Yours, Mine and Ours: Emotional Custody of Films

14 May

I previously raised the issue of how we become emotionally connected to specific movies in “Yours, Mine and Ours: Our Emotional Ties to Films.” Now, I want to explore the unfortunate side of forming those attachments. What happens to our relationships with those films when our relationships change?

For instance, I am getting divorced. Before I met my wife, I had no interest in horror movies at all. That was her favorite genre, however. For the first few years we were together, I just sort of indulged her each October as she waited for the sun to go down each night to properly set the mood for some of her favorites. In my world, October was meant for the baseball playoffs. Eventually, though, I began to explore the horror genre in earnest and found myself less devoted to the divisional series games early in the month. I discovered along the way that I love the old Universal Monsters movies. My wife wasn’t particularly big on those, though, so those are “mine.”

Then there’s Night of the Living Dead, which I had never seen until she introduced me to both the original and remake. Both versions rank among her personal favorite movies of all time, partly because of fond memories she has of watching them with her family growing up. Those were clearly “her” movies, so she took the DVDs with her…but now I’ve come to really like them, too. In my mind, they’ll always be “her” movies, though.

It’s entirely because of her that I saw both versions, and that I wrote Reel Rumbles #24: Night of the Living Dead vs. Night of the Living Dead. Had it not been for that, I would never have had tweeted with actress Patricia Tallman (Barbara in the 1990 remake) last Halloween.

Seriously, that is the most gratifying feedback I have ever had on anything I have ever written for this blog. (Also, lest anyone misunderstand, Patricia Tallman is a very friendly woman with a terrific sense of humor; this was her being playful and not unkind.) Despite being raked over the coals by Tallman for the blog post that I wrote, they’re still not “my” movies.

Similarly, it’s because of me that my wife first saw Lawrence of Arabia. I have identified with Peter O’Toole’s performance as T.E. Lawrence since I first saw the film on VHS about 15 years ago. “I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great state from a small city,” he says. Growing up – but never really fitting in – in a small town in Kentucky, that statement was like having someone tell me how to discuss my own life. When I finally got her to watch it a few years ago, she was easily able to see the ways in which the movie had spoken to me and why I loved it so dearly. That’s “my” movie. She won’t be able to hear its name without thinking of me.

What of the movies we discovered together, though? We both got a blast out of Red, for instance. I was the one who actually tracked down the best deal on it, and it’s because of me we actually bought it when we did. Still, I admit that it seemed to be more important to her than it was to me. She took the Blu-ray, but I’ve thought a lot about replacing it for myself.

Ultimately, I’m not even really addressing the issue of divvying up discs. What really matters here are our emotional ties to films. I can never think of The Departed without recalling the fact we hit a deer on our way home from seeing it and were nearly killed. That was a major life experience we shared together and it will always be on my mind whenever that movie comes up in conversation or whenever I re-watch it. It became a symbol of what we, as individuals and as a couple, had survived. Now, it’s a reminder of a time when we were still a couple.

This is, of course, just one example of how changes in our relationships affect the way we feel about films. You don’t need to get divorced to find yourself feeling differently about a movie. It can happen because of changes in our relationships with our parents, friends, coworkers, neighbors, classmates, drinking buddies…once we introduce a movie into any relationship, our feelings toward that movie are subject to change along with the evolution of the dynamics of the relationship.

It may not be something you want to share publicly, but if you want to discuss your own experiences with this phenomenon, I invite you to do so. What was the movie? Who was the other person? Was it a movie you first saw together, or were you introduced to it by the other person? For that matter, did you introduce someone to a movie that now makes them think of you?

  • Nathan Chase

    My story is one of an unusual rekindling of a relationship tied to the viewing of a movie:

    I had “dated” a girl in middle school (as much as passing notes, sitting together at lunch, and such is dating at that age), but we broke up due to some ridiculous emotional reason (of which, I can’t even recall).

    Cut to just before high school, and somehow we got to talking and about going to see a movie. I was unbelievably fixated on all things Nine Inch Nails at the time, and with Reznor in charge of curating the soundtrack, I felt an insurmountable need to see Natural Born Killers.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking… who would take a girl on a date to see Natural Born Killers? For some reason, I did.

    So my ex and I go, I’m drawn in to the movie. My ex seemed more interested in clutching my arm than enjoying the movie. We come out of it and I’m on a “movie watching high” – energized from the audacity of the film.

    Somehow, inexplicably, this movie brought us back together and we began dating again.

    She’s now married with more kids than I can count and lives far away, but I’ll always think of her when I think of Natural Born Killers. Her, and Trent Reznor, I suppose.

