Saturday, September 17, 2011

Two Good Lessons From Two Good Movies

I should have been a movie star. Not a leading-man kind of movie star; I'm not that charismatic (or attractive). God didn't grant me the good looks of Cary Grant and the sense of humor of Ernest Borgnine - He intentionally got them backwards.
Smile, for goodness sake!
Like looking in the mirror.
I love watching movies. Science Fiction is my favorite category, fantasy a close second, but I like drama and action and even, occasionally, horror. I'm not into the blood-spurting, limb-hacking horror movies; I prefer the ones like Hitchcock did, clever and daunting. I am especially well-pleased when I don't correctly figure out the ending beforehand.
And, sadly, I have his profile!
Many movies taught me lessons. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest convinced me that I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy, even if I don't drink. Rocky movies reinforce that the amazing thing about the dancing bear is not that he dances so gracefully, but that he dances at all. One of my favorite series of all time, Firefly, reminds me that when engaging in a battle of wits, be sure you're armed (or at least have a gun).
Replaced Enterprise as my favorite spaceship
But years ago two lessons surfaced in the movies that I wrote down on my calendar at work and carried with me through the years.
In Trading Places, as the main character faces unknown trials, the butler turns to him and says "Just be yourself, sir. Whatever happens, they can't take that away from you." Often in life that is the very best of advice. In my first divorce I lost all my possessions, moved into an apartment and was down to six hundred dollars in the bank. I gave that away to Covenant House, a charity organization. I still had my job, but I wanted to give that up as well. My ex had my son, lived an hour away on the other side of town and life just didn't look good. But I had to remain true to myself, and that meant loyalty to my son, whether I could see him frequently or not. A decade later I was faced with another, even more disastrous divorce. Of all the people that I grew to love in this state, only one couple befriended me, and knew that I was who I said I was. I couldn't be anyone but myself, regardless of what people said.
In the 1983 movie Flashdance Nick tells Alex "Don't you understand? When you give up your dreams, you die." Dreams die easily, strangled by the daily pressures and demands of life, yet life is supposed to be about achieving dreams. It is an odd paradox. We want to go after our dreams, but life seems to get in the way. If you give up your dreams, then you are simply waiting to die. A dead man walking. What kind of life is that?  
The trick seems to be to successfully combine the two lessons. Your dreams have to match who you are. Otherwise you might get to the top of the ladder of success and find out it leans on the wrong building. 
Aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus.


  1. But how do you know, sir, if your dreams match who you are? You can't hold onto dreams with iron fists. They have to change with you as you change, somehow, without dying. A topic for another post, perhaps?

  2. Yet some dreams are permanent, a part of us, aren't they? You dream of being a published author, as I do. Does that dream diminish with time? Of course not, but it fades, with a subtle pain in our hearts. Those kind of dreams need to be rekindled and brought back to life, then achieved for the very sweetness of the dream itself.