An English Major Goes to the Movies
By amapofcalifornia on January 17, 2014
My wife and I had a date tonight. We went out to the movies for the first time in about a year.
It’s not that we don’t love the movies. We enjoy the entire experience, from the popcorn to the previews. For the past three years, however, we have been living in a remote area of the Sonoran Desert where a trip to the movies involved driving three hours round-trip. There actually was a two-screen movie theater in our little town when we first moved there, but it went out of business just a few weeks after our arrival.
In discussing this tonight, my wife and I tried to remember our last excursion to the movies. We decided that it must have been during a long weekend in Laughlin, Nevada in 2012 when we saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in one of the casinos. Now that we’ve returned to “civilization” in northern California, we hope to get back in the swing of attending the cinema.
Tonight we saw Saving Mr. Banks and we both loved it. I particularly enjoyed the period sets that did such a good job of depicting early 1960s Los Angeles. My only complaint was that the frequent flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in rural Australia, while an effective plot device, tended to make the film drag. The repeated shots of palm trees in Queensland seemed to parallel the palm-lined boulevards of L.A. and, for Travers, must have been a trigger for childhood memories. This would also help make sense of Travers’ remarks about preferring rain (typical of her London residence) to the Los Angeles (and Queensland) sunshine. The California climate, coupled with reminders of childhood in the form of Disney stuffed animals and figurines, combined to bring powerful, unpleasant memories to the surface that nearly torpedoed the Mary Poppins project that was the subject of the film.
I know, I should just enjoy the film without being so analytical. This, however, is one of the hazards of having been a college English major. Regardless of the number of years that have gone by since my days on campus, some things stick with you.
Another example of my English major ways reared its head during a recent visit to my parents. They had borrowed a DVD copy of Life of Pi from the public library and enjoyed it so much that they wanted to see it again with us. Although I had not read the Yann Martel novel upon which the film is based, I found myself providing my wife with a running commentary on subtext and symbolism.
Did you notice that the tiger was originally named Thirsty and that when Pi snuck into the Catholic church and drank the holy water on a dare, the priest said “you must be Thirsty?” Talk about identification between two characters!
Did you notice that Pi, a starving vegetarian, was forced to eat a fish, while the tiger, a starving carnivore, was forced to eat the biscuit rations that Pi shared with him? Role reversal! And what about the fact that the vegetarian tried to avoid being eaten by the carnivore while the carnivore depended on the vegetarian for food? This symbiosis seemed to be reflected in Pi’s Hindu beliefs. (Despite dabbling in many faiths, he attributes being saved from starvation to the appearance of the Hindu god Vishnu in the form of a fish.)
Did you notice that Pi was named for a swimming pool (water imagery) and was thrown into one by his father so that he’d learn how to swim, while later Pi was “thrown” into the ocean and similarly had to learn to fend for himself?
By this time, I think my wife had had quite enough of my literary explanations.
Then my niece, a college student, came over to visit and remarked upon how much she enjoyed the movie Pay It Forward.
Did you notice that the teacher was broken in body but whole in spirit while his girlfriend was whole in body but broken in spirit?
Did you notice the Christ imagery in the innocent, pure-hearted boy becoming a sacrificial lamb at the end of the film? Remember the Bible verse about “a little child shall lead them?”
And what of the effort to create a chain of good deeds without end in the midst of the city of sin, painted in broad strokes in the depiction of the tawdry side of the Las Vegas entertainment industry?
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