The American Dream may be a fascinating prospect in some movies, but in others, it’s not a guarantee in life. They consider it la la land.
Live the dream
Dance and sports movies seem to be a natural fit for movies about living the dream.
In the 1980s there was Fame and Flashdance, popular films with music and dance featuring prominently.
Remember the Flashdance theme song, What a Feeling? “Take your passion and make it happen,” a lyric goes.
Those films revolved around what one does with a dream. Succeeding at it is very much to the fore.
Last year, but still very much this year, is musical La La Land which is about achieving one’s dream and yes they can come true.
There were a series of dance movies last decade, the Step-Up movies. They focused on realizing your dreams in life, but weren’t as big as Fame, Flashdance or La La Land. Some dream big movies target their ideas to a niche audience that wouldn’t see the bigger ‘dream big’ movies.
Dream big movies are usually found in the mainstream as this is where they naturally gravitate. Because the American Dream is in the mainstream.
In the case of pro-American Dream movies, they want the audience to feel good and dream big. They want the audience to be inspired to live their life as best as possible. Some go for this and others don’t.
The anti-American Dream movies remind me of Robbie Robertson’s song American Roulette, a track on his 1987 self-titled debut album. In the song, he sings about how life and success the American Dream promises is not guaranteed. He references Elvis and Marilyn Munroe, two stars at the top, who came to untimely deaths, before their time was really up. Glamour and drugs does not mean you have made a life for yourself.
A pocketfull of movies with the anti-American Dream theme were American Beauty, Requiem for a Dream, and The Godfather.
In American Beauty, the film asks if there is more to life than striving everyday and more to people pursuing dreams and goals. This film asks if the American Dream has abandoned the spiritual side to life.
Young people lost in drugs and reckless behavior fuels Requiem for a Dream, leaving one viewer I talked to wondering if this is what has come of the American Dream.
The Godfather may make viewers feel how low a nation can go to the dark side of family values and pursuing wealth.
Tempting us to dream
My favorite film about the American Dream is The Pursuit of Happyness. It gets down to the nitty gritty of a man, whose wife has left him, but he attempts to work hard and make a better life for himself and his son. It’s all against the odds.
His success is embraced by the audience because the man is genuine and sincere in his endeavor. In the end there is nothing like an underdog story where the underdog rises up.
Maybe that makes me a pro-American Dream movie guy, but liking that movie means I enjoyed a nice guy overcoming his obstacles. Sometimes life is as simple but as challenging as that.
Anti-American Dream movies make good points, but without any of the life and vigor of a movie that tempts us to dream.
Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Han Solo in The Force Awakens and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. The action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. They are the good guys.
Does the Arnold Schwarzenegger action hero need redemption? No, we say. Because he saves lives (in the way an action movie hero does in implausible fantastical situations that have little if no bearing on reality). He’s too good to need redeeming.
It seems the “good guys” in movies don’t need redeeming or it appears that way. Would the good guy really need redeeming, anyhow? Isn’t a good guy beyond redeeming?
The good guys
Some characters transform into evil, but others have gone the other way, to the good.
Like Luke Skywalker.
Thirty years on, we may wonder what is going to happen to Luke in the next Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, coming out this year.
We, as viewers of Star Wars, first meet Luke as a farm boy working on his uncle and aunt’s homestead, in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
Luke’s commitment is to his family, but he desires the galaxy to be free from tyranny. This desire propels him to the center of the battle against tyranny. Therefore, Luke is a good guy.
However, even Luke needs redemption, though he is the epitome of goodness.
It matters that the good guys are redeemed because, like Luke, it sets them in a direction of purpose and maturity and in affecting the world for good.
In the beginning, Luke is immature. His recklessness makes him vulnerable to succumbing to temptations that could take him off the good path. He needs to grow and grow through a process of redemption. He needs to change from immaturity [read: his recklessness] to maturity and this required him to change.
