It’s the weekend and you’ve got more free time on your hands today than you’ve had all month.
As fate would have it, the sun is nowhere to be seen and it’s raining… which means your plans for a hike have to be re-scheduled and spending some time down by the water is out too…
And even though you’ve got some errands to run or a bunch of tasks to cross of your ‘to-do’ list, I’m guessing you’re in the mood for something a little more relaxing.
What if I told you there was a way to escape the realities of your day-to-day and experience life in someone else’s shoes, or through someone else’s eyes? Or how would you like to immerse yourself in a new world, which in some cases, is completely unlike the one that you and I inhabit?
Chances are you’d probably already be loading up Netflix or opening your Fandango app to check out showtimes, because of course, I’m referring to watching a movie.
One of the greatest aspects of film as a medium is the escape it offers.
It’s one of the most curious and powerful shared human experiences available to us. Complete strangers, sitting in a darkened, hushed auditorium or cozy living room find ways to understand the same emotions, relate to characters and the struggles they go through, and incredibly,
Now, the film student in me thought about selecting a few flicks that were a little more, well, out there… but the whole purpose of this piece is to examine and discuss movies that will change the way you see the world… which means you have to actually see or be interested in seeing the ones I choose, right?
Before I share my first film, I want to encourage all of you to make a conscious effort to watch these four titles if you haven’t already, or re-watch them if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing them. These are masterful stories that will resonate with you, regardless of who you are, what you do and where you live.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Adapted from the novella ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ by the incomparable Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King), we are invited into the world of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker facing a life sentence for the murder of his adulterous wife and her lover – despite his self-proclaimed innocence.
The heart of the movie focuses on Andy’s friendship with another inmate, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), and chronicles their nearly 20 years together inside Shawshank Prison. I legitimately can’t do the writing, acting and plot any justice in a fairly short blog post, but I do want to mention that this is a masterfully written story with an incredible depth to all of the characters we meet on screen.
What always stood out to me after watching Shawshank was the undying faith that Andy had in the truth being the key to his freedom. In fact, one of my favourite lines that really puts things into perspective comes during a conversation between Andy and Red, where Tim Robbins’ turns to Morgan Freeman and says “Remember Red, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
The core thematic element to Shawshank, of course, is hope. The hope that an innocent man will one day have a chance to be proven innocent, or at the very least, be free again. The belief that good things happen to good people – and despite seemingly insurmountable circumstances that would push any person to their psychological limit – that honesty wins more often than not. It’s also brings to mind the haunting quote that “one man’s heaven is another man’s hell,” and that a person’s mindset truly dictates where they draw happiness from.
If pressed to choose one, The Shawshank Redemption might just be my favourite film of all time.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
The best part of The Pursuit of Happyness is its authenticity.
And I don’t just mean the on-screen chemistry between Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith, who makes his film debut as – you guessed it – his son.
This incredible true story of salesman Chris Gardner’s struggles with homelessness will remind you that no matter how bleak things may appear, there is always a way to better your circumstances – especially if you work hard, stay positive and remain true to who you are as a human being. Will Smith’s performance is gritty and entirely believable – it’s in my eyes one of the best elements of the film. He has an incredibly endearing sense of responsibility (obviously his son’s well-being is his first priority), but also a relentless pursuit of safety and success.
Overcoming the odds is something that we’re all challenged to do at some point in our lives, and Happyness finds ways to touch on so many different aspects of the human experience – love, family, work, friendship… I’m hard-pressed to imagine that this film (especially given that it’s based on an actual person) doesn’t resonate with nearly everybody. It’s also fascinating to remember that happiness comes in all shapes and sizes for each of us – for instance, what I aspire for out of life and this world may be vastly different compared to you.
But that’s the beauty of life, right?
Remember The Titans (2000)
Sometimes the worst characteristics in some bring out the best in others – case in point, the true story that motivated Remember The Titans.
Denzel Washington gives a truly brilliant performance as Coach Herman Boone, tasked with uniting a racially diverse team and community in the Northern Virginia city of Alexandria in the early 1970’s.
While there are those quick to accuse Titans of being too clichéd or failing to really dig deep into some of the social and civil issues pervading the film… let’s remember that it’s predominantly a sports film wearing the helmet and pads of a drama. And while a serious and deeply painful topic like racism is a bit heavy for a film co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures, the script examines it sensitively alongside others themes like teamwork, community, brotherhood and parenting.
One of the most striking elements of the film for me is the relationship between Washington’s character Head Coach Boone and Defensive Coordinator Bill Yoast (played by Will Patton) – Yoast is the white Virginia High School Hall of Fame nominee who held the top job previously. Upon taking over, Coach Boone offers Coach Yoast a spot on the team as a sign of respect. And despite the fact that both men have their differences throughout the film (which is putting it mildly), they find a way to overcome them for the sake of their players, their town and each other. It’s a key message that we could all benefit from emulating a bit more in our own day-to-day lives. We’re far too quick to jump at the opportunity to criticize or put ourselves ahead of others around us. The theme of unity is central to the plot in Titans and one that speaks to the importance of peeling away the complex layers and labels that our society creates.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
While many still marvel at the fact that Good Will Hunting was penned by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (in my opinion, these two get a bit of an unnecessary bad rap – especially Affleck who has directed some killer movies recently like Argo and The Town), this near-perfect drama is a classic underdog story.
Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a twenty-something Southie labourer is an undiscovered mathematical genius. Through his relationships with best friend “Chuckie,” (Affleck), his girlfriend Skylar (Minnie Driver) and his therapist Dr. Sean Maguire (the late – and brilliant – Robin Williams), the film forces viewers to challenge stereotypes and believe in one’s own abilities, regardless of circumstance.
The film explores some really traumatic life experiences, including sexual abuse, physical violence and depression, but strives to showcase how humility and a lack of belief can sometimes prevent us from reaching our full potential.
Funnily enough, my dad used this analogy in reference to my academic performance back in the day, but it fits here as well: Damon’s character is “like a 747 jet that realizes it can get off the runway using only one engine, but never quite gets into full flight mode.” And even though I’m not 100% sure if that’s even possible, we watch Will battle his brilliance and seemingly prefer to be as “normal” as possible, instead of embracing the mental gifts he has been granted. It’s almost like he sees weakness in accepting the fact that he’s as good as he is, as smart as he is – and to be honest, many of us are naturally reluctant to admit that we’re great at something. Watching Will struggle with the fact that he doesn’t really fit in where he’d like to fit in is important and uncomfortable, because many of us have been there.
Looking back, there are a ton of similarities between these four films. Whether it’s hope, perseverance, confidence, unity, love… each one speaks to me on a different level. As both a person and a professional, I can relate to so many of these characters in the emotions they feel and the situations they experience. Like I mentioned before, if you haven’t seen them, I genuinely feel that they will teach you something about humanity and force you to see the world around you in a different light.
Matt is very active on Twitter at @mattblackink and always up for a conversation, or feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected]
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