August 21, 2014

Reflections on movies and children

Some days we simply need to hug our children.

As we search to understand how a day like Dec. 14 could happen in our part of the world, we savor every opportunity to let the children in our lives know what they mean to others, what their futures hold and how we treasure their presence.

One way to hug our children is to share a movie.

From the moment my three sons could follow a plot, or come close, we shared meaningful moments at the movies, starting at home with the classics as well as choosing what was new at the theater.

I looked for movies that would nurture their souls and stimulate their curiosity, films that could teach them something new or inspire them to do something great or simply to entertain them and invite moments of escape. And, when necessary, I looked for movies to help soothe what hurt. I never worried if a complex story would be a challenge to follow or if a film’s length might tire them out. In our house, watching movies was a participatory sport. We shared our reactions to what we saw. And if we needed to talk about something substantive we knew how to use the pause and stop buttons on the remote control. Yes, we would curb our conversations when in a public movie theater, before we started to talk just as the final credits would end.

With my kids, if our worlds hurt, sharing movies could help. Celebrating the heroism of US astronauts in Apollo 13 helped us address the sadness of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. Sharing the triumph of spirit in The Grapes of Wrath helped us better understand the realities of the financial challenges people often face. And experiencing the community spirit in It’s a Wonderful Life reminded us how lucky we are to live in a special place.

Today I think of the movies that can help at moments like this. Last year’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close looks at the tragedy of Sept. 11 through the eyes of a young boy trying to adjust to life after the death of his father. While the film risks relying on that day’s events as a plot device, it effectively explores how people must search for answers long after a tragedy ends. The lovely film In America, about a family adjusting to life in the United States, reminds us how the strength of family gives each of us the strength to endure whatever challenges we confront. And the classic To Kill a Mockingbird shows us the enduring magic that a father can create for a child as she tries to grasp events beyond her immediate comprehension.

During good times and bad, families need to talk, every day. Sharing movies can help parents start conversations that, otherwise, could be a challenge. At the movies, we can go everywhere, experience anything and meet anyone. From our seats in a theater, we can travel to places long before we step onto airplanes, reach back in time to moments in history we were not alive to experience, visit fascinating people we could never meet and learn more about social issues we need to understand. With every movie, we got yet another opportunity to spend time together and, of course, to exchange a few more hugs. And, during such times, we savor every hug we share.

Days like Dec. 14 remind us how fragile life can be. Sharing the movies, as a family, can give us one more experience to share. Take care of yourselves and the people you cherish.

This Week’s Movie Menu

What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve: You want to savor something you will enjoy at the same time you nourish the mind, heart and body. These nutritional movies are available this week on cable for you and your family.

With so many details to manage during the holidays, sharing a film can give a family welcome relief. Check out what’s available on cable this weekend.

Families that fail to communicate have little chance to succeed. The communications within and between generations are essential if this most valued of traditions is going to provide the emotional support that each member of the family needs. But no family is perfect. There are moments, in every family, when communications break down, especially between parents and older children.

Rebel Without a Cause — showing on Turner Classic Movies at 2 p.m. Saturday — explores what can happen when people who live in the same house refuse to listen to each other and disconnect at a time in their lives when they need each other most.

Such breakdowns in communication have always been a part of the relationships between parents and teenagers. It’s no fun, it can hurt and, unless honestly addressed, can seriously damage the family. No matter our age, we encounter feelings we don’t understand, people who confuse and disappoint, and actions and words we wish we could take back. We are never too mature, at any age, to act like children.

Director Nicholas Ray uses what could have been a routine story as an opportunity to explore the depth of relationship within a family, and creates a classic that perfectly captures the gap that can build between generations at any time. The people in the film could walk down any street on any given day as they express hopes and hurts that are essentially universal.

Even though set in the 1950s, the issues explored in Rebel Without a Cause never age. The kids may dress differently, and drive unusual types of cars, but the feelings they explore, the needs they express and the emotions they don’t understand are no different than teenagers today. We all find ourselves, at time, having trouble talking, or listening, or fearing what it means for the family to stop sharing. But some situations cause the tension to reach unbearable levels. People snap. And, when they do, there’s no way to predict what they may say, what others may feel or what feelings may be damaged.

Santa Claus is an enchantment in every childhood. The possibility that this mysterious wonder actually exists defies all sense of logic and transcends religious beliefs. Perhaps we share the magic of Santa Claus — in whatever form he takes — simply because this marvelous personality can enhance the wonder of the end-of-year holidays.

But the fact is anyone would be challenged to defend the generous Santa in a court of law. After all, how can anyone prove that someone without any evidence of real presence actually exists? How can anyone document a spirit that touches a heart rather than touches the ground? And how can anyone justify a belief when there is no reasonable certainty that an explanation exists?

Miracle on 34th Street — airing throughout the weekend on AMC — takes us to the life of a little girl who is far too practical to believe in Santa Claus. That’s no surprise, actually, because she comes from a very practical home. Her mother is a disciplined worker, for Macy’s, who makes it her job to enable others to celebrate the holidays, starting with the annual Thanksgiving parade that she helps coordinate. But there’s no room in her life for the magic of the season. She is simply too practical for that. And her distanced view directly passes to her daughter who easily becomes more cynical than a young girl should be. So when a man who claims to be the actual Santa Claus enters their lives, this mother and daughter simply don’t know what to do. Should they believe what he says? Or should they consider all the reasons why he could not be telling the truth? Should they expose him? Or should they let him believe as he will because, in truth, how much harm does he actually do?

While celebrating the heart of the holiday season, Miracle on 34th Street also reminds us that the specifics of the season do not dictate its meaning. While some may hold beliefs of one type, there is plenty of room at this time of year for many beliefs. And there is always room in the season for magic. Because magic is what the holidays

Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.