones would be best suited to a movie. Then Tim Burton came along and dropped Batman on us, and the possibilities seemed not only endless, but suddenly achievable.
The imagination of a child is a powerful tool, one that can shape and destroy whole worlds in less time than it takes the average adult to formulate a shopping list for a quick trip to Kroger. I know I often watch my daughter scribble endless doodles on a piece of paper and when I ask her about them, she’s capable of telling me the singular story behind each sketch, each random line. For me, those little lines are a small person trying to grab onto a medium of communication; for her, those same lines are a link to a world far bigger and brighter and more real than the one we inhabit.
It’s that truth, the limitless potential of the unbridled imagination, that makes me such a fan of the recent Marvel Studios releases. I’ve finally caught up on all of them and I have to say: great work, Marvel. I didn’t care about half of these characters when I was a kid (I knew all of them, and mostly knew their origin stories, but I didn’t collect or read them monthly), but as an adult I find that I really like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Each character is different (though honestly, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is easily the most interesting of all them) and the movies have been, in their own ways, both an homage to the fanboys and an entree for the newcomers alike.
That’s why, when I saw this today, I got giddy. Stupid, giggly, out-of-control giddy. I even went so far as to post the link on my Facebook page. And now I’m writing a blog about it.
Because Marvel has distilled the best part of my childhood – the imagination – into a movie that promises to be both smart and silly, fun and intense. In short, for all of the discussions that Pete and I had on the rocks behind his house, or Ashton and I had while riding around in his Grand Am, we now as adults get to behold the fulfillment of some of our most passionate childhood dreams.
And that, my friends, doesn’t happen very often. When it does, you just have to embrace it and enjoy the ride.
So here’s to The Avengers. And to Joss Whedon. And to not screwing up the hopes and dreams of countless children trapped in adult bodies everywhere. Thanks for making at least one or two dreams come true.
It seemed like my post-everyday-goal was going to bite it again this week. Until I came home from the gym. My wife, my beloved, wonderful wife, was lying in bed with the laptop open, cruising the Internet.
“Whatcha looking for?” I asked.
“Breaking Dawn,” she replied.
In fact, double ugh.
I think, of all the books I’ve ever read, the two least likable characters I’ve ever come across are Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. And I’ve read both Lolita and Freedom. Heck, I even liked Ebenezer Scrooge better than the Twilight saga’s main duo. And that’s before Scrooge got the midnight visit from Marley.
I will one day explain why I don’t care for Twilight. The reasons are many. And I know that there are a bajillion fans out there who think it’s the cat’s meow. We will agree to disagree.
Just know, if you live with a Twi-hard, the big day is only a two months away. Breaking Dawn will soon be breaking box office records at a theater near you. Chances are, you’ll help break those records with at your loved one’s insistence.
I suggest Netflix and an iPad…