Thursday, March 18, 2010

Parents and the Movies

[In my previous blog I made a couple of mistakes, for which I apologize. The show "iCarly" is a product of Nickelodeon, not Disney. Also, A Little Princess was released in 1995, not 1994.]

Many a movie might make it onto my want-to-see list, but only about 30% of that list will I see in the theater. I can generally wait for video to see films with contemporary settings. I reserve my theater attendance for costume dramas (films with pre-1950s settings), sci-fi or fantasy, and animated films, since these films promise to transport me to a clime wildly different from the one in which I live, and the ambiance of the movie theater, in which I'm shut away from the "real world," helps that happen. Because I don't go to the theater to see just anything, I like my visits there to be special occasions.

While I don't like the theater to be overcrowded, neither do I want it to be altogether empty except for myself (which hasn't been a problem since I got married, but which used to be a not infrequent danger). When I arrived twenty minutes early to see Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I was dismayed to find no one in the seats. Wait a while, I told myself, you'll soon be joined by others. So I waited, and I waited, until five minutes before the film was supposed to roll. I went out into the corridor, and I saw a family of three -- mother, father, little girl -- heading toward me. Oh, goody! thought I, I won't be watching this alone! They came closer, closer, closer... and then they walked right past me, only to disappear into the theater where The Exorcism of Emily Rose was playing.

It's not outside the realm of possibility, but I find it hard to imagine the seven-year-old girl who would enjoy The Exorcism of Emily Rose more than Wallace and Gromit. I find it impossible to imagine the parents who would consider The Exorcism of Emily Rose more suitable family entertainment than Wallace and Gromit -- of would consider it suitable family entertainment at all. Yet there they were, opting for half-baked and poorly-reviewed horror over witty animated comedy. The question of their aesthetic taste might be worth examining, but more to the point is this: Who really wanted to see The Exorcism of Emily Rose -- the parents or the child?

Where the movies are concerned, parents of young children often fall into one of two, both mistaken groups. The first are hyper-conscious about "inappropriate material" to the point where they forget that a good story can't exist without conflict. They believe that the best, perhaps the only acceptable children's entertainment depicts endless and uncompromised sunshine and roses: nothing bad ever happens, no one ever gets scared, parents never make mistakes and children never disobey their parents. There's no place in this eternally cheerful landscape for icily beautiful queens transforming into wart-ridden hags (Snow White), mistreated circus animals getting tipsy by accident (Dumbo), psychotic fashionistas threatening to skin puppies (101 Dalmatians), or happily married husbands losing their wives to illness and old age (Up). Granted, some children are more squeamish than others, and individual parents have to take that into account. But it seems a shame that in order to protect them from conflict, children should be denied the wonder and excitement that the best animated films have to offer.

At least this first group is consciously looking out for their children's best interest, which is more than can be said for the second group -- the too-cheap-to-hire-a-babysitter group, who will drag their children, however young, to any movie they want to see. Not only do they risk bewildering their children with genuinely inappropriate content, but they compromise the moviegoing experience of everyone in the theater, as those children grow restless and start to misbehave.

One of the most striking examples of this occurred when I went with my parents to see Martin Scorcese's The Aviator. Martin Scorcese has made many an intriguing and exciting film, but none of his work is appropriate for pre-adolescents, and The Aviator, the story of the brilliant but mentally unbalanced Howard Hughes, is no exception. It's a great film, and with his bravura performance, Leonardo diCaprio gives us a dauntless bantam-cock taking on The System, a figure to root for despite his questionable behavior. But while my folks and I were watching Hughes lock himself away in his bunker, completely naked, talking to people only through the thick wall, a tiny three-year-old girl was dashing up and down the aisle, heedless of the events transpiring on-screen. Not a single second of The Aviator would be remotely comprehensible to a child that age. But Mommy and Daddy wanted to see it, decided to spare themselves the trouble of finding a sitter, and brought their little angel along. Perhaps it's just as well she was running the marathon dash rather than paying attention to the movie; questions like "Mommy, why is he naked?" would have disturbed the rest of us even more.

Another incident involved a movie that could be considered a family film: Disney's live-action sports drama The Greatest Game Ever Played, an underrated film featuring an Oscar-caliber performance by Irish actor Stephen Dillane. The movie intrigued my husband and me from the get-go, being a little more complex than most sports movies, in that the audience is led to care as much about the inevitable loser as the eventual winner. To see a three- or four- or five-year-old at this film wouldn't have disturbed us so much, though it's probably better suited to ages eight and up. But one mother thought it appropriate to bring her infant with her. It makes no sense whatsoever to bring an infant to a film, any film, since the infant is incapable of comprehending what he or she is seeing. This infant, possibly teething, made sure none of us could forget he was in the audience. He was crying non-stop, and his mother was sitting comfortably in her seat, somehow managing to pay attention to the movie despite the bawling right under her nose. The rest of us, of course, weren't so lucky. It was getting on our nerves to the point where, when the usher finally asked the woman to take the baby out of the theater, half the audience broke into spontaneous applause.

It was then that the woman committed an even worse offense than bringing a teething or colicky infant to the movie theater -- she turned on the audience and invited us to... well, do something with ourselves. Though I managed to enjoy the movie, I left the theater wondering what kind of example this mother is going to set for her child as he grows older. What is he likely to learn, from her attitude even more than her language? What is the little toddler girl going to learn from her parents' insistence on taking her to "see" movies that make no sense to her?

The message is loud and clear: we can do whatever we please, and if other people don't like it, they can... well, do something to themselves. Our pleasure, our satisfaction is of paramount importance. Why should anyone expect us to wait to gratify our own wants until a sitter is available?

I like to think that most parents do the right thing where their kids and the movies are concerned. They listen when their kids start talking about a movie, and they make it their business to find out as much about it as possible before they take them to see it. When they take them, they're prepared to watch it and they're ready for any questions that might arise from the plot and the conflict. Not only that, but they have taught their children to be aware of others in the theater and to behave in such a way that they, too, can enjoy the movie.

But I wonder how much we have to pay for the ones who don't do the right thing -- and not just in the movie theaters. The Attitude of Entitlement is a dangerous poison, and sadly, many parents are passing it right along to their children.

No comments:

Post a Comment