Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Power of Movies

I watched Monsters, Inc. with my twin five-year old daughters over the past few nights, and in the process was very strongly reminded once again of how powerful movies can be. For me, there are two moments at the end of Monsters, Inc. that tear at my guts – when Sully returns Boo to her bedroom, and has to say goodbye to her for the last time, and the very last moment in the film, when he is gifted with a way to see her again, and he eagerly and tentatively opens her door to see her.

As we watched these last moments, I had one of my daughters on my lap (the Wife had the other). And, as that first moment played out, I was keenly watching my daughters react to the moment, to see how they took it.

Of course, the moment has two levels superimposed on top of each other. The first is the happy ending moment – after many close calls, the child is being returned to her home (and unseen parents) after her big fantasy adventure. She’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. But the second—and it’s this moment that the scoring and direction and actors play up—is a very sad thing, with Sully and the little girl realizing that they will never see each other again. The Wizard of Oz has this level going on as well, with Dorothy’s farewell to her friends, but there it’s not nearly as heartbreaking as it is here. It’s all a matter of perspective. In Oz, we identify with Dorothy, she’s our protagonist. But here, it’s Sully, and so it’s his loss we feel.

Twin A took the moment on that first level. She had expressed real fear several times throughout the film that the little girl would never find her way home. So seeing that happy ending was exactly what she had been anxiously awaiting.

But Twin B saw through to the other level, the level on which the scene has always hit me hard. And because she was in my lap I could see her react up close, and it was, well, astonishing. As the import of the scene hit her – Sully would never see Boo again – her eyes welled up and her breath started to hitch and constrict. But she wasn’t upset. She didn’t turn away. She stared, completely enraptured by the turn the story had taken. In a small, choked voice, she said “he loves the little girl.” She had been emotionally moved by the film, yes, but not in a scared way, or a disturbing way. She had been moved, and emotionally ensnared, in exactly the way the filmmakers intended.

So, when that last shot came, when it was revealed that Sully would get to see Boo again, the payoff was there. She gazed at the screen with a look of complete and open joy. She was as happy as he was. She had been surprised and delighted and taken quite out of the world of our Sugar Maple Split and into another place entirely.

And that's the power of movies.

Until Whenever

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