Therapy from the Aisle Seats

Therapy from the Aisle Seats

The following essay was originally posted on the Tampa Bay web edition of skirt! magazine in August 2009. You can also hear me read this essay aloud.  Click here for a listen.  If movies have had a similar role for you and you want to share how and which you have employed in your world, comment below the story. Or if you just want to shareyour own connection to film…leave a comment. I love hearing from readers. ~ Chris


I’m a complicated woman. I’ll admit on certain days I’m borderline Sybil. And like most women I know, I have these certain “needs” that must be fulfilled, and if they’re not, I turn to another source to satisfy. Sometimes, it’s cheese blocks or chocolate truffles. I have several friends who swear by Edie’s Cookies & Cream, but when I really need to nurture my inner 13-year-old, feed the mind or soothe a troubled soul, I often turn to my favorite remedy of all: my movie collection.


Since I was a child, I’ve found great comfort at the movies. When I needed a reminder that I wasn’t such an odd duck after all, I could turn to Breaking Away as a pick-me-up. As I became increasingly focused on academics, I found myself having trouble sleeping, so I memorized all of the Best Picture Oscar winners and recited them in bed as I lay wide-eyed in the dark, like counting sheep only with the likes of Marlon Brando, Kate Hepburn and Vivien Leigh floating over my head.


Movies have opened my mind. As I matured, my music tastes yawned and demanded a stretch. I magically discovered an unexplored genre of music on the big screen as I sat in awe watching Amadeus. In fact, I remember seeing the movie in the mall theater (yes, they had malls back then) and rushing past all of the stores to my second favorite place to go, Camelot Music, to buy the soundtrack immediately – vinyl, of course. Movies introduced me to a new passion as they had so many times before then and since, this time it was classical music, and that mind-blowing revelation led me to experiment with so many different kinds of music I had previously discounted.


When my teenage insecurities got the best of me, I could always count on a Molly Ringwald flick to answer my silent shriek for help. Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink – take your pick – each of them ensured me that my Jake Ryan was out there somewhere waiting for me. I just had to be patient. And perhaps give my panties to a geek to circulate.


After seeing A Room with a View as a young woman, I was so enamored with both Italy and the concept of sweeping romance that it persuaded me right then that I must go to Europe. I don’t think I ever would have realized just what I was missing in the world around me without seeing that beautiful picture. By age 19, I traveled to Europe on a college studies tour. No one swept me off my feet in a barley field teeming with poppies, but I did score a date when I returned.


As I graduated to the R-rated realm, the scope of what challenges I could tackle with a fresh cup of flick expanded. Entering the workforce as an administrative lapdog fresh out of college took a toll on my confidence. Why did I spend four years in college to set up coffee and muffins? How would I ever achieve anything answering a switchboard panel? I turned to a modern-day Mike Nichols fable for the answer. Though I’d enjoyed Working Girl when I first saw it in the late 80s, it never spoke to me quite like it did when I found myself the go-getter trying to be taken seriously who instead was seriously losing her “go.” I needed that nourishment to keep plugging along and remind myself that my tiny window office awaited me in a towering glass building far, far away. Oh, and I sure did hope Harrison Ford was there, too, waiting with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me in my new lunchbox that he’d so sweetly packed for me with a bright red, shiny apple. Sigh.


Movies often ask those questions I’m too afraid to ask myself. Did I make the right decision or have I missed a very significant part of what my life could be? Sure, I read the book, but it just wasn’t the same until I watched Meryl Streep firmly plant her hand on the truck handle in The Bridges of Madison County. Immobile and indecisive, she watched what could be the love of her life (Clint Eastwood) wait for her in the pouring rain to flee her current life and uncover the life she’s always been too afraid to live. Will she or won’t she? If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I won’t ruin it for you, but to this day, I still cannot see this film without retracing my own life and wondering ‘what if?’


Sometimes I simply want to pose these questions again or experience that raw emotion associated with roads not taken and people long gone. No, I don’t enjoy beating myself up or living in the past, but occasionally, my soul needs reminding of where it’s been or could have been to appreciate where I am today. And for me, movies satisfy that need.


I find great comfort and nourishment in the twists and turns of the silver screen. Call it what you will: perhaps I am soothed knowing there are others (albeit, imaginary folks) who have it worse than me, but depending on my mood, the desire to feel deeply moved, entertained or pleasantly perplexed is a resounding motivator to invest a good 90 to 180 minutes of my life. And I know some people would say that I’m planting my faith in Fantasyland to fill some emotional hole, and that may be, but I’m convinced that just about any spiritual void that comes to rest in my world can be filled through a theatrical tango with Harry & Sally or Benny & Joon.


Over the years, I’ve managed to whip up my own delicious, never-fail remedies to satisfy the emotional Rubik’s Cube that sometimes overmatches my good sense. Call it a cinematic cocktail for what ails me. Whenever I feel beaten, hopeless or overwhelmed, I know that The Shawshank Redemption will help me find some peace and resolution. If I’m battling a case of the lonelies or just craving a romantic spark, Love Actually and Never Been Kissed remind me that I have a pulse. Sometimes I need that extra push to be brave or take a risk, and Say Anything or Jerry Maguire can deliver that spirited pep talk.


There’s no such thing as ‘it’s only a movie’ in my world. Just a cast of therapists and series of case studies from which to learn. Now hand me the popcorn and silence your phone.



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