Thursday, December 8, 2011

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas (with sad movies)

The apartment has exploded with Christmas. But not in the, "Oh, you just caught me lounging around in my catalogue worthy living room, with my designer garland draped ever-so-elegantly over my mantle, and tiny little polar bear cubs playing in my winter wonderland atrium in the background". No, it is more like Target and the Dollar Store had an ugly half-priced holiday craft baby, and is complimented by the afterbirth of half full plastic bins overflowing with old cards and hand me down ornaments.

Among the piles of seasonal memorabilia I dug up were all of my Christmas movies and number of childhood favorites. On VHS, friends! No dvd Charlie Brown for me! As I was going through the list of films I found, I was reminded of one of the few clouds that hangs over my current relationship.

Me: Hey! The Never Ending Story!
The BF: Ugh, I hate that movie.
Me: Why?
The BF: It's too sad. That poor horse.
Me: Well, he comes back in the end.
The BF: I don't care.
Me: Oooh, here's Prancer.
The BF: Too sad.
Me: Willow?
The BF: Pffft.
Me: Hook?
The BF: Too sad.
Me: Ugh, Annie.
The BF: I love that movie!

 I began to realize something. Gremlins, Ghost Busters, The Monster Squad, The Princess Bride, Who Framed Roger Rabbit - are, obviously, all awesome movies, but are also the only ones welcome for display on our Target bookcase. The "Too Sad" films stay stuck in storage.

Um. Why?

I've accepted that the Bf has a strong aversion to movies that are too sad. For example, he has vowed to never watch  Fried Green Tomatoes ever again. Not because of it's supposed affiliation with other popular "chick flicks", but because he isn't emotionally strong enough to handle the end of Idgie and Ruth's friendship. (By the by, according to him, FGT is one of the best  fims ever on the subject of friendship. Period. But still - too. sad.)

So why am I not driven away by these kind of movies? Surely not because of my lady emotions and a need for a good lady cry every now and then. No, I genuinely enjoy them. I am not saddened by them. Frankly, why should I be? Is it so awful that a children's fantasy would be honest about the fact that, even in the prime of your carefree youth, life still blows?

In fact, life, in it's own way, is even worse when you're a kid. There is a pretty harsh introduction to the reality of man, there is the discovery of death and how that sucks balls, children start develop their own crappy prejudices, and then, worst of all, we abruptly realize there is no real magic on earth; that everything you thought just happened by it's own mystical accord, has an explanation- and often not a good one.

Get it together, you pansy ass pony!

Like so many kids, I was forced to grow up too fast. There were several instances in my teens where the loss of my childhood hit me over the head so hard that I would burst into tears. Yes, I was being inducted into the world of antidepressants due to my artsy fartsy emotions, but it still really hurt to realize: My childhood was over. I'd never get a second chance to try and make it as ideal as so many movies suggested it should be.

I mean, even films that touched upon more painful realities had a tendency to gloss them over and keep the tone light, funny and exciting. But even in the most ideal homes, there is a constant underlying sadness and/or frustration in every child's life. That's fine. That "sadness" is often what pushes us to find happiness and to develop the more generous, the more empathetic parts of our nature.

Alright, yes- there is a somber note to the storage films. There are upsetting realities and even some devastating scenes. But, like Atreyu's horse, Artax, if you let the "Swamps of Sadness" overpower you, you will drown in them. As children, most of us learn to not only accept that there is sadness, but to cultivate an ability to not let it ruin our perception of reality. Sadness and magic, for a brief moment, find a way to co-exist.

That is why my Christmas movie recommendation for this year is the movie Prancer. Yes, you better watch all of my other faves, Home Alone, Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation and of course, Muppet Christmas Carol, but I say strap on an emotionally mature pair and settle down for some quality time with a magical reindeer and your 2nd favorite bouncer, Sam Elliott (1st favorite being Patrick Swayze, duh!).

