Cinematic Excursions: The Draw of Place & Setting In Film
Sometimes I need to break the strain of a Crohn’s flare with a comedy. Sometimes I need something poignant to cut through the swath of mental stagnation. Every now and again, though, I just want a movie to take me somewhere else. I want to go somewhere I could actually be, but am not likely to actually go there for one reason or another. There are numerous movies that fit the bill, but I’d like to discuss a few favorites of mine from the last decade or so that I think really speak to the concept of a movie’s environment being the appeal.
As a guy, I immediately responded favorably to Sideways. I’d like to think I and my close friends are less petty and selfish than Jack and Miles, but the idea of a guy’s road trip through California’s wine country, playing golf and screwing off for a week holds great appeal. I read Rex Pickett’s novel after seeing the film, and found the story accessible in both media, but the visuals of the film really call to me. Sometimes I just like to watch the guys drive down the road, the sun overhead in a calm sky, the possibilities boundless. I know where they’re headed—both in the sense of the next scene’s setting, as well as where the whole movie takes them—but it doesn’t matter. I’m in the car with them, wondering what the next vineyard holds in store for us.
Ghost World doesn’t speak to me as a guy so much (though I admit that without the intervention of my wife, I might have wound up a nerdy recluse like Seymour), but I can recall a time in my younger days when I was free to have days that went nowhere in particular. Sure, other movies have covered the coming-of-age story, but there’s something about the pacing and low-reaching ambitions of this film that I find so inviting. A prank date set up at a local diner; dropping in on someone you know where they work at a minimum wage job for something to do; striking up a conversation over old records at a garage sale…these are experiences I had, or at least approximated.
Another summertime setting that captivates me is Black Snake Moan. Beyond how cool Samuel L. Jackson is as bluesman Lazarus and how smoking hot Christina Ricci is as nymphomaniac Rae, the Southern summer is palpable throughout this movie. I can smell the honeysuckle, I can feel the sweat on my back just stepping outside. I can feel the relaxing breeze at night, smell the steaks off the grill and relish the cold beer quenching a nagging thirst. The only thing missing is someone catching lightning bugs in a mason jar.
On the other side of the world, I find myself drawn to the Tokyo of Lost in Translation. Sometimes it’s the need for companionship that appeals to me. Sometimes it’s just the idea of running amok in a place that isn’t home, doing the kinds of things you probably wouldn’t do if you were home. For instance, I can’t imagine myself in a strip club with a woman I’ve only recently met. But on vacation? Who knows? The sky’s the limit, and that’s why I love this film. I feel like I’m there with Bob and Charlotte, just killing time and trying to find something to lift up my day in a place where I don’t really belong…but may as well make the most out of being there. Sometimes that’s a physical place, but more often it’s a mental state of mind.
The last cinematic world I’d like to mention is that of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. I’ve not been to New York (or London, where it was actually shot), nor am I likely to get there any time soon. And yet, there’s a part of me that feels like I’ve already been, accompanying Bill Hartford through the streets from the night clubs to the newspaper stand, from the swanky residences to the slum where the prostitute Domino turns her tricks. And, yes, the lurid, secretive masquerade ball is a key part of the film’s appeal. It’s so inviting, with its tantalizing sexuality…and yet so forbidding, with its rigid formality and secrecy. The mansion is gorgeous, yet threatening. The entire film is that way, really; every scene drips with promise, laced with menace. It’s exactly how I like to imagine any given night could be, so far removed from the mundane nature of how every night really is.
So, where do you like to go? Which movies take you somewhere familiar, or exciting? What are those cinematic environments where you just want to get lost for a couple of hours? And it’s no fair saying something like Avatar or Star Wars, even if those are your favorites. Dig deeper than that level of escapism; you might be surprised what you find out about yourself in the process.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Travis as minlshaw on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.