Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hit List: Top 5 Thought-Provoking Dramas

It's time for another Hit List! Listed below (AND in order of my favorite, this time!) are my Top 5 Thought-Provoking Dramas--and some of the thoughts they provoked.

Honorable Mention: Equilibrium (Kurt Wimmer, 2002)

Unfortunately, this film didn't make the cut--but only because I already had five, and only by a VERY SLIM margin.
The Premise: After four world wars, the government turns to science and decides that the underlying factor in all human conflict stems from feelings. Eliminate feelings, and you eliminate conflict. So society becomes a medically regulated conglomerate intent on equality and ratting out your neighbor if you see them exhibiting any sort of emotion at all, or carrying those things that evoke emotion: art, literature, music, etc. The story is told from the perspective of a "Mercenary", the ninja-like police of this blase dystopia. One act of rebellion in a comrade, one challenge from a convicted "transgressor", and the man begins to second-guess what he had blindly accepted--and his world begins to fall apart.

My thoughts: I came across this film because I was looking for some kind of adaptation of "Farenheit 451", a novel I've referenced several times on this blog because I enjoyed it so much. The fact that it starred Christian Bale was a plus.
The film was every bit as striking as the novel it was based on. Incidentally, the film drew on a lot of George Orwell's "1984" for its setting--but luckily (in my opinion), the movie followed the storyline of Bradbury's novel than Orwell's.
I had never before considered how much of human interaction is emotional--but in watching this movie, I saw that people who did not feel rarely even made eye contact. And when a character begins to feel, the effect is almost heart-wrenching. It's as if they're being re-born, experiencing life for the first time. I came away from this film with a new-found appreciation for things as simple as the sunrise. A well-done film with a powerful message and some great stunt sequences!

Poignant quotes: 
"Without love, without anger, without sorrow, breath is just a clock... ticking." (How true this is!)

"You must understand, Preston, that while you - and even I - may not always agree with it, it is not the message that is important, it is our obedience to it. Father's will. Call it faith." (This was poignant to me, not because it is true--but because I am convinced it is an abominable lie... and the fact that it is spoken by a villain trying to excuse himself only confirms this; the message is absolutely vital, as every writer knows; we humans have the capacity to think for ourselves, and the day we give that up is the day we forfeit our humanity)

Now onto the official list, starting with....

5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011)

The Premise: A young boy loses his father on That Awful Day, September ll, 2001. Among his father's things, he finds a key in an envelope labeled "BLACK." He immediately assumes that "Black" is a person who had some kind of connection with his father, and in an effort to stave off the lonliness, the boy embarks on the journey of a lifetime to find the lock that fits the key, to find the person that knew his father, and to reconnect with the best friend that he lost.

My Thoughts: I had wanted to see this movie ever since I discovered it had two of my favorite actors in it, Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks. Supported by Viola Davis and Max Von Sydow--how bad could it be?

Answer: Extremely Compelling and Incredibly Moving. This movie had me almost in tears. Seriously, Thomas Horn is I.N.C.R.E.D.I.B.L.E. A young boy overcomes his fears (dozens of them) and sets out on an expedition--carefully planned and meticulously researched as only a nine-year-old brainiac can--among the boroughs of New York.
A friend had raved about the book, so I managed to read that first. The style was unorthodox and rather disjointed--very much like the mind of a traumatized nine-year-old who "might have Asperger's Syndrome", as the character claims at one point in the novel.
The acting in this movie is spectacular, and the images are striking. It's almost a documentary of life in New York after the horrendous attack--almost, because the perspective is of one little boy who lost a loving father. We meet dozens of the hundreds of Blacks in New York, and each serves as a small glimpse into the diversity and individuality that makes this country so great.
I came away from this film with renewed patriotism and a resolve to not let my fears hinder me from embarking on my own Great North American Expedition.

4. Harvey (Henry Koster, 1950)

The Premise: Elwood P. Dowd is a pleasant man with a special friend, Harvey--which happens to be a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit that Elwood treats like a visible character. His family, overly concerned for how this is making the people around him feel, wants to get him either adjusted or committed. There is a method for "removing the delusion"--but the effects just might destroy Elwood as the world knows him.

 My Thoughts: Jimmy Stewart at his loveable best. He's a big-hearted, innocent darling in whatever role he plays, and this was one of my favorites. Who wouldn't want to meet Elwood? He's mannerly, polite, affable--the only "hitch" in his existence is Harvey, which his sister seems intent on eradicating because it spoiled her stranglehold on a "normal" life.
This film gave me new insight on the concept of "normalcy." I, myself, am not your average ordinary, and there have been times when I feel rather discouraged and catch myself wondering if I might have found more success in life if I were more "normal."
If I was anything different than what I am, I wouldn't be me. The trick, I realized, is not to be more like everyone else; the secret to a successful, fulfilled life is to learn what is the most effective use of the quirks and skills and proclivities one has in bettering the lives of the people around them.

Poignant Quote: 
"You can either be smart all the time or you can be pleasant. I suggest pleasant... You may quote me."

