Movie theater with empty seats and projector light

Why We Have Movies

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

Recently, my kid stopped to ask me, “Hey, Dad, you want to watch Endgame?” A nice surprise, and I said yes, which I don’t always do except maybe for the Guardians movies. In the Marvel-movie cosmos, I like them the best. I won’t re-watch the Thanos one where it ends with so many dying, but he said it wasn’t that. “It’s the good one?” I asked him, and Jameson said that it was.

There was a line in it I’d forgotten, which might be why I’m writing this: In order to get the Soul Stone—and they need it—either Hawkeye or Black Widow has to die. That’s the rule. That’s the cost. And Hawkeye—having spent his last five years as a self-appointed executioner—says it has to be him, that he deserves death, but his friend says no, only she says it much better. She says she doesn’t judge someone by the worst mistake they ever made.

That’s why I think we have movies: for that line, whatever it is; for that line that speaks a truth we wish were true.

Take me: I need forgiveness, forgiveness the size of Jupiter, and I have to hope that it might be given. I’m guessing that maybe others feel this too, that I’m not alone, and then movies come along and say so in the dialogue… grief, a gutted-out prayerfulness, a wish for a time heist to undo it all and make it better, an almost relief, everything mixed together and all at once.

That’s not the most literary film choice, I know, but I’m not the most literary person. There’s a poem less famous than any of Frost’s—“To Dorothy” by Marvin Bell—but I like it better. And I’m even more that way with movies, but I don’t care. For instance, The 400 Blows is haunting, especially its final zoom and tableau ending, but I can’t help it: Rocky is the movie that floors me every time. Not because he finishes the fight, which is all he said he could hope for, so when the bell sounds and he’s still standing, then he’ll know for the first time in his life that he “weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood” (or from the trees, and rain, and two-lane roads in the outskirts of Pierce County); no, it’s because while he’s answering reporters’ questions—rushed and halfway, not caring—what he’s really doing is yelling out “Adri-an… A-dri-an,” and she’s coming, and her hat gets knocked off by the crowd, but she’s there at last in the ring, hugging him while he’s beaten and sweaty, and Rocky says, “Where’s your hat?” and she says, “I love you. I love you,” and he says it too. Then the movie holds that moment—tableau—so it keeps on going, not ending… I need that. Probably we all do.

Not Casablanca. I know what all the film critics say, but I’ll take Raising Arizona every time. How come? Because at the end of H.I. McDunnough’s voice-over recounting his beautiful dream—his longed for, probably impossible hope that things will work out somehow—at the end of his heartfelt drawling about an ideal place that he and Ed might come to, H.I. has one final comment. He tells us, “Maybe it was Utah.” That’s better than the line by Bogart, I think, because my wife and I live in Utah.

Or Jaws. Jen loves the ocean, so when Brody and Hooper start kicking back to shore, it seems like they could be us. Me saying (even though this isn’t true), “I used to hate the water,” and Jen pausing a beat then answering me, “I can’t imagine why.” So much deadpan humor there. And so much survival.

Or even this:

RAY: “Where do these stairs go?”

VINKMAN: “They go up.”

How brilliant when the obvious answer swerves; I totally love that. Jen does too. That’s what we need, I think, and that’s what movies promise. I know not all of them deliver, but Ghostbusters does.

Life doesn’t. And its lines aren’t so well delivered. Life doesn’t, except for sometimes; and I think what we do then is fix those moments in our minds, like a script, like a trick we’ve learned from watching movies, even from ones that make no sense at all as good examples. One time, for instance, on Christmas Eve when everything was done, when everyone was sleeping, Jen and I stayed up and watched a documentary about the Jonestown Massacre. Pretty weird, and a strange night to find it on TV, but it didn’t matter. We were finally done with all the right things and now just had this time together.

In the movie of my future, I’m hoping for more of those times: the usual, the unusual, even the dull. Like Jen embarrassing Jaybird one day, taking pictures before his first prom. Like Jen and me seeing orcas from a Zodiac around the San Juans or Vancouver Island. Like the one-thousandth time taking the recycling bin to the curb, and the thousandth time back again. Like her pride-smile when getting her National Board Certification and trying, yet again, to explain how I use her phone to take a photograph. Like me and Jameson reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which is better than A Christmas Carol, although Dickens does a good job of showing us a man who needs redemption and forgiveness. And Scrooge gets there, so maybe we can too. It just takes help he doesn’t really warrant, and visions that are actually a lot like movies, movies that sometimes say things the way we want to hear.

To Jen

You are not the thunder in the story
though your heart does drum more deeply.

Not the lightning either
though you do know how to lash—

still fire in some memories.
No, you are the story of the story; the real…

how the folktale comes from Africa,
and you come from California,

and I come from somewhere
where the sun and words are rare—trees lost

in the fog, I guess, and words waiting
until they’re driftwood, and who will the people be

that come along and climb,
hold hands and balance?

I heard once, and I haven’t forgotten:
Whatever the weather it is, it loves you.

And it’s true. The shoreline’s lit up or overcast,
the wind’s enough to hear the chimes outside or not,

there’s heat or there isn’t heat—
I feel it with you

until the snow comes blanketing.
Until what’s left of me is memories when it rains.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s new books Facts and Figures and The Last Tiger is Somewhere are available from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle and Unsolicited Press. Previous books include The Book of Sharks and 88 Maps. His first collection of creative nonfiction, Accidental Gardens, is forthcoming from Stormbird Press.
Read Rob Carney’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by and Trinity University Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to an interview on Montana Public Radio about The Book of Sharks.

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