  • Travis McClain

    What role do you suppose being on a “movie high” played in the energy of that night? For instance, suppose instead you’d opted to see FernGulley. Still rekindle things, or does the night end with you certain there’s nothing left to explore?

  • Derek Armstrong

    Nathan, I can best you on taking a date to Natural Born Killers. I took a date (a second date) to Requiem for a Dream. She was kind of a film person, but I think this was too much for her. To be fair, I don’t know how much I knew about it at the time. (We had three or four more dates, so the movie wasn’t the cause of our eventual separation — our incompatibility was.)

    I associate two films with my last serious girlfriend before I met my wife, and I’m feeling a bit of deja vu here because I get the sense I may have already left a comment like this on a post like this before. The first is Love Actually, because it was the last movie we saw together — and inadvertently played a role in us breaking up. After we saw it we went to dinner with another couple, and I was doing a pantomime of the kid drumming in the finale, using my fork and knife. She scolded me and was horrified that I would drum with a knife and fork at the table in a restaurant. I think of that as the moment when I decided I did not want to live my life with someone who would be horrified by something like that.

    The second movie is Elf, which I went to see with friends on the day before we broke up, the viewing of which resulted in a fight where she left my apartment and I didn’t follow her (or call to smooth things over). I should have been in a state of emotional trauma (even though I’d been thinking about breaking up with her for about a month), but I loved Elf and still consider it one of my favorite comedies of the last ten years. A few months later I regretted breaking up with her and spent the better part of a year trying to get back together with her, so that too should have tainted Elf — like, “Why didn’t I just opt to spend the day with her instead of going to see Elf?” But Elf never became the retroactive victim of my choice — which proved to be the right one, as I am now happily married.

    I don’t suppose I addressed the issue of how my feelings toward a movie changed as a result of my changing relationships, but hey, a comment is a comment, right? ;-)

  • Jandy

    One easy one for me is definitely Patton, which is my dad’s all-time favorite movie. I certainly wouldn’t have watched that one by age 10 if it hadn’t been for him. I don’t have any strong attachment to it myself, except for through him, but I can never think of it without thinking of him. I’m not sure I’d say it was “ours,” though – it was always his. He quoted it a lot, though, to the point that when I saw the film, I felt like it was using my dad’s phrases. :)

    On a different note, my first ever going-to-a-movie date was to Corpse Bride. I’d met the guy once at a coffeeshop or something (after chatting online for a while – no, this is not Jonathan we’re talking about), and then we went to the movie. It was so weird, because I guess I wasn’t that into him, and I wanted to watch the movie, and he wanted to hold my hand, and it was so distracting. To this day I can’t remember much of the movie; I’d kind of like to rewatch it, but I don’t think I could without that awkward feeling coming back.

  • movieguyjon

    The first film I remember going to the theater to see was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie with my Dad. It was just him and me and a bunch of other kids with their parents. Just watching it recently brought back a ton of memories of that time. Raphael saying “Damn” a lot and all us kids laughing at that (just old enough to realize that was something that you “shouldn’t” say). Of course, my Dad probably didn’t understand what was so appealing about the Turtles, but he seemed to enjoy the film well enough.

    Eventually we would bond over other films, each moving more toward his interests in film – stuff like Falling Down, Air Force One, Witness, The Firm, Clear and Present Danger and a myriad of others.

    Perhaps the one that will be tough to go back to is Gladiator, among the last few films we got to watch together. I’ve seen it recently, but the score and various moments really evoke emotions that tie into viewing it with him.

    I think Black Hawk Down was the VERY last film we saw together. I won’t watch it again.

    Heh, there’s probably an honest-to-god post in my rambling somewhere, if I ever get off my bum and get back to blogging again.

  • Travis McClain @TravisSMcClain

    Derek – I think you may have shared those recollections on the first part of this a few months ago. It’s nice that you’ve managed to stake out a claim on Elf.

    Jandy – I’ve been known to whisper a quip about a movie, but I’m always attentive. I may hold hands or squeeze close to a woman, but the idea of the movie being peripheral just doesn’t work for me. I’d have been irked, too.

    Jonathan – Thank you for sharing your memories of your father. I will be very eager to read that post whenever you get around to composing it.

  • Nathan Chase

    Travis – I definitely think FernGully at that moment might have branched me into a parallel timeline where Gore was elected president, I ended up single living in Des Moines, and the price of gas went down.

  • Travis McClain @TravisSMcClain

    Nathan – I want to go there.