Happy or Unhappy?

         It seems that so many of the greatest movies of all time are some of the most depressing and unhappy stories ever told. Stories like The Heiress, Casablanca, A Doll’s House, Wuthering Heights, and A Streetcar Named Desire all leave the audience sad and slightly depressed about the circumstances and events of the characters’ lives. So the questions are what makes these films some of the best of all time, and why do these stories captivate audiences more than your average chick flick or holiday comedy? I think the answer lies with what the audience has gained when it leaves the theater.

         When I go and see a happy, goofy, fun movie that does not have much of a conflict and does not really address any substantial issue in life, I find myself happy but nothing more; I come out of the theater with nothing new. Stories that really impact people’s lives are the ones that challenge how people think and how they perceive things. Stories that present characters in situations that seem impossible to overcome enchant the audience and tie them to the characters in a very close way. Depressing movies such as A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, Elia Kazan), based on Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play, draw the audience in with interesting, realistic characters and show how they are caught in their own tough situations. Though most people do not find themselves in a situation like Stanley and Blanche’s, most people can find some similarities in their own lives, thus making the story all the more real.

         A good story always has conflict; a story without conflict is a phenomenally boring story with no weight to it. Streetcar has conflict--lots of it. But the beauty of the story is that we do not know the ending, so we are left with Stella (Kim Hunter) leaving Stanley (Marlon Brando), and we do not know how it ends. This allows the story to become personal. When the audience members leave the theater, their own imaginations begin to form multiple endings to the story. These movies make more of an impact on us that “funny movie I saw the other night,” or “yeah, it was scary, but that’s about it” kind of movie. We are linked to the characters through how we can see them in our lives. As I mentioned earlier, the audience can find links between themselves and the stories. I know people like Stanley; I can even see characteristics of Stanley in myself. Through this picture of unhappiness, the film makers are showing the misery in the world and in people’s hearts. This can either make people spiteful towards the awful and depressing world, or place into perspective the blessings of their own lives. Films like these impact the mature generation. Of course the children would not enjoy them and the young adults would not appreciate them just yet; but the mature adults who can see the depth of the characters and the beauty of the story can come away with something special.

         So should film makers make more happy movies or more depressing movies? I would have to say both because without both we cannot see the big picture. We cannot appreciate the good times without the bad and we cannot make it through the bad times without the good. All life is about balance; as are the stories we tell.

Justin Wylie

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