In my humble opinion, the film pretty perfectly captures the problem with our idea of childhood. Spoilers ahead, for those who haven't yet seen the movie. There is one scene in particular, where the main character, a girl named Jessica (a rockin' name for a main character, if I do say so myself) has climbed on top of a tall cage in the middle of a snowstorm to release the reindeer she believes to be Prancer, who she is convinced will fly out as soon as she pries open the top of the pen. In one heartbreaking moment, you see all of her dreams and beliefs cruelly dashed as her magical friend fails to perform. As she is trying to climb back down, she slips and falls- hitting her head and blacking out.

When she comes to, she is in her bedroom. Her father, who she has been at odds with ever since the death of her mother and who has been discussing sending her off to live with her aunt, has bought the reindeer and plans to take her out to the woods so they can release him, allowing him to return to the North Pole. However, little Jessica, who survived the death of her mother, who has stomached the emotional absence of her father, has finally had bitterness of reality hit her over the head... so to speak. There is no magic. The reindeer is just a reindeer. In the following scene, her father reads to her a selection from the famous letter, Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, and admits he can't promise that things are going to always be okay. But he loves her and needs her home with him.

It's a beautiful scene, wrapped in sentimentality as it is. It is where we realize that even though life is hard and  the fairy tales we hear as children aren't real, there is still a deeper and more mysterious and beautiful magic out there- the magic of love, friendship, imagination and everything unseen, but as real and common as breathing.

So you see, friends! No need to fear the "sad fantasy movies". If anything, they are quite uplifting. They show us what wonderful and resilient creatures we are in our youth.  If you saw the movie Finding Neverland, there is another great scene where, in spite of grief, or perhaps because of it- the main character is able to see the "magical world" that adults aren't able to see. It is one of the amazing qualities we possess as children - our ability to see the real world, and the ethereal one. Yes, sadness exists, even when you're an innocent. But so does magic- whether it's the magic of a flying reindeer, a book that transports you to a alternate world, a gang of monsters that only you and your friends can defeat, or the magic of life itself.


Frau Schmidt said...

How is it that Annie isn't sad? She has no parents! At least Bastian and Jessica still have a father and aren't beaten and enslaved by an evil foster mother!

I must say, I find all of these movies much sadder now than I did when I was a kid. Kids are much better at taking it in stride. It's also a learning experience to engage with stories where characters (especially children) overcome sadness. They're all just elaborate fairy tales, after all.

Off to watch Muppet Christmas Carol and cry like a mama at Tiny Tim!

Jeanmarie Collins said...

I just cried a little. Not because of the remembrance of the movies listed, ( the good ones, meaning the ones you had to shelve), but, because the writing of this piece is so good. And, yes, although when a child is born, it is magical, and then the world gradually snatches that gift away.
One of the many reasons I am often in awe of you, is that even as a young child, you had an old soul with remarkable wisdom. As seen with this piece, the wisdom continues.

Mark Trammell said...

So, this is interesting! You and I share a lot of similar movies on our lists! (Including the love for the underrated "Prancer.") Great minds think alike and all that. BTW, this is Mike's friend that he did the post-Sidewalk podcast with. We're hopefully gonna try & get together for another one soon, as well as some Xmas movie fun on the flat screen at my house, hopefully. You, are, of course, welcome as well. Feel free to bring "Prancer" I haven't seen it in ages, but I used to love it! Here's my article:

Brittany E. said...

You know what else I realized as I got older? Not only are kids movies sad, they can be really scary too! Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and that Tunnel scene! Or when the Goonies are being chased by the bad men!


Jessica said...

Lydia- Annie has musical breaks. You can't be sad with tappa tappa tappa!

Mark- I enjoyed the article! I also shared that video you posted on Mike's page from Noccalula falls. It's amazing.

Brittany- I don't think I watched the tunnel scene with my eyes uncovered until I was in my 20's. No foolin'!

Thanks for reading, everybody!

JMSF said...

Clark, I agree with your mom, this is a wonderfully constructed essay. Its elegant structure moved me far more than your reflection on childhood and magic. And I want to sit in the shiny plastic barf in your house and cut and paste. Jmfo

P.S. Love to you Ms. Jeanmarie Collins. <3 <3 <3

hallahmikaelaharmon. said...

haha i love your blog. just lovely.

Jessica said...

Thank you! I'm so glad you like it :)