Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The moments when I finally understood various classics of literature and film

There are many works of art we're exposed to too young to fully grasp their deeper meaning and significance. Here I've recorded a few of those glorious moments when the transcendence of a great work was revealed to me.

The Wizard of Oz, age 7
This film is generally shown to children at least once a year from the age of twelve months until they start choosing which VHS to put in the tape player themselves. As a child of one year, I didn't understand the subtleties of the plot of The Wizard of Oz until I had an epiphany at the age of seven. "Wait. Wait a minute. That Scarecrow, he says he didn't have a brain. He even sang a song about it, and is going on this quest with this girl who's clearly a lot of trouble all the way to the Wizard to get one, but he has all of these great ideas about how to get Dorothy out of the castle! Come to think of it, that Tin Man without a heart tears up an awful lot, and...wait. Wait just a minute. I think...I think that all of these characters actually already have the very thing they're looking for!"

Pride and Prejudice, age 11
"Hey, before he was being proud and prejudiced, and now she's being proud and prejudiced!"

It was a beautiful moment. That's when my mom knew, I was definitely taking that literature subject test when the SATs rolled around seven years later.

Catcher in the Rye, age 16
This moment of clarity came on my second reading. During my previous reading of the book at age 12 Holden made no sense and I just wasn't really clear on what he was so upset about. I also didn't understand that a prep school was a high school, and I couldn't understand how a teenager who was failing so badly ended up going to college early.

Then at 16, boom, I knew exactly what this Holden kid was talking about. Oh my God, this Salinger guy just got it. There was no real linear dialogue that can capture the mental processes that lead me to identify with Holden Caulfield so heavily that I thought that maybe I was in love with a fictional character. I don't remember if kids were saying "OMG" at the time -- if they were, then there were probably a lot of those going through my mind. And I was probably going through a mental packing list of what Holden and I could bring into the cabin we were going to live in together in the remote wilderness.

Philadelphia Story, age 20
"Oh. I understand the conflict now. Katharine Hepburn's character is a strong-willed woman with a healthy self-respect who has high expectations for the men in her life, and everyone around her is a misogynist pig." Truthfully, this moral is fitting for nearly any movie made before 1965 or so and another couple movies every year, from that year to the present day.

This was a particularly common moral for me to draw from pieces of art at the time. College! I can tell graduation was a while ago, because I had to look up how to spell "misogynist."

But I digress. It was sad for me to realize that I shouldn't like this movie, so I've arbitrarily decided that the adorable drunken scene between Tracy, Mike, and C. K. Dexter Haven is a short departure from the crappy overall moral that Tracy is really too rigid in expecting her still-married father not to hang out with women her age and her husband not to drink himself into a stupor every night. It's still worth seeing.

And if you haven't read or seen any of these works, I recommend that you netflix them. Or go to a library, if those still exist, so you can have these wonderful experiences, too.

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