There are few things in this life more comforting to me than a warm cup of tea and a movie. We use movies as an escape from the pains of everyday life. We make visits the movies to unwind, recharge and change our minds. Sometimes we laugh until we cry — and sometimes, well, sometimes we cry half the drive home. Sometimes, we grab our fuzzy blankets and cozy up for the duration — I’m talking to you, Titanic — even when the movie is over three hours long and we’ve seen it a billion times. That said, this year’s Screen Actors Guild award nominations for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture had me reaching for a bottle of Tums.
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While watching this year’s SAG Awards Outstanding Cast nominees, I did a lot of cringing, covering my eyes, clenching my fists and stifling back tears. I started to wonder: Is this the magic of the movies?
Suffice it to say that all this year’s nominees — Trumbo, Spotlight, Beasts of No Nation, The Big Short and Straight Outta Compton — were, for better or worse, based on factual events. What events, you ask? Rape. Murder. War. Fraud. Corruption. Deceit.
After most of this year’s nominated films, I found myself hiding under my chair, rocking myself calm.
The prevailing themes of these movies rumbled in on dark clouds, raining omnipresent injustice onto all their audiences. Halfway into Beasts of No Nation, I wondered if I would even be able to get through to the end. I worried for all of us during The Big Short. I worried for our government during Trumbo. I worried for religion in general during Spotlight.
Yet, I handed money to a cashier again and again at the promise of hope and inspiration.
It’s sad for me to say, I hurt inside after having watched these films. I walked out of The Big Short and told everyone they needed to see it, but not for reasons one would think. I told them because I wanted everyone to know how big banks manipulate the American consumer. I wanted to scream because working people lost their homes as a result of Wall Street greed. I wanted to cry for those who lost their jobs during that crisis, through no fault of their own. As compelling as the acting was, with these movies, there is no getting away from the stories, which were riddled with human indecency.
It’s not to say I want a world full of Inside Outs — because even I found that one a little creepy — or The Blind Sides or even The Sound of Musics, but where’s the balance? Where is the feel-good story in this lineup, or are we all out of those? Where’s the hit film you can watch with your family? Why was every nominated film this year either rated R or unrated altogether?
That’s the type of film that wins the awards these days, isn’t it? Captain Phillips. No Country for Old Men. Monster. American Sniper. Whiplash. Boyhood. Movies punctuated by death, abuse and lack of regard for human life. Movies I wish my children would never see. I could expand this list ad infinitum. How deeply can we mine the dark recesses of the human mind? How far can we be pushed? How evil can the world be?
Are we so desensitized to shocking content that it takes a movie at a level 10 to garner a response? Do we have to leave crying in our soup, afraid of the world around us? Do we have to leave feeling as if we’ve just experienced a world we should never have seen in the first place? Do we have to step back out into the light feeling badly about living on this planet all the time? And further, does everything we pay to watch at home have to feel exactly the same?
When is enough enough?
Not only did I have to watch my back on the way in, as we’ve all learned to do — arming my car and house, hiding my debit card pin number from the guy behind me and hiding my eyes from the screen while I was watching — but I also had to watch my back after the movies were over. Watch out for the banks. Watch out for my colleagues. Watch out for the government. Watch out for my clergy. Watch out for my friends. I’m running out of people and institutions in which to put my trust.
Are we paying money to worry? Are we paying money to feel sick and scared and unsafe? Are we truly being entertained? Can’t I get this very same feeling simply by staying home and watching the news?
I feel like we’ve become a nation that steps over people in the street just to watch people get stepped over in the street.
Where’s the comfort in that?
That said, the acting in these movies was phenomenal. I was riveted from start to finish each time. The manner in which the stories were presented was truly impressive. These are fantastic films. I honor the actors who were brave enough to tell these stories, especially Helen Mirren (as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in Trumbo), who was so graciously the villain yet again for the sake of delivering the truth, and Rachel McAdams (as journalist Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight), who captured some of the most horrific details of the Catholic sex abuse scandal in the U.S.
But, can we bring back The Notebook? The King’s Speech? Can we see a movie that wouldn’t be awkward or, worse, painful to discuss around a watercooler? Is that too much to ask?
Just consider yourself warned: This year’s nominees are plucked directly from real life.
And you can’t get more shocking than that.