Movies have always been a huge influence on my life. Some movies become so important, a part of your lexicon, your own personal experience of life. They resonate deep into your soul, and you can watch them over and over again. You unintentionally memorize the scripts, and incorporate quotes into your speech without realizing it. Some movies change the way you think, act, and view the world. Here are my top three picks of the most important drama movies ever made.
The Shawshank Redemption– This 1994 drama is based on the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by the master of horror, Stephen King. It is the tale of Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, imprisoned for nineteen years for the double homicide of his wife and her lover. While incarcerated Andy befriends Red, portrayed by Morgan Freeman, another life-time prisoner who narrates the film. Andy is unwillingly embroiled in the prison warden’s money laundering schemes and raped repeated by other inmates. To add to these insults, it is later discovered that Andy is indeed innocent of the murders, serving two consecutive life terms for offenses he did not perpetrate.
This film is both heart-wrenching and a triumph of the human spirit. Throughout the film, Andy remains calm and doesn’t allow the bleak realities of his situation to break his surety that ‘hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies’. It takes Andy nineteen years to dig through the wall of his cell to escape out of a drain pipe, and through it all Andy refuses to lose hope. This movie speaks very frankly about institutionalization, cruelty, and the importance of hope and the consequences of it’s loss. While the subject matter and language is mature, earning it an R rating, it’s message of friendship and hope should not be missed by any adult. If you only watch one movie in your life, make it this one.
American Beauty– This 1999 drama follows the last year of Lester Burham’s life. Lester, played by Kevin Spacey, is a middle-aged married man living in the suburbs with his wife and only child. His increasing frustration and disgust at his life and relationships with others leads him into a midlife crisis. Infatuated with his daughter’s teenage friend, he reverts back to the behavior of his youth by ending his corporate career in spectacular fashion and beginning work at a fast-food restaurant. He also begins exercising and smoking marijuana again in an effort to re-claim his lost vigor and take control over his life. His wife Carolyn, portrayed by Annette Benning, thwarts him at every turn and expresses her confusion and disgust at the changes Lester is making in his life.
American Beauty flaunts the fact that, for some, the corporate world kills you by degrees. Lester’s profound voice-overs expose his inner feeling of ‘being sedated’ and he describes his job as consisting of ‘masking his contempt’ for those in charge. He wonders what happened to his wife, who used to be so happy and is now joyless. Anyone who has ever slaved in a cubicle farm can relate. But this film is more than social commentary, it shows how one man’s refusal to accept both the death of his soul and the loss of control he feels effects everyone in his life. The power of the individual is paramount in this film, and that is something that everyone needs to understand fully.
Fight Club– Equal parts dark comedy and drama, this 1999 film stars Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton as The Narrator, sometimes indirectly referred to as ‘Jack’. It was originally a novel published in 1996 by Chuck Palahniuk. The Narrator suffers from bouts of insomnia, during which he acts and speaks as Tyler Durden. As Tyler, he starts underground boxing rings throughout the country and initiates Project Mayhem to rail against corporations, consumerism, and the mass media using methods of arson, threats, theft, and destruction of property.
Fight Club is passed off as fantasy by most, but it carries a powerful message. By choosing to support corporations we distrust or dislike, we give them power. By choosing to be in debt, by obediently obeying the media’s demand to consume and compete, we lose our humanity and our individuality. No human should go through life without seriously questioning their place, or lack thereof, within the constructs of society. Fight Club will make you ask yourself some interesting, powerful questions about your life, your own personal power, and your decisions.
In conclusion, these three movies are not just fantasy stories. They are not time-wasters or simple diversions. If film, writing, and language have the ability to make you question your thoughts and beliefs, these films have the ability to ask those questions. Philosophy and self-reflection are not dead. Sometimes, they come on several reels, spliced together. Give these three films a viewing, and look closer.
Multiple Personal Viewings