Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Reality of Cinema

Res Publica

August 2009

by Maggie McLinden

Movies have always had an influence in my life. When I was younger, family bonding often meant going to the local drive-in and watching the latest Disney film from the back of our station wagon. For the last four years, I have worked in a movie theater, and so a majority of my school vacations and free time have been spent either working the openings of the latest movies or seeing as many as I could. There is something so fascinating and captivating about watching a story unfold before you in a mere hour and a half, seeing the progress of a person’s life or the journey to find love and happiness.

As a theater usher, or the one who cleans up the spilled popcorn and pop, I’ve been privy to many discussions between moviegoers, and one line I hear frequently is, “it was such a great movie, but, of course, it would never happen in real life.” Understandably, dogs traveling into outer space or a man aging backwards are some scenarios that, in all actuality, will never occur, but more often than not, that statement is made when people leave a movie that was quite realistic in its portrayal of life. Most often, it can be heard after a romantic comedy. Everyone knows the type—a love story filled with ironic twists and turns that somehow concludes with the dorky guy winning the supermodel or the average Jane being asked out by the man of her dreams. Everyone who walks into that movie goes in expecting such a relationship to occur, and yet the major qualm that people seem to have with the movie lies mainly in its ending; it was too happy, too perfect, too unrealistic.

Hearing this sentiment tossed out in passing has made me question what happened to society, and to people in general, that made a happy ending suddenly seem unattainable. What has made the girl finally getting the guy or the hero defeating the villain so inconceivable? After hearing this complaint repeatedly, I started to wonder if watching all of these movies with their uplifting endings was worth it, if their lack of realism lessened their value. Maybe the satisfying conclusion we find in film really no longer exists in the world. However, I could not believe that there is so much darkness or unhappiness in the world that people view finding a happy ending as a rare occurrence. Though I lack scientific evidence for it, I believe that, more often than not, the villains are defeated and those persons searching for love do find it. Perhaps the problem lies not so much in peoples’ disbelief that a happy ending could occur, but rather that they forget that a “happy ending” is, for the characters in the movie, just that—an ending. For those whose lives are not concisely crammed in an hour and a half, there is no one ending, but several.

Why do these feel-good movies leave us thinking that a similar situation would never happen in real life? Perhaps it is because they end where our lives do not. We go from being told on the silver screen that everything will work out and end happily to facing a barrage of images of failed marriages and broken dreams that the media so readily displays, reinforcing the idea that there is nothing happy about life. After years of believing that our happy ending would finally come, one harsh day of reality in the form of our first break-up or watching a criminal escape punishment tells us that all of our hopes for the movie ending are juvenile and idealistic.

The truth, I think, is that we want our lives to reach that happy ending, that point where everything falls into place and all of the conflicts are resolved, but we do not want to face the reality that awaits us afterwards. We forget that a movie has to end, and what better place to end than on an uplifting note? Our lives, in contrast, continue onward. If we searched through the moments of our lives, we would all find one of movie quality—winning the spelling bee, defeating a rival, getting the courage to ask someone on a date and hearing them say “yes”—and if our lives stayed paused at just that moment, then they would be no different from any happy ending that could be found on film.

But our lives do not pause. “The End” does not scroll across a screen and the perfect picture of bliss does not fade to black as a romantic song plays in the background. Instead, the girl who falls in love gets her heart broken months later by her dream man, and the guy who dates a supermodel feels unfulfilled. Our once perfect, cinema quality moments turn into our own mini horror films, and we feel cheated of the happy ending we believed we would get. Suddenly we find ourselves cynically saying “of course that would never happen in real life” because for us, it never did. We ruin a perfectly good piece of fiction by trying to equate it to real life, placing our standards of reality on something that was not meant to accurately reflect life, but to entertain.

If there is one truth I have gleaned from my years around the movie industry, it is that our lives are not one giant movie, but a series of films strung together. Each film will, if I choose, end on a happy note—winning the fourth-grade spelling bee, attending the senior prom, graduating college. If I live like this, seeing the happier moments as endings and the moments I am down as just the early action, then when my final film ends, it will fade to black, the last image of a woman who lived her life well and is happy to say “The End.”

Maggie McLinden is a senior from Louisville, Ohio, majoring in Integrated Language Arts/English Education.

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