A Farwell to Angst

In this long, dark lockdown of the soul that we all seem to be going through right now, I’ve been doing a Lot of Thinking. There’s not much else to do, really, aside from harass my cat for attention or play Stronghold: Crusader again or slather myself in so much skincare that I am essentially dragging myself around the house like a snail, leaving a trail of indiscriminate goo in my wake. Yes, this is going to get introspective, but until some studio deigns to drop another bunch of new movies, there’s going to be a lot of that here on No But Listen.

But, more specifically, I have been thinking about the kind of movies that I have recently grown to love. I was lying in bed thinking about Dolor y Gloria this morning, as I often do, and considering the fact that, a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. It’s not that I would ever have seen it as a bad movie, or even an average one, but nothing about that message would have stuck with me. It’s an optimistic movie, despite its occasional bleakness, a celebration of the healing power of art and the cathartic gift that telling stories can give us. It was my favourite movie of last year, and I still love it with enormous fierceness, and I hope nothing changes that.

But I think that my attitude to that kind of film is a relatively new one. I’m halfway through my twenties now, and, recently, I have found myself moving away from films that offer a fundamentally pessimistic view on the world.

It’s something that I think I really came to recognize when I walked out of Joker; I don’t want to be told, any longer, that the world is shit and that any attempt to address that in yourself or the world at large is just going to lead to further destruction. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a one-woman angst producing machine for a big portion of my life; I hungrily sought out films like Blue Valentine and Requiem for a Dream, wanting to be beaten around the head with a two-by-four of hopelessness and drudgery. As a teenager, first forming my love of films, these were the stories that I consideed most Adult; optimism seemed a childish pursuit, and the thought of watching movies that indulged it seemed adolescent. For a long time, I really sought out films of that nature, films that told me that life was hard and basically meaningless and I was right to feel as often-hopeless as I did in the face of it.

But as I’ve gotten a little older – not exactly wiser or less angsty, but hey, can’t win ’em all – I’ve found myself falling in love more with movies that are, simply put, happier. The brilliant Motherless Brooklyn would have sailed over my head as the gorgeously hopeful and humanist noir that it really is when I was twenty; the warm, witty The Sisters Brothers wouldn’t have been melancholy enough for my liking; the effusively entertaining and free-spiritied Birds of Prey wouldn’t even have cracked my top ten for the year. I certainly have no issue with films that take on heavy topics, and most of the ones I listed above sure as hell do, or ones that delve into the bleaker sides of life. But I’m just tired of movies that seemed to want to wade around in that swampy state instead of looking up to see the sky above, you know?

Being sad is easy. Indulging in a constant barrage of misery is simple. Yes, life is hard, yes, the world is frequently shit. Yes, Zack Snyder is still considered an actual Film Director. But there’s not much skill in pointing at those things and then walking away dusting your hands like you’ve actually said anything new. What’s really difficult – and what really makes films stick for me these days – is telling stories that acknowledge those hardships, but still find a way to keep their eyes on the horizon, too. So, consider this my farewell to angst – I’m here for stories that consider all of life’s complexities, and that means the good parts, too.

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By Louise MacGregor

(header image via Truthdig)

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