Monday, December 31, 2007

Little Children

We rented the movie "Little Children" last night--well, actually, we rented it three days ago and finally got around to it last night--and it was one of those movies that I enjoyed in the moment but resented later, upon reflection.

Damned reflection--always spoiling everything.

Not that it wasn't literate and well written, because it clearly was. And not that it wasn't stylishly shot and directed, because it certainly was that, too. And not that I didn't appreciate Kate Winslet's breasts and all, because, hey, I'm no philistine. It's just...

It's just that I'm so tired of movies in which ALL married couples are miserable, and EVERYTHING about suburbia is stultifying, and ALL men are immature knuckleheads, and ALL women are pinched and shrewish--except for Our Heroine, who is educated and elevated enough to: A)not shave her eyebrows, and B)find her neighbors small-minded and petty, and C)find her life--including her children--shallow and unrewarding, and D)read poetry--for pleasure! And use a dried rose as a bookmark! All of which, I realize, is obviously intended to make her as much of a knucklehead, in her own way, as the men in the movie--just in her own, educated and elevated way.

I know it's just a movie, and not intended to show the entire Broad Canvas of Life. But "American Beauty" was just the same. Suburbia = Spiritual Death. Marriage = Sexual and Emotional Death. Employment = Every Other Kind of Death. There's no real cause to any of this--nothing psychological or autobiographical or economic or political or religious or cultural. It's just Death.

And, as such, it's the attitude of an adolescent. Which is not surprising, given who makes our movies--a small group of people living in an amazingly rarified and isolated environment, with no real understanding of how anyone outside of that environment lives...except for their parents, who they probably resent and despise for being small-minded middle-Americans and thank GOD we escaped from that and made it to LA, right?

It's the same attitude I encountered in grad school, when I was in LA, twenty years ago. The style that everyone--EVERYONE--tried to emulate, in plays and films, was a kind of Less-Than-Zero-ish hip nihilism. And just as in "Less Than Zero," it was a nihilism practiced by people who knew nothing, who had been nowhere, who had experienced nothing. The coolest writers in the theatre department wanted to out-Beckett Beckett--but you know what? Beckett wrote "Waiting for Godot" in his fifties, after half a life of real engagement with the world. I mean, he worked for the French Resistance in World War II. So if he wanted to express a sense that underlying the Everything was Nothing, well, he had earned the right. Nineteen year olds whose only exhaustion was that they had run through all the recreational drugs available to them...not so much.

And they all grow up (more or less) and make movies for us. And in those movies, they tell us that they think we're all fools. And we pay ten dollars a ticket for the experience.

Quick--name a happily married couple portrayed in a movie or a TV series of the past decade. Can you? And I don't mean idyllic. Obviously drama requires conflict and all. I just mean happy, as in, this marriage is, on the whole, a pretty good thing. And our life together--here, in this house, with these people, in this community, is also a pretty good thing--worth working for, worth sacrificing for, worth holding together.

If you can think of one, let me know. I'm still working on it.


Paula said...

Have you seen JUNO? The title character's father and step-mom, although also lightly mocked by the script, have a happy marriage based on respect and acceptance and affection. It is nice to see, considering that I have a similarly sad reaction to films about marriage, family, etc. as you allude to in your post.

That semi-sappy Steve Carrell movie DAN IN REAL LIFE shows some happy couples--and siblings, even!

And...hmmm...THE FOUNTAIN has kind of a romantic notion of marriage, although the wife is conveniently dying...

I'm going to think about this some more.

Agathon said...

Thanks, Paula!

I didn't see The Fountain, but I'm suspicious of happy-but-limited. To me, it's just a way to avoid the gnarly topic of "how do we stay together and keep each other and ourselves happy over the long haul?" Instead, it's just a replacement for dating: "we're happy now, but we don't necessarily have to worry about tomorrow."

What I want to see is a new version of the Thin Man movies, where you had a husband and wife detective team who were smart, funny, sarcastic, often drunk, occasonally nasty or angry with each other, but obviously and wonderfully in love with each other--not in an early-stage infatuation kind of way, but in an "I know you--everything about you" kind of way.

Anonymous said...

You might check out the husband and wife in the tv version of "Friday Night Lights."

But of course, the non-dramatic nature of happiness is hardly news, or limited to negative depictions of suburban nuclear family life. After all, all happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Connie du Toit said...

We watch the Thin Man movies all the time.

Regarding the part about nihilism... I was once at some theatre showcase thing (can't remember the venue), when some young singer got up to sing I did it my way. "Did WHAT, YOUR way?" was the feedback he got from one of the old pros. "Do not DARE sing that song! he told him. Put him in his place!

You have to be more than 12 to sing that song... or write of nothingness. You have to HAVE a life before you can tell me what you think of it... a life supported by your own efforts, not your parents.