Why Can’t Movies Be Fun?

These days saying that a movie has “meaning” is like saying that it’s good.  The other day, for example, I read that there are hidden messages (and hence deep meaning) in Pixar’s films for kids and that the Lego movie is actually a critique of American mass culture.  Maybe the socio-cultural movie critics are right.  Maybe kids are being taught (from an incredibly young age) to save the world.  If so, the critics, at least seem to think that’s a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against saving the world.  I think it very much needs saving.  But here’s the thing: after a long, hard day (during which I may have even helped some folks), I don’t necessarily want to watch a movie with a deep, moral meaning.  I don’t know about you, dear reader, but after work I don’t want to work some more; I want to relax.  It seems I am not alone.

A person who keeps a blog (and who found himself unemployed) wrote of filling his time (and taking his mind off things with his favorite escapist movies; the venerable New York Times gives us a history of escapism at the movies; and the Guardian (being the Guardian) wrings its proverbial hands at the whole thing and insists that no matter how shallow we may be meaningful movies will endure.

But is it really so shallow to want to relax?  Look, we all have stuff happen: awful bosses, obnoxious co-workers, illness in the family, friends in need, pets in distress, financial troubles, and all the other things called life.  We deal with it and we move on.  And sometimes, part of moving on is de-stressing in front of the TV with a nice, if perhaps slightly banal murder mystery show like Death in Paradise or an animated musical like Frozen.

Of course it would be great if all movies were as well-made as Star Wars and had layers of meaning.  If you were tired and just need to drift for a bit, there’s the straightforward adventure story; if you’re more in the mood to think you might begin to want to think about the underlying themes of nature’s superiority, the value and meaning of friendship, the military-industrial complex, and the true meaning of evil.  Sadly, most movies are not Star Wars; they are more like Avatar: their message in your face and relaxation not an option.  “How can you even think about relaxing when there is a world to be saved?” they scream at you.

I get it.  I do.  But sometimes, I just want to relax and not think about American mass culture that the Lego movie is supposed to be about.  Maybe I’m just a really shallow person because there are times (plenty of them) when I simply want to indulge in Star Wars’ trivial adventure story.  So be it.

Now, where did I put the remote?

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