Going to the Movies with the Smiths

My husband and I have a tradition for our birthdays: we go out to the movies and then to dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant. It’s an inexpensive celebration that is usually doable on a weeknight. Sometimes we have additional celebrations, such as the wine events we attended this year around the time of both of our birthdays. This year, for my husband’s birthday we saw Still Alice—because who doesn’t want to celebrate getting older by seeing a movie about a woman who discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease? “Another uplifting film,” my husband would say.

(Yes, we’re a fun couple. On Presidents’ Day we saw Leviathan, the Russian film nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s an epic tragedy about one man’s fight against the corruption of Russian bureaucracy, especially against his antagonist, the piggish, evil mayor. The film also has stunning shots of the Barents Sea coast, where it was filmed.)

So Still Alice. After it was over, my husband turned to me and said, “I think that’s the saddest movie I’ve ever seen.” That sparked a dinner conversation about sad movies we’ve seen recently. (See, aren’t we fun?) There are different types of sad movies, of course. There’s the overly sentimental maudlin sad, for example, the type of movie that doesn’t really appeal to me. Still Alice is sad, but it focuses on the woman and follows her through her life as it changes over the course of her illness, instead of becoming a sappy emotional vehicle. The movie boasts an amazing performance by Julianne Moore. I asked my husband if he was sorry he had seen the movie, and he said no, he was glad he had seen it. I don’t know if we would say we “enjoyed” the movie, but we were both glad we had seen it, and we both agreed Julianne Moore did an incredible job in portraying the articulate, fashionable, university scholar and professor who becomes the slightly unkempt, nearly wordless, vacant-faced victim of a disease that robs her of her memories. It is the journey from those two extremes that makes the movie so memorable–and that also makes it so sad.

I also dreamt about the movie last night, but I was Alice. In the dream, I told my friends, Chris, Pat, and Irene about the diagnosis. As we have shared the heartaches and the joys of our lives for many, many years, it seemed this would be one more crisis we’d all weather together somehow. That was sad, too. Then I had another dream that involved food. Life goes on.

During our dinner discussion of sad movies, I mentioned first Amour (2012), about an elderly French couple—the husband cares for his wife, a brilliant pianist, after she has a stroke. After seeing trailers for it, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see it, but my husband and I both agreed that it was a very good movie. It may tie with Still Alice as “saddest.” A couple of other movies that we discussed during dinner: The White Ribbon (2010), a German movie, that is bleak, cold, and disturbing, as well as sad. I don’t remember it as well. I do remember “bleak” though. It is all black and white and gray. The Lives of Others (2006), is a terrific movie about spies and spying and life in East Germany. It’s one I would definitely watch again.

Lest you think my husband and I are like Alvy Singer, Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall who is constantly going to see The Sorrow and the Pity, the French documentary about the Holocaust, let me assure you we are not. (I do love Annie Hall though.) The latest Hunger Games movie (Mockingjay, Part 1) was my birthday movie in December. OK. I guess that’s not really upbeat either, but honestly, we do sometimes see comedies. Recently, we’ve seen Mr. Turner, Into the Woods, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, among others, so we have seen an eclectic assortment of films. I have seen most of the movies nominated for Best Picture, all except Whiplash and American Sniper, and I will probably see both of them at some point. We’ve seen two of the four movies nominated for Best Foreign Film (Ida and Leviathan), and have seen many of the other movies nominated for various other awards this year.

Sometimes we need an escape from reality. Books and movies help provide that escape. Sometimes they also make me think and reflect about my own life.

Movies form a backdrop to favorite family memories, as well. I began to see some movies in different way because of our children. When my older daughter was about three, she wanted to see a particular scene from My Fair Lady and referred to it by the color of Eliza’s dress. (She also referred to a restaurant by the color of its door, which we had never noticed. Can you tell she’s an artist?) Our younger daughter cried and cried every time she watched The Fox and the Hound, but she still insisted on watching it. I remember my husband and I laughing and laughing at Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year.

Do you watch sad movies? Do have family memories associated with movies? Do you try to see the movies nominated for Academy Awards?

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41 thoughts on “Going to the Movies with the Smiths

  1. I’m not big on sad or downer movies – must be my natural wiring. I can recall only one year when I saw all the Best Picture nominees .. and I recall being disappointed in the winner … Titanic! It won so many Oscars … but LA Confidential was my winner that year.

  2. I can’t sit through two or three hours of sad. I loved the graphics in What Dreams May Come…but it had such sad undertones, I was really uncomfortable. Yet, my book, was filled with sadness. I guess I work out my own grief in writing.

