The Movies

William Holden to a forgotten film star, “You used to be big.”  Her reply, “I am big … it’s the pictures that got small.” – Gloria Swanson, “Sunset Boulevard”  

I watched some of the Academy Awards for 2020. I have always loved movies. My first regular job with a paycheck was ushering. I was the Chief Usher at the Community Theater in Morristown New Jersey. It might have helped that my older brother, Mike, was the Theater Manager. The first movie I saw also stared William Holden. It was “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Holden plays the reluctant hero who returns to the prison camp he escaped from. And he winds up getting cut down in a hail of bullets trying to stop Alec Guinness from saving the bridge they were building as prisoners for the Japanese. How do I remember this stuff? As an usher I saw the movie 28 times!  

Out movies reflect our culture. They mirror the current zeitgeist. Two starkly different examples: “It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood”, and “The Joker.”

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers does a masterful job of portraying the compassionate and empathic Mr. Rogers who brings entertainment and support to children. He winds up helping an investigative journalist who was looking to “expose him as someone too good to be true” and ends up being transformed by Mr. Rogers’ genuine human caring and connection. Mr. Rogers loves people and they return the love.    

Joaquin Phoenix is The Joker. He seeks love and connection in a dystopian society, Gotham City. The Joker has a job as a clown working in a children’s hospital. Like Mr. Rogers, he also wants to bring these children joy and compassion. The similarities stop there. A gun slips out of the Joker’s costume in the children’s ward. The Joker is psychotic, and Joaquin Phoenix does a brilliant job of showing how thin the line is between ‘control’ and ‘chaos’. The Joker’s environment is impoverished and dangerous. No one cares for him.

Why is it important to go to the movies? We learn about who we are as a society. Movies do reflect our culture. They use art to tell us how to behave without lecturing to us. They make us laugh; they make us cry. They show us our heroes and they show us our villains. And hopefully, we chose to model the good guys.