A while back I wrote a story about two of my favorite movies: Chocolat and Under the Tuscan Sun. https://humoringthegoddess.com/2011/04/28/chocolat-under-the-tuscan-sun/. It was an irreverent observation of the main characters (thin, lovely 30ish beauties) and their ability to start new lives in quaint surroundings filled with friendly neighbors, gorgeous scenery, and hunky men. There was drama, of course; some sort of “obstacle” the main character had to overcome. But it was artistically woven into the background, and it left me with a positive attitude about life after 30.
I just finished watching Tuscan again, and I find a little uneasiness creeping into my positive attitude. While I know that movies and fiction books and television are all pretend, I wonder why so many of us are drawn to such escapism. I mean, flying spaceships through outer space or sitting at the other end of the table from Henry the Eighth are out-and-out fantasies, not available in this (or any) lifetime. But modern-day escapism is a lot easier to imagine.
It’s not that I want to leave what I have behind (although the thought of never having to change the kitty litter again does sound enticing); it’s more the attitude of pretend that seems to strengthen me. I spend most of my waking hours trying to deal with life. Some of my friends are planning early retirement, others planning to have kids, some trying to get out of bad jobs, and still others taking second jobs to make ends meet. I have lost parents and friends to the Reaper, and sat besides others who have cheated him one more time. I can see how the world is unfair, unyielding, and unacceptable. So I can see how a happily-ever-after movie ending rates right up there with dark chocolate and the 1812 Overture.
But after watching my favorite movies for the umpteenth time, I see my creativity being put to the test. I don’t confuse fake gazebos that overlook vineyards with the pot of geraniums on my back porch; I don’t think making homemade chocolate would be any more rewarding than making homemade spaghetti sauce. I know I will never look like Diane Lane or Juliette Binoche — too many babies and too many cookies and too much menopause has taken care of that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t follow my own Yellow Brick Road now and then.
Moviemakers are dream makers in the ultimate sense. Not only do they manipulate scenery into idyllic settings and everyday conversation into romantic poetry, but take us just where we think we want to go. As the observer, we never see the cameramen, construction workers, caterers, painters and all the other thousands of people who make our trip to la la land possible. We never see the accounts payable clerk at her desk, the plumber fixing the waterfall, the cleaning service scrubbing the toilets or the mountain of programming needed to make a glass of champagne bubble someone’s name.
And we don’t want to see it. We don’t want to see the mess the cleaning crew has after a day’s shooting; we don’t want to be reminded of the endless peanut butter sandwiches the street sweepers and lighting technicians had to eat just to stay on the production company’s payroll. Why? We don’t want to see the behind-the-scenes efforts because they remind us so much of our own daily life. If we were to watch the women wash the floors of the Italian bungalow, we would be reminded that our own kitchen floor needs scrubbing. If we were to watch the crews paint the set to look like old world France it only reminds us that our house could use a fresh coat of paint. If we were to know that all the food on the banquet table were fake except for what the actors were eating, it would bring home the fact that some of the food we bring home from the grocery store tastes pretty fake, too.
Is that all bad? Not really. As we get older we find that reality distorts a lot of things. The length of the rope seems to be longer behind us than in front of us. We know that today could be our last chance to drink a glass of wine or hug our kids or listen to Louie sing What A Wonderful World. If we keep on track and bring light into our lives, we can make the length of the rope in front of us infinite. And how do we do that? We make our own version of pretend.
As I said before, a pot full of geraniums can be just as rewarding as the French countryside, be it in a different form. A piece of Hershey’s chocolate sitting on a fancy plate from Good Will can be just as alluring as an exclusive delicacy served in a five star restaurant in Italy. Toga parties can mimic ancient Rome (or Animal House), and calling the gang over for game night can rival any three-dimensional chess game Spock and Kirk could play. We just have to understand that reality is all in one’s point of view.
I am learning not to take the movies seriously. Not that I ever did, but there were times I was genuinely tempted to build a greenhouse like the one in Practical Magic or rent an atmospheric cottage in rural Scotland to write my breakout novel like Demi Moore in Half Light. The point is, don’t let pretend pass you by. Just know it for what it is, respect its limitations, and let it fly in and around and through your life.
Besides — if a librarian can travel to Egypt and discover mummies and telephone repairmen can have close encounters of the third kind, there’s no telling where a wife/mother/grandmother can go.
Want to come along?