Saturday was a terrible day. Nothing better than the bald statement, as they say. I was blue, so many shades of blue (NOT grey!) before dinner time that I decided some cine-therapy would benefit me, and so I drove to the theater in time to catch the only showing that day of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a charming Rosamunde Pilcher-esque, “Love, Actually”-flavored, happily India after British dramedy. Loved it, by the way, and though it probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, how could such charming tea drinking not be a person’s cup of tea? I am not sure, but the showing room was the smallest in the theater complex and including me, there were probably only 15 other viewers in that room, all of them many decades older than myself. I took one of those all-by-itself seats, a soft recliner with cup holders large enough for a propane tank, and settled in.
But before my therapy session could begin, the previews had to roll. Often I time my arrival to a movie showing so that I can miss some of the trailers. Well, more like, often I don’t make it to the theater until 9 minutes after the official start time but I know I’m safe because twenty minutes of promo footage will be running.
However, this Saturday afternoon, I was there in plenty of time. Plen-ty of time. And no popcorn. I had purchased a small salad on my way to the theater, but one bite of tangy arugula had turned my stomach and the salad remained uneaten, baking in the sun in my vehicle in a most unappetizing way. I was having a proper pity party, made even better – read: more pitiful – by the relative privacy and darkness of the theater, yet my undeniable proximity to many other people. Um, to a few other people. I even got choked up during the PSA that humorously lectured us to turn off of our phones, such was my mood. I had tears in my eyes during the Dolby SurroundSound clip, a giant whirling golden hurricane that wanted to jump off the screen. “Show off,” I thought, wiping my cheek with the back of my hand.
Then the familiar green screen appeared, signaling the start of the previews. First up in the preview line-up was a stirring, heartbreaking, life-affirming trailer for “Les Miserables,” coming at Christmastime (I cannot wait!). Anne Hathaway’s surprisingly lovely voice sang about her dead dreams and dashed hopes while image after image of human suffering and anguish rolled across the screen, the bright colors of the French flag notwithstanding. I was transfixed, feeling that Fantine’s mournful line, “Now life has killed the dream I dreamed” was meant just for me, never mind the fact that I was sitting in a comfortable movie theater, enjoying an afternoon alone with freshly painted toenails, my hair NOT shorn, my circumstances not destitute. Despite my comfort and privilege, however, I felt bereft of hope that afternoon, and the preview felt like some kind of enormous validation of the difficulty of life. The pity party was progressing nicely.
However, at the very end of that trailer, big red letters announced “The Dream Lives.” I was rather electrified, again feeling that this film was speaking to me, about me. It was my cine-therapy session after all.
The screen darkened, then brightened to Art Deco letters and gold accents and bobbed-haired flappers showing their legs in a most modern fashion. Tobey Maguire’s voice sounded, speaking words of Nick Carraway, the narrator of one of my favorite novels, The Great Gatsby. Then came Leonardo Dicaprio, starring as Jay Gatsby in this remake of the Fitzgerald book, and then a parade of the others, Daisy, Tom, the party-goers, the Rolls Royces, the excesses. Having taught this novel many times and having studied Fitzgerald pretty intensely in graduate school, I know this story in an intimate way. I am always moved by the echoes of Fitzgerald’s own tragic arc heard in Gatsby’s sad tale, and the final line of the novel is one of my mantras when I’m in a backward-looking state of mind, as I surely was Saturday afternoon: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Quick side note for those interested, though not one I verbalized in the theater: that deservedly famous final phrase is carved into the marble ground cover of Fitzgerald’s grave. I made a pilgrimage there many years ago, to Maryland, wanting to somehow travel backward through the literary past myself and create a moment of connection with my fellow Minnesotan, F. Scott.
So two previews in and I’m feeling properly heartbroken, with just a hint of hope threading its silver way through the lining of this emotional cloud. Crying, for me at least, can be cathartic. I wanted to be cleansed, as it were, and experience that pity and fear that should accompany cathartic experiences. I was doing fine on the first one, and on the second too, as I now cloaked myself in Fantine’s ragged shawl and walked toward the green light at the end of the dock on Gatsby’s sprawling estate.
Dear reader, please know that I am both serious and self-aware. It would not be inappropriate to insert a smiley-faced emoticon right here, though I will refrain. I am writing this with a wry smile on my face – and a keen remembrance of my weekend sorrow.I recognize both the absurd silliness of such melodramatic thoughts and the poignant reality of them, and in a strange way, I actually enjoyed stepping into these heartwrenching stories for a few moments because those steps made me feel part of an enormous collective of hopers and dreamers and wishers who also knew what it felt like to fail.
Had I failed, you ask? I had failed to eat my salad, yes. And I had failed to make my life turn out exactly the way I wanted. So yes, nothing less than crushing failure for me, though you’ll excuse me if I giggle a little at myself and such pronouncements. Such drama – and I’m glad for it, mostly.
Now you know how some people complain about movie trailers because they are sometimes mini-movies, giving away the best moments, the high points of the film so that one feels as if the film itself will be a let-down? Not me that day. I was loving these mini-movies. It was like three pre cine-therapy sessions tossed in for free, bombast dripping from each as freely as the butter at the popcorn self-buttering stand outside the theater’s doors.
Before my date with Dame Judi Dench could begin, however, I was to be treated to one more preview, this one for a story with which I was and mostly am utterly unfamiliar: “Ruby Sparks.” The opening moments of that trailer felt very “Adaptation”-esque with its typewriter carriage return tapping almost ominously, portending a terrible case of writer’s block for the protagonist. And yes, yes!, this was the case in this preview too, except instead of Nicolas Cage’s crazy face, there appeared Paul Danno’s sweet face, now all grown up and wearing hip tortoiseshell glasses to boot. He is a writer, he is stuck, his publisher is demanding something, he can’t work, he sees a therapist, there is a concerned brother, and so on and so forth…until he somehow conjures to life the female protagonist of this book he’s stuck in. Ruby Sparks herself appears at his house, winsome and hip in a slightly-less-pretty-than-Zoey-Deschannel-and-all-the-better-for-it way. Ruby had come alive. The writer had performed his own Dr. Frankenstein experiment and created someone to love.
And in that moment, my mood was also sparked. The power of the written word! The power to create new realities! The power to summon love to me! The power to shape my own future through words! The possibilities seemed endless in that moment – and I immediately started writing a novel in my head, no joke! (But yes, I am also joking.) But then, as Ruby and her Prince/writer Charming ran happily into gorgeous surf, I reminded myself that it was just a story. A great premise, though. An amazing premise.
A hopeful premise, too.
I have a thing about words, you see, and I know my way around writer’s block. I clearly know how to tell myself almost-delusional stories about my own dead dreams and the continuous grip of the past. I know how to feel sad.
But by the end of those three previews, I also felt excited by the power of story. I probably won’t be able to bring to life a boyfriend, though if I did, I could do worse than one who looked like Paul Danno, and if I did, I would love to create someone who still used a typewriter, which seemed completely charming AND unrealistic. Who does that writer think he is? Philip Roth?
But good for him. And good for me, I thought. Maybe there would be something brighter for me as well, and maybe my words will have something to do with that new light I am so looking forward to.
And after watching the feature film, set in lushly colored and beautifully shot India, I left the theater wanting some of that sub-continent light too. I guess I just need to write that in as well – and perhaps it too will be coming soon …
So dear reader (singular?), any movie previews that you’ve particularly enjoyed? You might like my Saturday favorites too.