For many people, the idea of returning home for the summer is absolutely the last thing they’d like to do during their three months of freedom. In some sense, this was true for me. Going back to the prairie of South Dakota meant a regression in my life, a stagnation in the development of my autonomy and an obstacle on the way to developing my own life (I also had to spend forty hours a week cleaning bathrooms and cutting grass at the Parks and Rec department). After all, hadn’t I escaped my little town when I left high school? I moved to the big city! I read fancy Greek books! I saw a live opera! I’m an intellectual, dammit, I deserve better than to spend my time cleaning a toilet in the middle of nowhere, don’t I?
But life doesn’t care about your sense of entitlement, and I was whisked back home. I could have spent my free time brooding over the fact that everyone else had cool unpaid internships all over the world, but I soon realized I had something better than that. I got my movie-watching partner back; my mom. My mom will literally watch anything with me, no matter how weird or ‘artsy’ it may be. (With the exception of 2014’s Sex Tape, which we turned off after a few minutes. Trust me, no matter how old you get or mature you think you are, movies explicit about sex are always awkward to watch with your mom. After being bombarded with erection and orgasm jokes in the exposition, we both agreed it wasn’t worth watching and quickly sought another movie to erase our mutual discomfort.) So, armed with my trusted companion and a laptop and two libraries filled with movies, I set out to watch as many films as I could.
Though she’ll watch anything, I do have a sense of my mom’s taste; I’m not going to start showing her any Kenneth Anger or Jack Smith or anything. My mom thrives on emotional honesty and captivating narrative. Those two qualities need to be in sync for a film to become one of her favorites. I’ve teased her in the past about her propensity to tear up during movies, but it’s not a flaw. My mom gets heavily invested in the lives of characters; isn’t emotional investment and reaction what film’s all about? My mom approaches movies as entertainment. Breaking free from the constraints of narrative is cool, but who doesn’t love a great thriller, a coming-of-age story, or a mystery? Bring on some Hitchcock or Truffaut or Scorsese, not some boring, drawn-out, pretentious Straub-Huillet film. Movies should be fun!
All in all, I saw a little under eighty movies this summer, most of those with my mom. Our favorite film was Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray, while the other two films in the Apu Trilogy were also favorites. The trilogy is brimming with tragedy, yet its undying humanity and hope is always felt. It’s plain to see why we loved them so much. I called my mom and asked her to tell me her other top films, in no particular order. She liked Vertigo, as it kept you thinking and had a surprise ending. Taxi Driver was a favorite, though she admitted after viewing it that she “didn’t expect it’d be like that.” Other ‘mom-picks’ include The Magnificent Ambersons and the original Planet of the Apes. (The latter may be influenced by nostalgia. She gleefully recalled dressing up as an ape from the cartoon series for Halloween.) She loved Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants, which gave her a new look at France during World War II. She also liked Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood. She’s a sucker for films about kids facing tragedy, especially in the midst of war, and I’ll admit I am, too. The summer comedy Trainwreck was “just funny and great entertainment,” and both my mom and my dad liked Raging Bull. She also wants to watch more documentaries after seeing A Thin Blue Line and Grey Gardens. The former really made her think about the criminal justice system and it kept her on the edge of her seat; the latter was confusing at first since there was no thesis proper, but she couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity of the two characters. They, in turn, led her to love IFC’s new series Documentary Now. Also, she’d like to note that James Dean was much better in Rebel Without a Cause than he was in East of Eden.
My mom’s been watching movies with me for as long as I can remember, and I suppose I can credit her with making me love movies as much as I do. When my sister moved to Omaha, Nebraska to attend college, I discovered a small, non-profit theater called Film Streams in the downtown area. They played indie films and held occasional film series, something of a revelation for a kid from the prairie. From then on, my mom and I spent countless weekends driving for three hours to watch a weekend’s worth of movies in Omaha. I caught my first real glimpse of the world outside the multiplex, seeing the latest two Wes Anderson films, Paul Thomas Anderson films, and foreign films like Tabu and No. We made it an event; we always got popcorn and soda; we always ate pizza afterward; and she always enjoyed it as much as I did. (In fact, the only two movies she ‘likes’ on Facebook are I’m So Excited! and Fruitvale Station, both seen at Film Streams.)
I say that my favorite film is The Master since it played a huge role in the way I see film as a true art form. That movie is what got me seriously interested in film. I watched it on one of our weekend trips, and I recall specifically a scene where Freddie sits passed out on a ship, and we see the choppy, flowing water; moreover, the score is rich, vibrant, and swirling. I got lost in that moment of impressionism, not thinking about the plot or any outside thought—I was consumed by a small, ten-second scene. Afterward I was cognizant of the power film had on one’s emotions, and I knew this medium was for me.
This summer, I think my mom brought me back to that moment of unthinking emotion that I had experienced a few years ago. In this self-proclaimed cinephile community (of which I am undoubtedly a part), we spend a lot of time philosophizing and analyzing and criticizing. Writing a three-thousand-word essay on the use of doors in Ozu’s films is great, and I love writing that kind of stuff, but it’s a needed respite to step back and realize why we originally fell in love with film. Spending three months watching movies with my mom gave me the chance to reflect. My mom’s enthusiasm for watching films with me reminded me that movies bring people together, they bring out deep emotions, and they have a certain magic to them. This summer, I remembered how great it is to be so emotionally invested in a film, that any hint of tragedy could have you on the verge of tears, and I remembered how great it is to have someone so invested in me. My love for film started because of my mom, and any future in film will come from her encouragement. (After all, I couldn’t have seen The Master if she wasn’t willing to drive on the interstate for a few hours.) This summer wasn’t a waste, it wasn’t a regression, and I’m never too ‘intellectual’ to come back home. So thanks for everything, mom—and next time you’re in town, we’ll have to catch a movie.