Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comfort Movies: themes for your next book

copyright, 2012 aaron paul lazar

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, either in books you choose to read or those you write?

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.

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.

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.

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 or books you've read in any fashion. It's a fun exercise!
Visit Aaron's website at Check out his eBooks, print, and audio book selections for Moore Mysteries, Tall Pines Mysteries, and LeGarde Mysteries.

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