A line from our favorite old black-and-white movie, Philadelphia Story, popped into my head as I was contemplating this post. It’s where Jimmy Stewart, very surprised, says to Cary Grant, “C. K. Dexter Haven, you have unsuspected depth!”
What makes it particularly great is that the movie itself is such a comedy and the roles so hilarious and brilliant in the hands of Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant that the depth of the movie might be at first an unsuspected surprise to the audience as well. It deals with stereotypes about rich and poor and overturns them by the end.
Similarly, hubby and I watched a film last night that did the same thing with gender: took our assumptions and turned them on their heads. It’s called Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and it was so brilliant that we stayed up until midnight talking about it, about the twists and turns and how at first you think one thing and then they throw some other angle in there that makes you think differently.
I’m surprised how often the phrase “makes you think” scares people away from certain books and movies. I get that media is entertainment and that people want to just relax and enjoy a good story, but what’s wrong with gaining new ideas to think about while you’re at it?
A friend of mine told me, “Life’s hard enough without having to be exposed to other people’s problems” — as in watching movies where the characters are dealing with difficult issues. I can understand where she’s coming from to some extent. But for me it’s only a sometimes thing. Sometimes I want a fun story, while other times (most times?) I want a movie or book with more substance.
At the bookstore yesterday I gushed with a bookseller about our recent favorite YA books and we laughed at how some of them were “fluffy.” Sometimes it’s nice to just “eat potato chips,” as she told me another customer said. But I can’t read more than one “fluffy” book in a row any more than I can live off junk food.
It’s depth that ultimately matters to me. I need a little weightiness. I want to feel changed. I want to gain a new perspective on life.
For me, reading and watching films is ultimately about that more than entertainment. I want to experience the sensation of walking around in the shoes of someone different from myself. It was a graduate course in creative writing theory that initially turned me on to the importance of stories, and I haven’t been able to forget it since. Stories teach us empathy. We need to be exposed to other people’s “problems” not only to feel gratitude for our lesser ones but to feel a sense of community with our fellow human beings — to remember to care about people besides ourselves.
That’s not to say I can always stomach it. There are films and books about horrific-but-true subject matter that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch or read. Everybody decides for themselves, I guess, what they can handle. I know that there are movies whose images would haunt me for life if I watched them.
But last night I felt grateful that my hubby had heard about this movie (he’s the film/music guy in our marriage, while I hear about the books) and that he wanted to watch it with me and wanted to talk about it afterwards. It felt like, if nothing else, the depth of the film gave depth to our conversation that followed, gave us a reason to discuss love and relationships in ways we hadn’t, gave us insights into our own relationship, and gave us the kind of experience I treasure, connecting with another human being on a deeper level.
That it happened to be my husband was a nice bonus. Both of us said to each other, “I’m so glad you can appreciate this kind of movie.”
What do you think about substance and fluff, deep vs shallow stories? Do you like a variety? Does depth bog you down? Does it depend on the subject matter? What books and films have changed you, or do they all?