Nov. 12--The movie "12 Years a Slave" is supposed to be one of the best films of the year. It's a film that teaches us a valuable lesson about our nation's horrific past.
It's also a film I can't bring myself to see.
Surely I'm not the only movie lover fighting this internal battle: You love and even feel enriched by great movies, but the fair amount of ugliness in those movies may be too upsetting. In which case, one starts to ask, "Why would anyone purposely upset him or herself?" Isn't there enough in the present-day real world to upset us? Don't we watch the news?
Maybe the real question is: Can't we admit a film is great while also admitting we don't enjoy it?
Films that rip apart your insides
with emotion aren't supposed to be "enjoyable." Good art is supposed to strike an emotional chord, but that doesn't mean it's pleasant. "Silent Running" and "Old Yeller" taught us that when we were kids.
A month ago, I was horrified to discover one of my 11-year-olds watching "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," starring a young Asa Butterfield from "Ender's Game." The film takes place in a concentration camp and contains one of the most heart-wrenching endings I've ever seen. Moving to turn it off (too late: The last scene was already happening), I asked why she was watching this instead of a benign cartoon or something rated G. It was no big deal, she said -- she'd already seen it once, and it was a great movie.
When I stopped feeling guilty for the psychological damage I'd likely caused my child by letting this film slip through the parental filter, I realized she was right. It was a great movie that taught a valuable lesson -- and I will never it watch again because I've become a big, sissy, softhearted parent.
Things have changed in the 20 years since I fancied myself a pop-culture know-it-all. Back then, living three years in Hollywood among other 20-somethings with sophisticated tastes, I had no problem seeing seriously depressing films, as long as someone somewhere deemed them worthy of being real "art."
The last depressing movie I enjoyed was "Leaving Las Vegas." (While I can say, for example, that "House of Sand and Fog," was a very good movie, it also made me want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head for a couple days after seeing it.) Shortly after watching Nicolas Cage drink himself to death in "Leaving Las Vegas," I became a father and suddenly found myself crying during cellphone commercials.
Well, maybe it wasn't quite that bad. But no longer was it easy to watch child characters suffer during movies. I simply reached a point where life was too short to watch terribly sad movies. I couldn't watch Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, trying to save thousands of Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust in "Schindler's List." I missed Don Cheadle as hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, trying to rescue his country's citizens from genocide, in "Hotel Rwanda." I planned to see Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood in "Million Dollar Baby," until someone let slip the ending.
The post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son's journey in "The Road" wasn't an option either -- reading the book nearly had me in hysterics by the end.
But sometimes the pull of good art is too hard to resist, so I may end up seeing "The Road" after all. I'll just have to retoughen myself and find a way to brace myself for the ending.
Contact Tony Hicks at email@example.com, Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks or Twitter.com/insertfoot.
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