Luke’s stage by stage redemption was put to good use for the step-by-step redemption of the galaxy. Luke was instrumental each step of the way.
It will be interesting how Luke pans out in the next Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, released this year. He is thirty years older and wiser than when we last see him. Luke’s redemption started in his youth, but there may yet be some work to do on his character.
In Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker had transformed into an evil character, but this isn’t a total transformation into evil.
Not total transformation
Unless one is the Devil, one can’t totally be evil.
In the television series Lucifer there’s a shot of what the Devil looks like. There is no compassion, empathy or mercy on his face. There is no love. His face is without a redeemable quality. His face makes us see that the Devil looks inward and to his own agenda. Only the Devil is truly, totally evil. Humans still have good in them and are redeemable. The Devil isn’t good or redeemable at all.
In my post before last I mentioned how characters could transform into agents of evil. This isn’t total transformation. The baddies have gone quite a way to evil, but the good that is buried and left in them means they are not without good. But since they are so deluded by evil, and even think that evil is good, they must be redeemed.
Why is their redemption important?
It matters to claim life above death and destruction.
Evil is destructive and it kills and destroys. If one lived in a world marked always by evil one would self-destruct. A world where evil reigns, implodes.
Redemption for an evil character
If one becomes so deluded that one actually thinks destruction is based in right but still has good within, one has not totally transformed into evil. Before more death and destruction happens, someone who is evil must come back to his senses. An evil character’s goodness can be “reactivated” and put into commission if an evil character is redeemed.
Anakin Skywalker needed redeeming. He should have been redeemed and redemption was always possible for him.
Being lost forever in evil isn’t the end of his story. He was redeemed back to his good side. His goodness that had been buried was “reactivated” so he was not totally lost in evil or was never fully transformed into evil.
When he was redeemed, his goodness came to the fore and his evil put to death.
Many moments in The Light Between Oceans (2016, out now for home viewing) accentuate isolated and needy individuals who don’t really want to be alone.
Tom and Isabel
The film begins by lingering on Tom’s isolation on the Australian coast. He is single, alone and surrounded by mountain and land on one side and ocean going forever on the other. He writes in his notebook, but unable to share it with anyone else.
His stoical appearance makes him appear without a need and he seems comfortable in the surrounds of a lighthouse away from everything. But he does need a wife. Even the most confident individuals in isolation still feel the need to connect with another human being. That is quite natural.
Tom, played by Michael Fassbender, is a lighthouse keeper living on the coast of Australia. He replaces the previous keeper who lost his health.
After a meeting, Tom’s taken on for a three year contract, and he happens to meet Isabel (played by Alicia Vikander, Oscar winner for The Danish Girl). They marry.
Tom’s need for a wife is filled. It is not good for man to be alone and something good has come into Tom’s life, filling his need to connect, despite appearing confident being alone.
Isabel envisages having children, but miscarries twice. Then, she “adopts” an infant that washes up on the shore, appearing out of nowhere on a boat, crying and needing help. Her needs are met by keeping and raising the child.
She found the bridge between what she desired—her need for children—and what was not there yet, in the distance.
The child’s birth mother turns up needing her child, who has grown up with Isabel and Tom. The child is attached to her “adopted” parents, but now the child is wanted by her birth mother.
But what is best for the child and her needs?
There are conflicting needs among the individuals involved. Isabel and the birth mother both need the child, but the child has needs for the Mom she was raised by.
The question is how does one find fulfillment, and yet think of others, where there are conflicting needs? What gives way, what gives up, or who makes the difference? This is the light between “oceans” that individuals need.
Though some criticism has been laid at how The Light Between Oceans is contrived, it is actually true to life, as life like this could have unfolded somewhere, especially in relation to the early 20th century, when the film is set. It’s realistic. Sometimes life as stable as it was can get out of hand. There’s a God angle on that, too. Therefore, The Light Between Oceans is underrated.