Living in a film

Perhaps sometimes you can get too enthusiastic about a medium.


I think perhaps the period of my “obsession” with film and film-making would both be considered the most beautiful and the most desperate time in my life.

Life seems to always manage to be hard, and being in the military definitely made life hard, but looking back, the level of hardship was always consistent. The only variant was the environment which caused the hardships.

With that exposition complete, somewhere in the middle of 12th grade I begin a list of films I wanted to watch. I was a casual film-goer (I did not know much or care much about movies, I just liked “mindfuck” and “meta” movies), but I had desired to heighten my knowledge of movies, and in general, watch more movies instead of just reading about movies.

So I began a list. It started small. It started with movies starring Nicholas Cage (Yeah, I don’t know). It grew via recommendations. It grew to include classics – to thrillers with metaphysical themes. Surreal horror, European art-house, silent films. It eventually started including  postmodern dramas with depressing themes about life and death. Soon enough, I started feeling as though I was “witnessing my life in movies”.

The final phase mentioned became the most significant during my military service. In the end, I had reached a point where I would watch movies (and would only like movies) that dealt with themes and characters that I could relate to. This is all good and well, problem is: the themes and characters that I could relate to were usually overwhelmingly dark and the depressing, and the characters would usually be lonely, over-analytic social messes. Art is always a decent place to find comfort in the hardships of life. But to what end?

One of the most notable films I have ever watched would have to be Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life”. For those unfamiliar, “Waking Life” is a film consisting of many, mostly unrelated, vignettes. All roto-scoped. All being primarily dialogue-based and all dialogues usually having to do with something about life, dreams, society, and perhaps most notably, art.

One notable vignette is the scene where the unnamed main character is sitting in a movie theater, supposedly watching a movie. The movie consists of two characters discussing film theory and “the holy moment”, in an overt, philosophical manner. At one point, one of the characters quotes Jean-Luc Godard, saying something along the lines of “witnessing film is comparable to witnessing God creating reality itself”. This line really stuck with me. I had not thought about it that much at the moment (I was mostly busy enjoying the characters’ quirky manner of speaking), but eventually I thought of a sort of “equation”, derived from that quote.

So if we accept that art (in this case film) is a good and legitimate place to search for sympathy, catharsis, and understanding, and film is a divine medium (‘God creating reality itself’), then I suppose in some part of my weird-ass brain, I had decided that the following could be stated: “God can see my suffering. He can see my pain. And through film, he is telling me ”I understand you’.”

Now now, I am not a religious man. I am not even a believing man. I admit that I have grown slightly more open to religion since I was recruited, but I still wouldn’t define myself as any kind of theist, deist, agnostic, or what-have-you. However, I had gradually become more accepting that the world is full of pain, and everyone deals with that pain in their own way. And if one wanted to ‘decorate’ their way of dealing with pain in a somewhat theistic manner, then so be it.

Divine riff-raff aside, in the end, I found a way to take comfort in my pain, and that way was to witness just how far my pain can go. Think about it. When you are feeling sad and alone and frustrated in this big-ass world, and you just happen to see a film that has a character or a number of characters dealing with the same kind of pain, do you know what that means? It means that at least several, not one; several people out there feel your exact kind of pain. They know it. They’ve experienced it. And it’s had such a major impact on their life that they actually dedicated themselves to that pain, for AT LEAST a few years of their life, if not their whole life. That’s pretty significant. I suppose this is where the God metaphor can easily come in, because to a sad, frustrated, lowly soldier serving in fuck-knows, seeing a big fancy Hollywood film (well, more like a big fancy independent film) demonstrating exactly what they’re going through and how they feel is not unlike having God himself answer your prayers and declaring “X, I hear you!”.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Being in pain, and having your pain known does not make your pain go away. It’s kind of similar to the paradox of happiness, where if you were to be asked “Are you happy?” you’d immediately begin examining your level of happiness and your life in general, and would quickly come to the conclusion that you are not. So this is a similar effect. If you are unhappy, and you surround yourself with films (or whatever medium) that constantly reminds you just how unhappy you are, then can you really expect yourself to end up feeling better?  Everyone takes this differently. But to me the main problem was that at times it felt like I was encouraged to feel bad. Yes. Feel bad, because people in movies feel bad and people in movies who feel bad are just like people in real life who feel bad.

In the end, movies were just a way for me to fuel depression. Depression is something abstract and it’s hard to really describe how it was for me (as every person goes through it differently), but in the end, it went along something like this:

  1. I felt bad and was unable to partake in many (once) enjoyable activities.
  2. I had little to no energy to do anything except for watch movies.
  3. I felt almost good about feeling bad.

Among other things, this is basically what being depressed was for me. And as interesting a medium film is, when something like that causes you to feel THAT bad? Perhaps then it’s time to let it go. Yes, it’s time to let go of that 500 (and counting) list of movies that I wanna watch. It’s time to let go of all the excessive analysis and meaning-searching.

In the end, the only thing worse than being bored is being bored and feeling like you’re supposed to be bored. Nope. Life is meant to be lived. And it’s a big ol’ world out there, some parts are better, some parts are worse. Regardless, you won’t be able to experience either of those parts from a screen. So sometimes, it doesn’t matter how ‘right’ something can feel. It doesn’t matter if it makes you feel whole and connected. If that thing drains you, and makes you think too much about it – perhaps it’s best to let it go.

To give it a book ending, I’d like to point towards Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” (a film that perhaps was one of the films that finally made me “wake up”). SPOILERS: in the final scene, Mason, Cooper, and two other characters whose-names-escape-me take a hike out to the canyon. Cooper gives a little speech into the air (paraphrasing):

“It’s like as if all of time has unfolded before us so we could stand here and look out and scream FUCK YEAHHH!!!!”

This is of course followed by a brief discussion between Mason and his new friend, about “seizing the moment”, or rather, “the moment seizing us”. The first thing that I thought was about was something like: Every person lives their life their own way, but if every person’s way to live their life was by fixating on film their entire life…well…it probably wouldn’t make one feel so shitty.

Well, rant over. I admit that there are no awesome canyons near where I live, but if there were any, I’d definitely like to go there. And, I suppose I’d love to evoke a little bit of that final scene and shout something like:


Pardon the hamminess. Time to go live.