1. Star Wars.

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I was in fifth grade when Star Wars came out. Our family didn’t have a lot of money, so it was beyond astonishing when my dad insisted that the whole family, all six of us, go see a new movie called Star Wars. He loaded us all into the station wagon and drove the forty minutes from our small South Jersey town to the nearest movie theater that was playing Star Wars. He insisted that this new movie was going to be like nothing else that we had ever seen. My dad was a visionary and a dreamer and – he was right!

The small town girl who walked into that theater was not the same girl who walked out. To say I had a transformative experience would be understating the feelings that were whirling through me on the drive home. I  was no longer in the back of the station wagon – I was flying! I was Luke Skywalker, brandishing my lightsaber and fighting evil forces to save the universe! It was exhilarating, magical, and unforgettable.

What I learned from Star Wars was that the universe was far bigger and more magical than I had ever imagined. Star Wars gave a timid, small town girl the desire to leave her small town and seek grand adventures. I began saving money for the day I would turn eighteen and strike out to discover the world.

 

2. Romeo and Juliet.

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Like most teenage girls, I dreamed of having a boy fall hopelessly in love with me at first sight. Romeo and Juliet struck me as the quintessential movie experience of what true love should be and I was immediately on the lookout for my future Romeo. Although my girlfriend and I once got serenaded from the balcony of Wildwood Crest’s SeaBreeze motel (where our family was staying for the week), my elusive Romeo refused to show himself. In fact, he didn’t show up until I was thirty-seven years old! My sweet husband did not fall in love with me at first sight, but I took one look at him and said to myself, “Who is that big hunk of eye candy?”

Well, that’s definitely something at first sight!

What I learned from Romeo and Juliet is that you should not jump to conclusions. If you come upon your true love and your Juliet (or Romeo) looks deader than a doornail – don’t jump to conclusions and kill yourself! Take your lover’s pulse, call an ambulance and get your lover to the hospital, and then get a good nights sleep (because things will always look different in the morning) and, before you do something crazy and have a tragedy on your hands, THINK!

 

3. Gone With The Wind.

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I have read Gone With The Wind at least thirty times. I’ve seen the movie over twenty times. When I was growing up, my sister and I would act out scenes – our favorite being the “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damned!”

As an adult, I understand that Scarlett O’Hara was an emotionally stunted blockhead who wouldn’t recognize true love if it bit her in the ass, but what I loved about Scarlett was summed up in the first sentence of the book:

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

What that line taught me was that I didn’t have to be the most beautiful girl in the room to get the guy! For me, a plain Jane, that was a revolutionary idea and I found that it was true.

The second big moment was when Scarlett was starving and she was forced to eat raw turnips that she had pulled up from the dirt. After she puked her guts out, she got to her feet, she shook her fist at the sky and swore this oath:

As God is my witness, as God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.

I was getting three square meals a day, so I certainly wasn’t going hungry, but something about her oath resonated with me. In my seventh grade mind, I believe that this scene gave me an insight into what war and hunger can do to people. It also clued me into the fact that life might not always run so smoothly. It’s fair to mention that I grew up next to a nuclear plant and I lived in dread of the day that it would melt down. The red-scorched earth background in Scarlett’s oath scene was exactly what I envisioned the new South Jersey would look like after the nuclear plant melted down!

Ultimately, what GWTW taught me was that, through no fault of my own, I could end up like Scarlett O’Haro. One day I’m at a party in a beautiful green dress and  the next day I’m puking in a turnip patch and willing to kill Yankee soldiers for food. Be grateful for what you have today and, for god’s sake, bury the family silver where the Yankees can’t find it!

 

4. Hunt For Red October.

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The Hunt for Red October is my all time favorite movie!

I learned everything I need to know about politics from this line:

Jeffrey Pelt: Listen, I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open.

I learned to appreciate the unique rights that Americans have (that we often take for granted) and the concept that every person has their own vision of what paradise is from this exchange:

Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?

Captain Ramius: I suppose.

Capt. Vasili Borodin: No papers?

Captain Ramius: No papers, state to state.

Capt. Vasili Borodin: Well then, in winter I will live in… Arizona. Actually, I think I will need two wives.

Captain Ramius: Oh, at least.

 

This line  goes straight to my soul and, to me, sums up our precarious position in this world. Admiral Josh Painter’s words taught me to be grateful for the good times because, at any moment, it can all go to shit.

Admiral Josh Painter: This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we’ll be lucky to live through it.

 

In this exchange, Seaman Jones taught me the importance of trying to be the best that you can be at your chosen profession.

Capt. Bart Mancuso: [after hearing Jones’s findings] Have I got this straight, Jonesy? A $40 million computer tells you you’re chasing an earthquake, but you don’t believe, and you come up with this on your own?

Seaman Jones: Yes, sir.

Capt. Bart Mancuso: Including all the navigation maps?

Seaman Jones: Sir, I-I’ve got all the…

Capt. Bart Mancuso: Relax, Jonesy. You sold me.

 

And, most importantly, Jack Ryan taught me that when you are dangling from a helicopter over the raging Pacific and your position seems impossible and hopeless, sometimes you just have to trust to the fates and drop into the Drink.

 

5. Citizen Cane.

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Citizen Kane showed me a man’s life.

From the love-starved boy who was given away by uncaring relatives to the man whose marriage went from love to hatred, beautifully shown in one scene as husband and wife met each morning at the breakfast table to him attempting to turn his talentless girlfriend into a Prima Donna opera star to his lonely death among a mountain of stuff that simply didn’t matter.

What I learned from Citizen Kane is that everything and everyone, including me, has a beginning, middle, and end. Citizen Kane was my cautionary tale to not spend my life chasing money or fame as it would all crumble down and eventually reveal itself as a foolish illusion.

What I did choose to do was to pick a corner of the world and build a life with my husband, family, and friends and to find a profession that is worthy of my time and energy. At fifty years old, I may be in the middle of my life – or I may be near the end. None of us know what tomorrow brings, but I do know that I am grateful for what I have now.

This evening, my happiness is that my husband is on his way home from a Sunday afternoon of golf and he will be grilling our dinner and we’ll open a bottle of wine and discover a new movie – maybe a classic noir or a little-known indie on iTunes.

🙂

5 thoughts on “Top 5 life lessons I learned from movies.

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