“Mommy, you think my brain is rough, but you only have to listen to it when I’m awake. I have to listen to it 24 hours a day.”
I have always lived in my head. My brain whirs at a rate of knots all day, every day. Getting to sleep is hard, because I chase thoughts down the rabbit hole without hesitation. I have spent hours contemplating a mistake from twenty years ago that nobody else cares about or even remembers. I have a chronic stomach condition that was brought on by anxiety: a reaction to absurd, neurotic over-thinking. I’ve tried meditation and medication and you know what the only thing I’ve ever found that works to get me out of my head is? Movies.
I love movies. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. I can remember watching Old Yeller and the My Little Pony movie and Mary Poppins over and over until my father wanted to strangle me. Every movie was something amazing and wonderful. And it gave me two perfect hours outside my own brain.
Books are marvelous, and I love them. But they are, by their very nature, something that draws you further into your own mind. The author is guiding you, but you’re filling in all the details. You are the one determining how the light plays off the buildings, what the shape of the main character’s jaw is. You can even override what the author describes, if you want to. And it’s wondrous, make no mistake, to have that power.
But a movie takes your hand and walks you through the story. It turns your head so you see what they want. It tells you what colour the sky is and how tall the dragon stands. Everywhere you look, there’s a detail waiting for you to spot it. Not to create it, but to see it. And the better the production, the more there is for you to find. You are, almost by definition, outside of your own brain.
Something magical happens when I watch a movie: I let go of everything I’m worrying about and give myself over to the action on screen. All I ask when I plonk down my hard-earned cash at the box office is a controlled journey. You can lead me by the hand, and I will smile and stare with wonder.
The only movies that really disappoint me are the ones that make me tune back into myself before it’s over. They bring me to the edge of the cliff and leave me there alone. The movies that have a nugget of greatness but choose to leave it sitting in the sun, rotting.
That’s not to say it’s the “bad” ones I dislike. Even the much-maligned “Batman and Robin” made for an entertaining and immersive experience. I will absolutely confess to owning a copy of “King Arthur,” which is phenomenally bad. But everyone in them believed in what they were doing at the time they were doing it. The characters are locked in their worlds and it’s fun. I have walked out of nearly every movie I’ve seen in the theater with a smile on my face.
Even when I walk out of the cinema and feel the sunlight on my face, it takes a moment to re-engage my mind. And then it’s all focused on what I just saw. I want to explore the details. I want to know what my movie-going companion thought and saw and felt. I want to roll around in the joy of the experience. And that’s maybe the best part of it: being in your own mind is a solitary experience.
Even when I describe what I’m thinking and feeling, it’s limited; the words paint an incomplete picture, and you’re left to fill in the details. But for two hours at the movies, we are seeing the same thing. It’s a shared experience in a way few intellectual pursuits ever seem to be.
When I watched a movie with my sister when we were kids, I knew she was seeing the same thing I was. And while we would have different favorite parts, we had seen the same thing. And we could watch it again and recreate the experience.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value that even more – the shared reality, glancing over at the person in the next seat, making a face that reflects exactly what I’m feeling, too. There is a bond that everyone shares in a movie theater. It dissolves as soon as you leave, but for two hours, you were on the same journey.
Every minute of every day, I agonize over something. I think, I worry, I hypothesize. My inner monologue could make Hamlet look well-adjusted. But turn on a movie and turn off the lights, and it all goes away.
You might have pills, or yoga mats, or whiskey; I have celluloid. And it’s the great love of my life.