Almost every time I go to a mainstream movie, I get demoralized by the coming attractions. Reel after reel is dominated by special effects, deafening noises, imminent catastrophe, meaningless violence (I always prefer my violence meaningful and swollen with organ music, which would explain my extreme attachment to Godfather I and Godfather II).
Equally depressing is what passes for comedy these days, which, I know, makes me sound like a cranky old bat, but sometimes, cranky batdom in the defense of good comedy must be embraced. So sue me. Sue me and my friends and anybody else who don’t find smart-ass, low-brow fraternity-boy humor to be sidesplitting.
It’s male humor, my husband tells me, bringing up the object lesson of the Three Stooges. He’s right: I’m pretty sure every low-rent movie and TV comedy with adolescent jokes about women is descended from Curley and Moe and whoever that third stooge was. (I particularly don’t want to Google the Three Stooges for his name and find out how many millions of sites are devoted to their oeuvre. No, let me live in ignorance.)
Anyway, all of this is a lengthy preamble to an antidote — one of the best movies I’ve seen in recent years, The Messenger. It’s the story of two military veterans whose job is to notify next of kin after a death in Iraq or Afghanistan. You see horrific moments of grief — parents and spouses overwhelmed by the news of their losses, collapsing, screaming, sickened. At the same time, you see the tremendous toll of being the bearer of that wrenching news, of keeping to the military script, of pretending almost not to be human.
It’s not an antiwar movie, by any means. It’s a movie about the hideous consequences of war — even though you see no battlefield scenes or corpses. I’m inclined to think that every American is now complicit, at some level, in the wars we’re waging in the Middle East, wars that were approved and enthusiastically promoted by an administration of draft-dodgers. I think we need to see the psychic carnage we have created.
But there’s something else in The Messenger that touched me greatly. In a world where real-life frat boys plan wars and movie frat boys get drunk and fart and salivate over beautiful women seemingly without brains or aspirations or personalities, here is a movie about two guys struggling to grow up and live with real pain and face the truth about themselves and their lives. Unlike too many of their film counterparts, they’re striving to be men, not boys.
Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster are superb in the lead roles. I Googled their names to make sure I got them correct. In the way that minutiae and debris have of resurfacing in your mind, I also recalled the Third Stooge’s name. It’s Larry, I think. Now, I hope to forget it again. Forever would be nice.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about the real threat to marriage