I rarely re-watch a movie. It's odd, of course, for a former film-industry professional, but I only see one or two movies a year now, so re-watching a movie is something pretty out of the ordinary for me.
This past week, however, I re-watched "Stranger Than Fiction." Part of the reason I did is that it stars Emma Thompson, and if there's any woman for whom I would consider leaving my wife, it's she. Like everything she's in, it's an excellent picture.
It's very well-done in every way. Still, it features what must be the most popular theme in movies in the last 25 years especially when they go high-brow.
Live life to the fullest. Live every day as if it were your last. Follow your heart.
These are the movies the baby boomers made these are the movies that helped raise their children.
Their theme is the battle cry of the late twentieth-century. It leaves a little something to be desired.
It's supposed to mean, squeeze the joy out of every moment, but does it really? In "Stranger than Fiction," it meant, learn to play the guitar. But it also means quit that boring job and smoke weed (American Beauty), and it means leave that jerk fianc and find a bunch of good Kodak moments (Titanic).
By the way, what does it mean that the highest grossing film of all time (by an order of magnitude) boils down to a bunch of photographs?
Snapshots have no continuity. It's not a life; it's a moment. It reminds me of those people who do everything with a video camera in their hands. You see them at their kids' play, at the game, at the zoo, always with that camera.
Do they ever watch those videos? Or are they so busy taking them that they don't have time to watch them? And if you're never going to watch it, what's the point of subjugating your own experience, in the now, to the concerns of the autofocus? Or, have we reached a point in our society where it doesn't quite seem real to us if it's not seen through a camera lens?
In any case, most of the time, "Live life to the fullest" means, in the immortal words of The Mamas And The Papas, "Do what you wanna do." It means sit on the couch, have a Snickers bar.
What happened to struggle? What happened to achievement?
I think it's a function of a basic change in the way we communicate. The problem with all these movies is that they can simply say whatever they want to say.
For most of history, we've had to hide what we want to say from those who, if they heard us say it, would kill us.
Now that we've cut off the heads of all the kings (literally or figuratively), we can say what we mean, and two principal problems arise.
First, it means no one has to think. It used to be that you had to decode a book or a play, it took time and work not to mention the work you had to do just to get hold of the book in the first place. You earned your knowledge. Now, it comes virtually free, and since the primary method by which we establish value is through labor, knowledge becomes, at best, commodotized.
Also, if a person doesn't have to work through what he learns, then he doesn't really understand it. Instead he simply apes it and, like a copy of a copy of a copy, "Live every moment to the fullest" turns into "Do what you wanna do."
Second, it means the filmmakers don't really have anything left to say. You used to write a play or a novel to overthrow the king. Well, once he's dead, what's left? Now, you might as well do what you wanna do.
Obviously, there's plenty left to say. But it's different stuff than it's been the last few thousand years, so we're not sure what it is yet. And even if we did know, we don't know how to say it, when we can just say it.
Don't get me wrong, the democratization of knowledge and freedom of speech are good things. But like anything, they have an ugly underbelly. In the age of democracy, humankind is going to have invent new ways to talking and new ways of thinking.