When things (films) aren’t what they seem

Films should come with warnings.  Other than the ones they already do I mean.

It’s all very well packaging them up and stamping “Strong language!” or “Violence!” or “Scenes of nudity!” across the back but what I want to know is: Is this film going to mess with my head? Am I in the right frame of mind to watch this? Is this film going to be a waste of two hours? Will it be what I expect or is it going to catch me unawares?!

Allow me to explain.

We watch a fair few movies Chris and I, and because I consider him to be “In the know” about such things, I always defer to him when it comes to guessing what a film might be about.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these people who needs to know every twist and turn before I commit to watching something, or who watches trailers beforehand and therefore can anticipate almost everything that is going to happen in the full length feature.  All I need is just a vague idea of what topics the film will cover, so I know if my head is in the right space for it.

Usually Chris is spot on, he doesn’t often use traditional film categories such as “Rom Com” unless, you know, it is a romantic comedy, but he might give me a sentence or two that helps me to decide “Great, let’s give it a watch!” or “Not today thanks”.

Sometimes he doesn’t know much himself, so he’ll make educated guesses based on what little he can piece together.  And sometimes, just sometimes, he drops the ball and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic.

Around the time of the anniversary of my Dad’s death I had my second miscarriage, and given both these factors I was feeling somewhat fragile mentally speaking.  We settled down together to watch a film but couldn’t decided on one.  “I don’t care” I said, not wanting to waste anymore time choosing “Just so long as it isn’t horror. I can’t be doing with horror right now.”

Chris put on “After.Life”  Have any of you seen this film? Chris thought it was a drama based in a funeral home. I’ll give you a clue, it’s not a drama. Although it is set in a funeral home.  It’s pretty much a horror movie. It didn’t take us long to find this out and after I admonished him about his false advertising Chris offered to turn it off so we could watch something that wouldn’t cause me to have a mental breakdown.  But I felt committed at that point (And no, I don’t mean in the straight-jacket sense, although…)

On another occasion I ended up watching “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” which I think Chris sold to me as a “coming of age” film. Again- for those of you who have seen Scott Pilgrim vs The World, I do not need to explain that this is perhaps not the most helpful and/or accurate description. And for those of you who know me, I do not need to explain that it is not my kind of film, at all. Really, what he should have said was “This is primarily a movie for guys or girls who like comics, with a certain sense of humour…not your sense of humour” but no matter.  I will confess there were aspects to it that I enjoyed, and you know, in the interests of being a well-rounded individual it’s always good to try something new and step out of your comfort zone…right?!

The evening we settled down to watch “Tyrannosaur” really takes the biscuit though.  I’d not long had Rudy and still had that New Mama vulnerability, we weren’t getting much sleep, or time together, and in fact if I recall correctly it was possibly the first or at least one of the first films we watched after his birth. Bad bad choice.  Great film. Oh there’s no question about that.  Fucking fantastic.  But it was the single most depressing experience of my life to date.  I’m not exaggerating.  Although I do sometimes like to, for comic purposes.  But in this instance, I am not stretching the truth in the slightest when I tell you I was actually traumatised, for days afterwards. Only this time, we both were.  We’d known the film dealt with some difficult subjects, and that it was going to be bleak, but we weren’t at all prepared for just how bleak.

After that Chris stepped up his game.  When “Shutter Island” plopped on to our doormat courtesy of Love Film, Chris swept it up and like I was a child placed immediately on the highest bookshelf “You should NOT watch that in your current state of mind!” he said definitively. I was both taken aback and grateful, and asked him never to tell me why, because like many any avid reader before me, my imagination is a million times more effective than any screenplay.  He even managed to avert film-crises  without being actually physically present.  One night he was working and I wanted some light viewing, just something to be on in the background really, that I could enjoy but that wouldn’t tax me and most importantly would fill the silence.  When I lived alone, which I did for over three years before I met Chris, silence never bothered me.  These days it’s so foreign, I can only appreciate it in short bursts, anything longer than an hour feels alien and puts me on edge.

I scrolled through Love Film and came across something filed under “Romance” starring Kirsten Dunst.  Only when the credits started, I got this feeling that something wasn’t quite right…and then there was that name…Lars Von Trier.  Hadn’t I heard of that guy before? Suddenly I had a flashback to a conversation Chris and I had years before, when he’d come back from a nightshift at work telling me about some godawful film he’d been forced to watch, he’d described the main storyline to me and I’d been so traumatised by his description I’d put my hands over my ears and “La la la”‘d until he STFU.  Well that film was “Antichrist” and the director? You guessed it.  Lars Von Trier.  The very same.  I swear I’ve never lunged for the remote so fast in my life.  Still shaken from my close encounter with something that might have unravelled my tiny little brain and scarred me for life, I consulted our DVD collection and soothed myself with “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”.  Exactly the kind of thing I’d been looking for.  Sorry Lars Von Trier, I just don’t need your fucked-up-shit in my life.

So all this brings me to Sunday night.  We couldn’t decide how to spend our precious “one evening off together” but eventually settled on watching Looper, and drinking rum.  A fine choice.  Those who haven’t seen Looper should stop reading now.

I was struggling with the time travel thing but enjoying what I could follow of the story, then before either of us could really register what was happening Bruce Willis was stood pointing a gun at a small child. “IS HE GOING TO SHOOT THAT KID?!” I yelled at Chris, who was sitting right next to me “Looks like it” Chris said and we both looked at each other like Oh shiiiiiit, it’s happening again  Child killing?!  This was not the typical-action-movie-with-time-travel-thrown-in that we’d signed up for.

As it turned out, it really was not your typical anything, and yes he did shoot the kid, and yes we did both go to that place inside where I’m sure all parents go when a storyline, be it in a book or film, involves the death of a child.  That place where just for one nanosecond you allow yourself to think “What if…” and for the tiniest fraction of time the breath is knocked out of you and the tears are on your cheeks before you even register that you’re crying.  At the end Chris said “It should really warn you about that” and part of me thought, yes, that’s what I’ve been saying all along!

But in truth I probably wouldn’t have watched it if it had.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t have watched it ever, but I wouldn’t have chosen it on Sunday night, when I’d specifically requested “action and/or comedy” to avoid anything emotionally provocative as I’d have quite enough of that thank you, on account of my recent shifts in work, which I won’t go into right now.

And actually, if it had come with an explicit “death of innocent children” warning, and we’d picked some other film, well that would have been a shame.  Because it was a fantastic film.  Probably helped along by the fact I really liked the cast, but also the messages behind the story.  Or at least, what I took to be the messages behind the story, probably if Rian Johnson saw this he’d be like “Say what?! That’s not what I was trying to get across at all!” but the idea that life is what you make of it, literally.  That what will be is not yet written in stone and that it’s up to you.

Sure you don’t get to decide what happens to you, but you get to decide how you react and deal with it.  The idea that people can be saved, from others and most importantly from themselves, that a mother’s love can change everything, that cycles can broken, that you can write your own ending.  That is one powerful message.  I loved it.  Even today I keep thinking about it and being blown away.

So when it comes to films, I don’t like surprises.  Except now and again, when they knock me right off my feet (in a good way).  Then I do.

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