How the unique power of cinema can help us believe in ourselves.
It was around this time last year that I sat numb from cold and shock at Citi Field and watched my beloved New York Mets lose the World Series. A day later, I finished packing up the rest of my belongings and left the only home I had ever known for the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. It was culture shock to say the least. I had no friends, no job and no idea what to do with my life. I was depressed and I felt alone. And it was here, at one of my lowest moments of my life, that movies found me once again.
I suppose you could call it an on-again off-again relationship. Sometimes I turned to books, other times music, but movies always called me back. Remember that strange rush of romance and heartbreak you felt watching Children of Paradise for the first time? And remember wanting to sing your heart out with Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain? Don’t forget that irresistible thrill of terror you got watching Sorry, Wrong Number. See, thats the thing about these moving pictures, they evoke in us life’s vast cornucopia of emotion. No matter who you are, films remind you of how it feels to be alive. And sometimes merely wanting to be alive is something you can’t take for granted.
The great Roger Ebert once mused on what makes a masterpiece for The Guardian and succinctly summed up the magic of film: “Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us into better people.” This is the unique power of film, to see beyond the comfort of our four walls and to place ourselves in the shoes of others, no matter how uncomfortable. But it extends beyond just empathy, movies can help us see the good hidden in ourselves and their unique magic spell can give us the hope we need to root it out.
As I settled into an unfamiliar new city, I turned to movies to keep me company. A rewatch of Dario Argento’s masterpiece Deep Red sent me down a wonderful giallo rabbit hole. I fell in love with Fassbinder, rediscovered Kurosawa and marveled at Varda. When things felt hopeless, movies helped me get through the day. But this wasn’t the first time I was able to find myself in film. In fact, movies had already saved me once before.
It’s easy enough to say I’ve always known I was queer but it’s the truth. I knew at six, when I was publicly admonished by my mother for staring at another woman’s breasts. I knew at nine, when I shared my first sloppy French kiss with an older female classmate. I knew at eleven that I was just as attracted to girls as I was to the male heartthrobs in my teeny bopper magazines. I always knew. But what I also knew, was that I couldn’t tell anyone. I was already too different, I couldn’t risk sticking out even more. I was too scared to be considered unacceptable.
I can’t quite describe the feeling of seeing Jodie Foster in Candleshoe and recognizing a part of myself on the screen. During junior high, I struggled to identify with most of the girls my age. I never felt pretty or popular enough. I dreamt about playing for the New York Knicks while my classmates gushed over 90210. But here was Jodie with a boyish haircut and a distaste for dresses, my skater jeans and Airwalks not much of a far cry from her bell-bottoms and Converse. Though her character struggled with the moral quandry of duping old Helen Hayes for pirate gold, she never doubted who she was. And she never once felt inferior for being different. As a suicidal young teenager, seeing someone like me on screen gave me the hope I needed to keep going. If Jodie could be cool, maybe I could be too. If she had grown up and figured it out, why couldn’t I?
There’s a running joke amongst critics that you can never think about all of the films you haven’t seen or you’ll go crazy. For me though, the thought of that endless list is like a salve for my anxiety. Whenever I feel alone, whenever life hurts too much or whenever I need a laugh, I’ll always have films to help me remember why this all too short life is worth relishing in every season.