Sunday, July 15, 2012


When people say “It was like a movie” after experiencing a hurricane, a flood, a lottery win, I want to scream. Movies are like life, not the other way around (unless we're being Cartesian which I don't think is the case). Movies are inspired by real life and real life is all about what exists and actually happens, not what should or might be.  Movies on the other hand are often about what should and might be and that’s one reason we love them.  But life isn't organized into neat thrills like Disneyland, shit happens to all of us. Magic too.  Random events can happen to anyone for no reason. Terrible things sometimes happen to nuns, just as wonderful things can happen to serial killers.  Just deserts are rare in real life, unlike the movies.  
Wailing “How can this be happening to me?” is just plain arrogant.  Why shouldn’t terrible things happen to us?  Terrible things aren’t punishment, neither are good things a reward.  They're just real life.  We like to take credit for good stuff and blame bad stuff on exterior forces.  Like  taking credit for our successes and blaming our failures on our parents.  We comfort and reassure ourselves with unrealistic sayings like: 

    Every cloud has a silver lining
    It’s always darkest before dawn      
    Everything will be all right.       


But in real life everything won’t necessarily be all right.  The idea that there's a rosy plan for everyone’s life and everything happens for a reason is comforting but unlikely.  You only have to watch life in the wild to see that.  But those are animals, you may say.  Well, so are we.  Our thin veneer of civilisation can’t hide the fact that, when nobody’s looking, we are still capable of behaving like the animals we are; our primal instincts are still strong, our basal ganglia still tell our cortex what to do before we wrangle our actions into acceptable behavior. 

Of course reality is not always harsh.  It can sometimes be thrilling.  Seeing the Arc de Triomphe looming through the platane leaves for the first time was thrilling beyond words for me and in no way like a movie.  It was far, far better than a movie because it was the real thing, with Paris sounds and smells and sights and the feel of Paris air on my skin.  None of that can be put in a movie, it can only be suggested.  And that’s why we love movies, for their suggestions of life.  Even when they suggest horror and fear and sadness.  We can walk away from them because that’s all they are, suggestions of reality.  
Unlike life.


Emily Benet said...

We do seem to carry the same old emotional baggage around with us all the time - we should try to check it in more often and enjoy the flight without it!

Enjoy Paris :)

Nora Lumiere said...

I find reality far more interesting than movies and feel sorry for people who think big events are like a movie.
No movie every captured the rapture of Paris!

John L said...

I think comparing life to a movie comes from the fact that most of our lives are not filled with events quite so epic as those in movies. So when something big happens, the only point of reference we have is the movies we've seen.

Also, we like movies with happy endings precisely because so much of life does not have happy endings. We always hope that good things will happen to us, that's what helps us through life. It may be a form of denial, but it's also a survival instinct. We can't go through life thinking "something terrible may happen to me any moment".

Nora Lumiere said...

I agree that movie happy endings help us through life and that we all want good things to happen to us but too many people feel entitled to happiness and don't realise that most people's lives are filled with drama and fear and deprivation.
I think reality lies somewhere between dread and denial.

John L said...

That's true, people brought up on movies & TV often have unrealistic expectations, they want to have the perfect life, perfect career, perfect spouse, perfect children. They don't want to settle for anything less.

More realistic expectations can lead to more happiness at the good things in life. Though we shouldn't stop dreaming either, that's what makes us human.

Nora Lumiere said...

TV presents a distorted concept of perfection and too many people try to imitate it instead of dreaming their own dreams.