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Why do movies today seem terminally existentialist?

I went to the movies for two weekends in a row and saw Brad Pitt’s Fury and the next Saturday, Nicholas Spark’s The Best of Me. I was depressed by the former and completely disappointed in the latter. Without ruining the movies’ endings for you, (not much chance of that in my opinion), let me give you short synopsizes of each.

Fury follows a group of U.S. soldiers during World War II who belong to a tank command. These five men have been fighting since the start of the war in 1941 and it is now 1945. They are understandably war weary. It is a gritty and bald portrayal of what these men underwent during the conflict. The second movie I viewed, Best of Me, tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who met in high school and for various reasons were separated for 21 years then reunited. The movie takes place during their reunion but often uses a flashback format to 1992, when both characters were in high school. It is important to note that I saw Fury first then chose to see Best of Me after that movie experience.

In Fury, all but one main character dies after enduring a figurative and literal hell. All of the secondary characters die regardless of whether they are portrayed as good or evil or a little of both. None of the main characters are particularly likable and most of them don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities…I suppose one apologetic line or two was to suffice for a “redeeming quality” but I didn’t buy it. Ok, you might say, this is war movie and that is the nature of the beast. I would say, yes, you are right, however, it is also a metaphor necessarily because it is NOT actually a documentary of WWII. I was looking for a hero in this movie. My father was a two-time Purple Heart veteran of WWII and he was a hero. These guys in the movie were just gross and mean and heartless and pathetic…why do I want to see that?

In The Best of Me, it seemed every possible tragedy that one can encounter was represented. The lovers are separated for 21 years through no fault of their own and then one dies after they are reunited. There is brutal child abuse, drug dealing, murder, cancer, teenage pregnancy, elder abuse, a critical car accident, a heart transplant and I couldn’t watch any more for fear there would be sexual assault or something equally as horrible. I expected a light, romantic movie…I needed that after enduring Fury, but instead I got one of the most disappointing, unnecessarily dramatic and depressing tales I have seen to date. (I actually left when the heart transplant recipient’s donor [the heroine’s son] ended up being the murdered lost love, ugh). Even I’m confused now and I saw the movie, unfortunately.

Now to my beef…why do movies today seem terminally existentialist? Remember, existentialism—you’re born, you suffer, then you die—meaning involved only if you find it in the suffering. I go to the movies because a lot of life is existentialist…I want a reprieve from that. Can’t we just have a teeny, tiny bit of happiness infused in ALL that suffering?

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