Sunday, March 28, 2010

Comfort Movies - do your favorite themes end up in your books?

copyright 2010, Aaron Paul Lazar, all rights reserved

Everyone has their favorite comfort food. For some it's mashed potatoes and gravy, for others.. warm from the oven gooey chocolate chip cookies. I love a container of gourmet pistachio ice cream, or a big bowl of cold Bing cherries. But I also crave my "comfort movies" during a family crisis or trauma. After we've survived the latest bump in the road, I need to snuggle into bed with some good food and a big stack of movies.

Of course, the themes in the movies usually reflect those that resonate with me as a writer and human being - and similar ideas often end up in my own books. Does that happen with you?

This week, my mother-in-law (who has lived with us for the past ten years and is a sweetheart), needed two new stents put in her heart. It was a long week, with 13 hour days at the hospital, and three excruciating days of waiting for her to be allowed back home. Everything ended up just fine, but it took its toll on all of us, and when it was all over, I needed my comfort food and movies.

Here are just a few of my favorites, and a cursory list of the themes that appeal to me in them. What are yours?

The English Patient-
Exotic locale, strong characters, forbidden love, unrequited love, the plane crash, the sand storm, the war element, making due in an old, abandoned house and finding a way to accomplish things with very few resources.

To Kill A Mockingbird-
Childhood recaptured, innocence, wrongful persecution of an innocent man, the horrific unfairness of the race issue, extremely strong characters, summertime, father’s incredible example and love, family meals, drama of murdering innocent man, the Halloween scene, Boo.

Shining Through-
War drama, fear of discovery – taut suspense in fish market and basement of house. Running through strange city persecuted by Nazis. (How much more frightening/exciting can that be?) Again, initially unrequited love that is finally realized and heroically so. Good resolution to overall story. Very evil bad guys and gals – surprise that friend isn’t a friend. Heroic rescue under unbelievable circumstances.

Sense and Sensibility-
Long, taut, drawn-out unrequited love with twists and turns that is finally, finally resolved. Local color, family relations, food, countryside, horses. The sweet sadness of the older man who adores the younger woman, finally resolved. Running through beautiful fields in the rain, the drama of the sister nearly dying.

The Game –
Incredibly clever manipulation of one man’s life – the drawing out of his inner sensitivities and true family love through extraordinary experiences that crack the shell of his hard veneer. Going back in time to see father on home movies in his head, the birthday parties, the leap from the roof. History like that is so riveting. Nonstop action.

Frequency –
Father and son reconnecting after loss. So powerful, everyone in the world that’s lost a parent or loved one wants this… needs this. An otherworldly connection through time – so amazing. The smoke burns on the desk. Changing history.  Fascinating.

Double Jeopardy –
Innocent, loving woman set up by vile husband – loses child to him for seven years. Outrage at innocent being convicted, sweet revenge when final retribution accomplished.

Corrina, Corrina –
The poignant pain of father and child losing mother to unknown death. Strong personalities of parents, father’s struggle to recover, child’s affiliation with new, unusual friend who brings both of them out of their depression with candid humor and love. Recover is possible through unexpected means. Defying societal mores in the fifties– black/white relationship is superb. Unexpected musical talents in most surprising people.

While You Were Sleeping –
Intensely different, irreverent, and hysterically funny characters. Unrequited love in beginning, turning even more so when Lucy falls for Jack instead of Peter. Extraordinarily sad, sad, sad scenes of this poor lonely girl who’s lost everyone. Just heartbreaking. Loss, lonliness, need for family, finding family, fear of loss family, holidays alone, bravery in face of great hardship. Dream of Florence, fact that Jack knows her dreams, recognizes, and gives her the snow globe based on this knowledge. 

Big –
Ability to step out of one’s life into another.  The simplicity of childhood. Absolutely priceless. The need to prove to a childhood pal that he was indeed still a child inside was brilliantly felt and executed. And the tender awakenings of love were splendid.

