Thursday, November 04, 2010

At the movies

Those who know me know I see a lot of movies. If there's a level beyond heavy moviegoer, I belong to that classification. Sure, I've been able to fold my moviegoing into my job--indeed, it's fed and stoked it--but my voracious viewing habits can't just be chalked up as work I have to do. In fact, I see far more films than I cover. (Not that I didn't try at one time. That guy spent far more of his free time writing for fun than I can muster the energy for now.)

I see plenty of bad films and many more that are mediocre. So why do it? Why spend time doing something in which the distribution of films on a bad-to-great scale likely resembles a bell curve? The easy answer is that I like going to the movies, but I don't imagine that explanation is satisfactory. Instead, let me provide an example.

Tonight after work I went to see Conviction, a fact-based drama about a woman who spends years going to college and then law school so she can reopen the case of her brother, who has been convicted of murder yet who she maintains is innocent. Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from it. The reviews have been mixed, and it looked more like awards bait than anything else. Like it or not, chances are it wasn't going to be anything essential.

As it turns out, it wasn't. I enjoyed the film. It's nothing fancy and doesn't really contain any surprises, but overall it's a well-acted and well-made movie. As an earnest and determined character, Hilary Swank gets a role in her wheelhouse--I much prefer her in serious parts--and performs wonderfully without overselling it. Likewise, the filmmakers don't apply the sentiment thickly.

Conviction isn't a great film, nor is it a manipulative tearjerker, yet I spent stretches of it on the verge of crying. Something about the intense love and devotion that this sister had for her brother really touched me. I don't think it would have made any difference if the story were a complete fiction. (I'd also wager that I'm more inclined to cry at movies with purity and goodness on display than sad scenes. Is this similar to those who cry at weddings?)

I've been stressed a lot lately, and while that wear and tear has eased some, I'm still kind of wiped out from everything. Nevertheless, I was with Conviction pretty much all the way and left the theater feeling better than when I walked into it. I suppose that is what, in some manner, I'm seeking when I watch any film or television program...or read a book or listen to music.

Art can provide catharsis via identification or enlightenment or entertainment or escapism. Maybe my seeking it in these places is reflective of deficiencies elsewhere. All I know is that sometimes it is necessary to go outside yourself to get a better understanding of the internal and the external. If that means getting choked up a bit at a solid prestige film, so be it.

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