3. The Island (Michael Bay, 2005)

The Premise: A young man in a sterile, strictly monitored environment begins to question his origins and the world in which he lived. What started out as innocent curiosity spirals into full-blown conspiracy as his inquiries uncover secrets that should have never been realized and problems the powers-that-be never foresaw, launching the young man into an epic journey of personal realization.

My thoughts: Out of all the films on this list, this was probably the one I saw first. I remember watching it, and hiding behind a pillow for some of the gross parts (I never really had any inkling of desire to work in the medical profession, really...)
The pro-life message of this film is probably the most powerful I've ever seen. We see the doctor-who-thinks-he-is-God dehumanizing the clones by calling them by their categorical designation, referring to them as "agnates"; even his clients consider these living, breathing, interacting beings as nothing more than an "insurance policy." Sure, they may be exactly alike as their original on the cellular and molecular level--but their behavior is as distinct as two separate people. The nature of life, too, is considered when the doctor is forced to admit that they had originally wanted the "clones" to be nothing more than an organ breeding ground, but that without "life", the organs died. So the clones had to be developed to actual people, and they did indeed have souls, in spite of his insistence to the contrary. This is an amazing film with some WONDERFUL chase scenes as a couple of the clones escape the facility and must be hunted down or risk exposing the dangerous secret the powers-that-be are hiding from the world.

Poignant Quotes:
"The only thing you can count on is that people will do anything to survive."

"I have discovered the Holy Grail of science. I give life. The agnates, they're simply tools, instruments. They have no souls. The possibilities are endless here. In two years' time, I will be able to cure children's leukemia. How many people on Earth can say that, Mr. Laurent?"
"I guess just you and God. That's the answer you're looking for, isn't it?"

2. Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama, 2005)

(Not to be confused with the game/TV series, which is, according to the one friend I've heard of who's seen it, NOT recommended!)
The Premise: Society has been reduced by a plague to a community of about five thousand people, living in a perfect Utopia ruled by the family of scientists that provided the "cure" for the disease. But all is not perfect. There is a faction who believes that the ruling family has some hidden agenda, and has made it their mission to expose it and take down the family--and Aeon is the perfect assassin bred to do just that.

My Thoughts: Normally when I see a movie cover with a woman dressed in skin-tight leather, I assume it's going to just be a skanky gore-fest and full of nasty things and I stay away. But with this one, I saw the recommendation on Netflix because of another sci-fi movie I had watched and really like (exactly which one that would be escapes me at the moment), and so I first assessed the trailer before watching it.
I am glad I did. This was an awesomely-done movie. (Some brief partial nudity--but that was just a costuming choice for one scene, not the sole focus of the movie.) Charlize Theron is an absolute gymnast, and the stunt coordinators really put her through her paces. Martin Csokas provides an intriguing counterpart (and target) for Theron's committed assassin, and Johnny Lee Miller (of Elementary and Emma fame) does an impeccable American accent (so much so that I didn't even realize it was him until after I was halfway through the first season of Elementary... Then, of course, I had to go back and watch Aeon Flux again!)
The main thing that struck me about this film was humanity's push for perfection. The people living in this community had quiet lives, perfect lives, and disease-free lives, and scientific advances had made it possible for one to have exactly the body they wished--but there were hidden consequences for trying to cheat death. Is living in absolute comfort and isolation truly living? Should we seek total sterility as the ultimate goal? Or is life meant to be "messy" with experiences we have that are beyond are control--and instead of walling ourselves off, we learn to deal with the messes as they come, and these experiences make us stronger?

Poignant quotes:
"We're meant to die - that's what makes anything about us matter."

1. Nell (Michael Apted, 1994)

The Premise: A country doctor comes out to a backwoods cabin twenty miles from the middle of nowhere and finds a former stroke patient who died--and her daughter, who had grown up knowing nothing but life at the cabin with her mother, who herself could not do much since the stroke had paralyzed her completely on one side. The daughter had taught herself to speak and to survive from observing her mother, and so developed a language completely alone. The doctor and another medical scientist work together to learn, understand, and gain the trust of a young woman who has lived completely on her own.

My Thoughts: This is without a doubt the only film that I could conceivably describe as "enthralling." I came across it by chance during a Jodie Foster kick--and I was shocked at the depth of this movie. Jodie Foster plays a young woman who has known nothing but life in a cabin at the edge of a small inlet, her own personal paradise where her own garbled sounds have their own meanings. Watching her interact with the doctor (Liam Neeson, in one of the best strong-and-tender roles I've ever seen him in) and fight to make herself understood was truly mesmerizing.
My take-away from this film was that every life is infinitely precious, and some people have a different way of being understood. The girl that most of the surrounding towns regarded as a raging lunatic was every bit a girl who wanted to be loved and smiled at and comforted as much as the little girls who are able to say so. There are those who choose to dismiss whatever they don't understand--ten years down the road, they are no better than they were a decade earlier. But the pursuit of understanding always yields results for those patient enough to see it through.

How about you? What's the most powerful movie you've ever seen? Do you agree with my reviews, if you've seen these films? Let me know in the comments!