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The Movies I’ve Seen Recently, Arbitrarily Arranged Into A Narrative Sequence Emphasizing The Extent To Which They Each Deal With The Subject of How We Remember Stuff In The Past That Makes Us Feel Shitty About Ourselves, Part Two

Benjamin Buttons, via the Huntington WV, Pullman Square movie theater

Though the Forrest Gump parallels are sort of obvious (and it was written by the same screenwriter, I believe), it occurs to me that it stretches out our subjective experience of history into a narrative of time’s objective experience. Let me try that again: in each historical period, Button is the age that people who are from that time are now. He’s ancient during the jazz age, elderly during the depression, middle aged during the sixties, and youthful in the recent past because these are the ages of people now that grew up in those times. And that’s how those eras live on right now: the pre-WWII era only exists in the minds of the very old, while the Beatles are the memory of people in their fifties, and so forth. It doesn’t line up exactly, but I’ll dodge that problem by pretending it begins to retrospectively narrate the twentieth centrury — like Forrest Gump — from the subject position of the mid nineties. Anyway, what this reading does for the movie, I think, is make it a performance of the ways that the past exists not as reality but as a story which — like Forrest Gump ­– always re-imagines the past in service to the selfish needs of the present, is always mediated not by the objectivity of then’s autonomy, but by the contingency of now’s differently persistant subjectivity.

The Movies I’ve Seen Recently, Arbitrarily Arranged Into A Narrative Sequence Emphasizing The Extent To Which They Each Deal With The Subject of How We Remember Stuff In The Past That Makes Us Feel Shitty About Ourselves, Part One

The Breakfast Club, via the Albany public library

What a psychically draining movie. It’s the reverse of Seinfeld in that everybody cries, hugs, and learns, but it also embraces an aesthetic of trauma: narrative gets produced not by actions, but by re-actions, not by events but by the ways those events get lived and re-lived later. After all, the movie’s main weakness — the fact that nothing actually happens­ — is inextricable from its strengths, the way the audience is drawn into the pain of remembrance as the group, collectively, reconstructs a past that is just as imaginary to them as it is to us. After all, the traumatic events of the past do not really exist except in how we remember them, and however real they may nevertheless be, the arena on which we confront them is fundamentally a terrain of imaginaries, language, and relationships.

In this sense, while I loathe the reactionary core of the movie’s ethos — the essentially penitentiary emphasis on reconstructing defectives and cleaning up dirty girls via the transcendent narrative power of heterosexuality — I wouldn’t want to overlook how affecting it can manage to be by performing this breakdown of individual subjectivities on its (surprisingly) existential No Exit style tableau. While it needs the happy ending as unambiguously as a hungry person needs food, the real core of its emotional appeal is elsewhere, as in the weird way we suddenly cut to conversations taking place in strange places (the principle and janitor binge drinking on the floor, or the kids sitting under a table) to emphasize the power that decontextualizing ourselves can have to force reassessment of suddenly de-naturalized subjectivities (which is, if you think about it, the narrative premise of the entire movie). But while that defamiliarization effect ultimately gets processed into a technique of “normalization” (note the silent approval of each parent as they pick up their re-socialized children at the end), the heart of the movie is in the way each character breaks with the past by breaking with the present, addressing trauma by experiencing the absence of its objective correlatives. But it works because you, too — as you sit in the darkened theater of the mind of the movie-viewer — are drawn into and experience the same existential wrench, the same immersion into strangeness.

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