WARNING … spoilers. In no particular order:
1. Old Yeller
It was kind of a tradition in my elementary school. Periodically they’d round us all up and herd us into the auditorium, where they rolled in a film projector and put on a movie. I vividly remember when they forced us all to watch this timeless classic. In that moment, our teachers got their revenge for all the crap we’d put them throughout the year.
I’ll never watch Old Yeller again, and I won’t revisit The Yearling, which my dad persuaded me to watch on T.V. These experiences led me to one unassailable conclusion. The adults in my life were sadists. 🙂 And when anyone says, “You’ll want to watch this. It’s a classic”…run the other way.
Favorite Scene: The last time I saw this was during the Carter administration, so I don’t remember. My favorite part was getting out of class, probably.
2. My Girl
All I ask from a movie is that children and dogs don’t die … O.K.? If adults are murdered in a gratuitous fashion, I’ll roll with it. Bring it on. But I hate it when kids and animals suffer on screen.
The child’s death in this movie is definitely a tearjerker. However, what makes the memory particularly brutal for me is that I happened to watch it a few days before my son Joseph was stillborn. I am definitely never revisiting this one.
Favorite Scene: Again, I don’t remember. I saw it in 1992. But the kids were adorable.
3. Ma Vie en Rose
Speaking of seeing children suffer … this memorable Belgian film was gut wrenching for me. Under increasing pressure from their community, Ludovic’s parents are unwilling — or unable — to accept their transgendered child, who is biologically male, for who she is. This leads to escalating efforts to bully him into “being a boy.” Ludovic’s unrelenting innocence and increasing despair — in the face of continual rejection and disgust from her family and neighbors — are devastating to watch.
Favorite Scene: Any time young Georges Du Fresne was on screen — I was quite taken with his performance.
4. Antwone Fisher
The overall gist of this movie — that growth and healing are possible even after the most devastating experiences — is uplifting. However, because of the severity of the abuse Antwone suffered as a child — at the hands of his foster mother and her family — I’ll never be able to sit through this film again. Having been a youth counselor with a public agency, I thought I’d seen and heard it all. But when the child was beaten with a flaming newspaper, I was completely undone.
The movie was based on a memoir titled Finding Fish. The real-life Antwone Fisher was asked, in an interview, whether the brutality of his foster family was portrayed fairly. He replied, “No. The reality was much worse.”
Favorite Scene: Antwone’s reunion with his biological mother. After years of struggling with her abandonment and fantasizing about his “real” family, Antwone discovers that his mother is a sad, broken woman who would have been incapable of raising a child. He seems to feel nothing but compassion for her. I suspect that’s the moment when he truly became an adult.
5. Breaking the Waves
Early in this film, set in the Scottish Highlands in the 1970s, we see a funeral. As they lower their former parishioner into the ground, the church elders loudly proclaim: “You have earned your place in Hell!” They sound like a pleasant bunch of people, don’t they?
In this grim, stoical community, unguarded expressions of emotions are taboo. Newlywed Bess (Emily Watson), who experiences life with unfiltered emotions, doesn’t fit in, but she finds her place in the church. The early days of her marriage are happy and passionate. But when her husband, Jan, is paralyzed in an accident, he makes a bizarre request. This sends her life into a horrifying downward spiral, because when it comes to expressing love, she truly has no boundaries. This is both her weakness and her strength.
I am not a huge fan of this movie, but I love the performances, especially Emily Watson in her debut role. And I can’t deny that certain aspects of this film were powerful and unforgettable for me. But Bess’ degradation and suffering make it too brutal for a second viewing.
Favorite Scene: Bess and Jan in the movie theater. Bess reacts to the film with unbridled wonder and delight, and Jan is absorbed in watching her childlike joy. These moments speak volumes about her character and their relationship. Y’know … before everything goes to hell.