A friend asked me to go see The Jungle Book with him last night. I accepted, over my own feeling of protest, because I needed some pure non-work time outside of my apartment. (Working from home means sometimes I just need to step AWAY from the desk.) But when we arrived at the movie theater, I remembered something I’ve had to learn about myself over and over again, because I somehow can’t quite believe it:
I don’t like going to the movies.
Part of that is a dislike for the theater itself. I don’t see why I would want to watch a movie in a room full of people talking, laughing, crinkling candy wrappers, and sometimes even shouting and booing. I don’t want to eat the poor substitutes for food sold at the counter, and I don’t want to freeze my nose off in a theater set at a temperature meant for penguins. Why would I bother with all of that when I could watch a movie at home on my comfy couch in my pajamas, eating whatever food I like, warm and cozy?
Maybe you like the large screen. I have an incredibly sensitive nervous system, so giant screens and loud sound systems only frazzle me. It doesn’t take much to overwhelm my senses. My 27-inch computer moniter screen is plenty big enough.
But the truth is, none of that is the real, essential reason I don’t like going to the movies. Because the truth is, I don’t watch movies at home, either. Occasionally, sometimes … rarely, and it has become less and less often with each passing year.
I don’t like going to the movies, I don’t like watching movies, because movies have become useless. They do not do what they’re supposed to do; they don’t serve the purpose they ought to serve. They’re hollow and shallow and ridiculous, all shellac, no substance.
Every one of the previews for The Jungle Book was a sequel or a remake or a spinoff of something else (a video game!); of course The Jungle Book itself is, too. Not a single original flick among them, but worse, not a single deep, meaningful story. We were faced with slapstick humor and poop jokes, again and again.
There was a hint, maybe, at something more meaningful in the preview for The BFG (of course that’s based on a Roald Dahl book, written in 1982), until it, too, devolved into physical action with no clear motive.
What, I find myself thinking, is the point? Why should I spend two hours of my valuable time sitting in front of a screen to watch this? What is it going to do for me, and is it worth more than whatever else I could do with those two hours?
Most of the time, my answer is no.
Almost no movies are anymore, because they are missing the one thing I would go to the movies for: a heroic story.
Why to Go to the Movies in the First Place
I go to art for inspiration, for fuel, for a chance to see my abstract values come to life in a concrete vision of a special kind of world, a world I’d want to live in.
But the world I want to live in isn’t one made of nothing but high-def special effects, devoid of substance. Devoid of story. And not just any old story, because most movies have at least some elements of that still. They have characters. The characters want something. They encounter difficulties. They overcome the difficulties, and get the thing they wanted. Yay! Happy ending. Well, okay, maybe, but did it mean anything?
Am I too greedy in wanting my stories to mean something?
Am I too greedy in wanting a heroic story?
I want that main character to be noble. Yes, noble! Even a young boy can be particularly courageous, or clever, or just downright determined. But he must have some kind of standout virtues.
I want those obstacles to be truly hard for him. If he gets over them too easily, or they were never much of an obstacle in the first place, if they didn’t require hard choices with things he valued on either side … then they’re not good enough.
I want whatever he’s working toward or struggling with to be something truly, deeply important. A universal problem that means something not only to him, but to damn near every human on the planet.
Is that really so much to ask??
Isn’t that what a really good story looks like, anyway? Where have all the really good stories gone? They’re not in the movies. And more and more they’re not in the books, either.
A lot of art today seems almost designed to make us believe that such things don’t exist. Heroes are consigned to movies made from comic books, while reality is made of laughing rabbits pooping onscreen.
It is becoming harder and harder to find art that inspires. It is becoming harder and harder to find art that shows the true struggle of a noble character who must find his way toward that meaningful thing he’s working on.
There used to be a grandness, a respect, an awe that went along with going to the movies. It used to be an adventure. Of course, today’s ease of access to all forms of digital entertainment has had an impact on that, but it wouldn’t matter so much, if the stories were still good. If the stories grabbed you by the heart and helped you go on, going to the movies would still be worth it.
You can still find a glimpse of it now and then, but not often.
Yes, audiences now are deluged with digital media, on the computers, on their phones, on their iPads. Yes, in some ways they’re jaded.
But the answer is not to make things bigger and louder, with more and better special effects. The answer is not to perfect your animation so it looks like real life.
The answer is to write a better story. It is to write a heroic story.
Your Heroic Story
And that, my lovely creatives, is why you are needed. So badly. So deeply. You don’t even know how much you’re needed, because you’re deep in your own fear and anxiety, but if you could look out at the world, for just a minute, if you could look and see how much it is starving for what you can give it, you would know. Try to look. Try to see.
When I’m looking for something and can’t find it, I often find a way to make it myself. I write heroic stories. But in this case it isn’t enough to make it myself. I need inspiration. I need fuel.
I need to consume heroic stories. And not just in the exact sense of story. I need heroic stories in painting, in sculpture, in dance, in music, just as much as I do in books or movies.
I need you. I need your work. I need your heroic story.
I do not believe that my need is a claim on your time, nor necessarily even something that will motivate you to get to work, so I don’t say it for those reasons. I say it because I want you to know that there is someone out there who gets it. Who wants you to get to work. Who can’t wait to see what you’ll do. Who knows what you feel when you go to the movies and they seem so empty. Who wants to see you fill that gap with your own heroic creative work, who wants you to show her the true nobility of man, our full potential with these amazing brains of ours that let us pursue this great gift of telling stories. Of creating inspiration. Of fueling ourselves and others.
If you make art that could be said, even in a small way, to feature noble characters fighting the hardest of obstacles to succeed at solving some kind of deep and meaningful problem of life, please keep working. Please keep making it. Please keep putting it out there, in the world, for me and others like me to see and experience.
It helps keep us going. You help keep us going.
I know it’s hard. I know you’re wondering how/if/when you’ll get paid for it. I know sometimes you think you’ll never figure it out.
But whatever you do, please don’t stop.