The Green Mile –
Intensely rich characters, unjustly accused innocent, sweet man. Conversation so real. John Coffee is perhaps my favorite character of all time, right up there beside Odd Thomas and Jenner.

Witness -
Gorgeous farming environment, German language sprinkled throughout, intense unrequited love, strong characters, taut action. The harsh ugliness of the urban life clashes so intensely with the purity of the Amish country and family life. Gorgeous cinematography.

Peggy Sue Got Married -
The universal draw of stepping back in time to relive one's childhood - being able to do things over again with the knowledge of an adult and the physique/future of a teenager - was so powerful. Love of family. Being able to visit with grandparents that have passed. Damn, I love this movie...

The Station Agent - 
Finn, Joe, and Olivia...what an unlikely trio of friends, and how deeply evolved each character is. I am crazy about this movie and the characterizations are superb.

Here are a few more of my staple comfort movies:  

Regarding Henry, Forever Young, The Family Man, Dragonfly, The Majestic, Nell, As Good As It Gets, The Birdcage, Don Juan de Marco, The Human Stain, Remains of the Day, Pride & Prejudice, Under the Tuscan Sun.

There are so many more. But now, let me know how you feel about this. What are your comfort movies? List the themes that appeal to you and see if those themes have crept into your work in any fashion. It's a fun exercise!


Kim Smith said...

Never thought of that before but comfort movies is exactly what I do too, Aaron.

Lately, I have fallen in love with funny ones. That does creep into my writing as well, as you have mentioned.

I have developed an addiction to series, for some reason. I love True Blood, and The Office.
For films, it has to be really long ones that I know so well I can recite them. Gone with the Wind and Titanic, and Braveheart and Pearl Harbor.

I guess my common bond is love. Sigh. Such is life!

Elizabeth Saunders said...

While You Were Sleeping is a fave for when I'm feeling down. Also, Pride and Prejudice. I think, getting through the hard times to a happy ending is what attracts me.

Marta Stephens said...

Now you’re talking to my soul! I LOVE a good movie better than anything and you've mentioned several of my favorite too. What I watch depends on my mood though. Some of my favorites that I could watch over and over again are:

"To Have and Have Not" (Give me Boggy any day of the week!) While I'm at it, let's add "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon."

"Practical Magic"
"Pretty Woman"
"Pride and Prejudice”
“Bridget Jones Diary”
“Mr. Brooks”
“About a Boy”
“Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House”
“Lemon Drop Kid”
"When Harry Met Sally" I wore this one out. :)

All Harrison Ford Movies, especially the Jack Ryan series

“The Upside of Anger”

My tastes are pretty diverse. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I’ve watched all the Mummy, Juristic Park, and Star Wars movies (I watched the very first Star Wars movie on opening night at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Now THAT was an experience. There were so many firsts in sound and special effects tried with that movie and to watch it in that historic theater was a treat I treasure! Did I just age myself?).

OMG, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And yes, great movies generate a variety of emotions and those emotions do get translated into my writing. So often, when I see a theme that wows me, I’ll ask the “what if” and see what happens.

s.w. vaughn said...

I'm so glad she came through everything okay (and what a long week it's been for you!).

Jenner? LOL That's awesome! Thank you - it's hard to admit he's one of my all-time favorites too... sounds so terribly egotistical of me.

You're so right about comfort movies. I watched As Good As It Gets for the first time a few months ago, and that totally made my favorite watch-it-over-and-over list. :-) And I'm there with you and Marta on the size of the list... there are sooo many movies I love and will watch multiple times!

Here's a few:

The Crow
Brokeback Mountain
The Dark Crystal
The Breakfast Club
The Iron Giant
The Sixth Sense
Stir of Echoes
My Cousin Vinny
The Karate Kid
Falling Down

I could go on (and on, and on, and on... LOL)

Awesome post, Aaron!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, everyone! You all mentioned more of my faves that I should add to the list! Hope you all have a relaxing evening and talk to you soon!