  3. This is a lively round-up of movies, Merril. Cliff and I like to go to the movies together too, but he prefers action/crime types, like many men. Though we usually see Judy Dench and Maggie Smith-type movies together, last weekend he didn’t want to see Still Alice, so I went alone. When my aunt was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I read the book. Though I know the movie wouldn’t end well, I knew I would appreciate Julianne Moore’s performance. It was stellar!

    Another sad movie – Iris – about the famed writer Iris Murdoch. Have you see it? Again, I would typify the movie as one I appreciate but not particularly enjoy except for her husband’s solicitous care of her. Actually, the husbands in both Still Alice and Iris were attentive. Object lesson? If you are going to have dementia, but sure your husband is the caring type. Well, I’m rambling on. Thanks for the post with all the food for thought, just like your dream.

    • My husband and I both like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, too. I don’t know if it will be a very good movie, but we’ll probably see the second Marigold Hotel movie that should be out soon. (I love Bill Nighy, too.) I never saw Iris, although I’ve heard of it. I think there was too much going on here when it came out. I usually pick the movies because I read all about them, and my husband just goes along with whatever I pick. I made him choose for his birthday though–but we had talked about seeing Still Alice. 😉

  4. I just don’t do sad movies any more. The closest I’ve gotten in years was Gran Torino. We go to quite a few movies, but for Valentine’s Day we went together and saw different movies. She went to 50 Shades, and I went to Jupiter Ascending. We met up afterward for dinner.

    • One of my friends went to a movie a few weeks ago and her husband went to a different one. Fortunately, my husband and I usually like the same movies, and then we can talk about them. I would never go to see a movie simply because it’s sad, but sometimes I kind of make myself see one that I know will be sad, if that makes sense.

  5. I am NOT a fan of sad movies, although I have seen them. I read the book Still Alice, though, and YIKES. That book is a mystery to me. It’s not well written in some ways, but it hits the reader like a mallet on the head. Wow, so sad. Sounds like the movie is similar!

  6. I like to listen to people talking about films but I never have anything to contribute. I watch a film so rarely it marks me for months afterwards. I prefer the old black and white films anyway, no special effects and less frenetic than contemporary films. If you want a laugh watch Harvey. Has me rolling in the aisles every time.

  7. Well, what a barrel of laughs you two are on a date, aren’t you? 😉 Actually, even sad, that sounds like a romantic evening. I’m with your daughter – I STILL cry at The Fox and the Hound! LOL! I don’t mind sad movies, but I don’t like depressing movies that make me feel horrible at the end. Then I feel like I just wasted two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

  8. Merril … An excellent review of “Still Alice.” I’ll bet you are a fun couple, but I tend to avoid movies and books that’ll make me cry. I cry during inter generational Kool-Aid commercials. So I’d be a basket case during a sad movie. My tastes run more to suspense films, comedies, adventure and crime. My husband and I used to go to one or two movies every weekend. Now we rarely do. I think the last film we saw was “Monument Men” and I loved that film.

  9. Thanks, Judy. I cry at everything, too, and I’ve also been known to cry at commercials–my daughters and niece do, too. I liked the “Monument Men,” I thought it was an interesting story. Do you know of the new movie with Helen Mirren coming out soon, “The Woman in Gold”? It’s based on the true story of a woman who is trying to get the Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt back from the Austrian government. It was taken by the Nazis.

  10. I used to be a sucker for sad movies until the sadness in my life became more than I cared to add to. Even as I say that I know I will go see Still Alice as I read the book and I’d like to see Julienne Moore’s take on it and I’m with Marian, I loved Iris. Whiplash was excellent and Gone Girl was intriguing. Sad is different for me now – that is I no longer cry over the same things. I loved Annie Hall and everything Woody Allen back in the day. Haven’t kept up with his recent work. Sophie’s Choice and anything Meryl Streep did or does is always at the top of my life and I too am a fan of Judi Dench. My husband likes action, adventure but he likes enough of what I like that we usually take turns, avoiding the overly violent or the overly sappy. We both like the kind of films that don’t usually show up at the big box theaters these days, so small, independent theaters are our favorite go to for date nights.

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Dorothy! We definitely agree on some movies and actors. As you can tell, my husband and I generally see the movies that are not shown in the multiplex type theaters, but we’re fortunate to have theaters nearby in Philadelphia, and even one here in NJ that show the movies we like.

  11. Pingback: Ringing Out the Year: Going to the Movies with the Smiths Redux | Yesterday and today: Merril's historical musings

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