JOY: First of all, you want to pick a movie that makes you happy … as long as there’s a smile on your face by the end credits, it should be fair game.
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Memory — and the myriad ways it guides or deceives us — is endlessly fascinating to me. So it’s not surprising that The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorite films of all time. The wacky humor, the playful sense of whimsy, and — above all — the heart at the core of the story make me smile.
SADNESS: Now for the movie that made you cry the most. From Bambi to Titanic, there are plenty of tear-jerker movies out there … your eyes should be pretty watery by the film’s end.
Oranges and Sunshine
Based on a true story, this movie delves into a heinous large-scale case of children being stolen from their families, sold into virtual slavery, and abused. I cried like a little kid throughout the film.
ANGER: This is a movie that you flat out hated … It could also be a movie where your anger isn’t directed at the movie, but at the characters. Ever wanted to scream at movie characters for making such incredibly stupid decisions?
Breaking the Waves
Anger is the flip side of sadness, and this is another heart-wrenching film. I didn’t hate Breaking the Waves. In fact Emily Watson gave a gorgeous, unforgettable performance in the first role of her career. And Bess is a compelling character. The way she is judged for not shielding her emotions and the downward spiral her life takes seem gratuitously cruel.
Bess’s community is a cheerless lot. It starts with their funerals. We see the village elders proclaiming, with grim satisfaction,”You have earned your place in Hell” at a person’s graveside. That is definitely in the running for the worst eulogy of all time.
While I am not religious, I have plenty of respect and admiration — on the whole — for religious people. However, we have all known those “faithful” folks for whom the greatest joy is usurping God’s role and condemning others to eternal damnation. People like that are infuriating. And in Breaking the Waves, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Why does Bess’ husband, Jan, convince her to offer herself relentlessly to other men? All the facets of her character that make her lovable — her intense, unfiltered emotions, her selflessness, and her innocence — also make her vulnerable. Jan has seen firsthand just how emotionally vulnerable she is. Is he simply too brain damaged — or drug-addled — after his accident to think coherently? Or does he have a cruel streak? Either way, I wanted to pound him. Yes, I wanted to beat the crap out of him right there in his hospital bed. And while I am glad I didn’t miss Watson’s performance in this film, I will never subject myself to it again.
FEAR: “This is the movie that gave you the most nightmares …Whether blunt or subtle, this is the movie that scares the **** out of you.”
We Need to Talk About Kevin
For some reason, horror movies tend not to scare me. I enjoy them if they are well crafted, creative, or just craptastically campy. But demons, ghosts, malevolent aliens, and other horrors don’t really frighten me.
You know what scares the bejeezus out of me? Psychopaths. I’ve had the dubious privilege of knowing some people with antisocial personality disorder. Their lack of compassion and conscience combined with their propensity to get bored when no one is frightened, upset, or angry. Not to mention the unpredictability and penchant for violence.
My deepest fear is — and has always been — of failing my children in some fundamental way or having them reach a point where they’re beyond my help. We Need to Talk About Kevin artfully combines both these fears, and it creates such an unsettling sense of dread.
DISGUST: This last one is a bit tricky, I’ll let you interpret it the way you want … Either way, this film should make you cringe.
You know what else is terrifying? Human stupidity. Again and again, throughout my life, I’ve stated, with tremendous conviction, “No one can possibly be that stupid.” And again and again, I’ve been proven wrong.
The scenario created in Compliance is so ludicrous, so rife with idiocy, that I wouldn’t have believed it was plausible. But it happened. In real life. People’s actions in this film are so absurd and so casually and stupidly cruel that I quickly went beyond anger. I was left with sheer speechless disgust.
I wish we could dismiss this as an isolated incident. But history is full of examples of “normal” people doing incomprehensibly cruel, senseless things because they thought they were “supposed” to.
On the upside, I got a lot of mileage out of the homeschool unit I created around Compliance. We discussed psychological, philosophical, and historical aspects of “compliance,” including the famous Milgram experiment, the Stanford prison experiment, certain acts of war, and much more. I’m proudly raising noncompliant kids who stubbornly, persistently think for themselves. And based on what I’ve seen, many other families are doing the same. I find a sense of hope in that.