What’s my favorite movie? Part 1/5: Spirited Away

I made it through college without ever locking down an answer to the most softball icebreaker question there is: “what’s your favorite movie?” In this IC-exclusive series, I’ll write about five of my favorite movies in an attempt to arrive at a definitive conclusion. That being said, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time in the future, and it might take me six months to get around to writing about all the movies I want to write about. This is part 1/5: Spirited Away.

Spirited Away is an animated movie nominally for children. From legendary director Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away was originally released in Japan in 2001, and was distributed in North America by Disney in 2003. I saw it for the first time when I was 19 or 20, and no doubt would have found it terrifying in 2003, at the age of 11.

This is a movie that you watch and ponder for days after. You might Google “why is Spirited Away so weird,” but mostly, you just have to think about it and let it sink in. Because of that, I’m going to devote a decent portion of this post to explaining how I interpret the film, and in doing that I hope it will be apparent why it’s worthy of consideration as my favorite movie.

Spirited Away is the story of 10-year-old Chihiro stumbling into a bathhouse for spirits and growing up quickly as she’s forced to deal with ever-escalating problems. The movie has the rough outline of a coming-of-age story, but it’s more concerned with how growing up feels than what it looks like. It’s a collection of moments that elicit strong feelings and articulate a coherent philosophy about childhood; it’s not a movie for nitpicking plot points. Spirited Away is a series of lessons about growing up, and everything in the movie makes sense through that lens. Spoilers ahead, obviously. Continue reading “What’s my favorite movie? Part 1/5: Spirited Away”


Monsters University is a good movie for adults

I saw “Monsters University” recently and thought it was great, but at first I wasn’t sure why.  I thought maybe it was just because I got to see one of my favorite movie villains ever, Randall the invisible purple lizard, grace the screen again.  But as I thought about it a little more, I realized I liked the way the movie didn’t pander to its audience.  It would have been easy to do a movie where Mike and Sully went to college, became friends, graduated, and went to work at Monsters, Inc, and lived happily ever after, but that’s not what happened, because the people who made this movie expected as much from their audience as their audience expected from them.  This isn’t as great a movie as previous Pixar offerings “Toy Story 3” and “Wall-E,” but part of what made those movies so good is here in Monsters.  The people in charge thought the most of their audience, and it showed in the dialogue and the nuance of the characters’ emotions.  They weren’t worried anything would go over the audience’s heads.

Seeing “Grown Ups 2” around the same time helped me realize why I liked “Monsters” so much.  “Grown Ups” was hilarious in parts, but I got the impression that the people who made this movie thought their audience were idiots and that every joke had to be spelled out in neon letters and punctuated with exciting noises.  Both movies were entertaining, but only one of them made me feel like I was a intellectually capable human being, and because of that, I was much more invested in the story and the characters.  I think we as audiences project our emotions on characters we like, so if a movie makes us feel worthwhile, it improves our opinion of the characters.

So as I thought about people’s estimations of others, I realized that a lot of the time I’m too much like the people that made “Grown Ups.”  When I say or make or write something, I often feel like I’m doing it for people who aren’t like me and who won’t necessarily understand what I’m doing without a little help.  And maybe sometimes that’s true, but I’d bet most of the time it’s not and it detracts from whatever I’m doing or saying.  I think if we all had a higher opinion of our audiences our messages would come across clearer and be received better.