Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be

"Next time you look back, I really think you should look again." --from (500) Days of Summer

I've recently come to realize something: very, very few people think clearly when they're reviewing the past. It's Nostalgia Syndrome--everything becomes incredibly good or tremendously bad--and all of a sudden, our past lives seem awfully black and white. We phase out the gray in order to achieve a better narrative. One more seamless and less messy than what actually happened.

It's one of the only ways we have of imposing order onto our lives: in any given moment of the present, we're far too aware of everything. Everything, including the things we wish we weren't. The stuff that, in the present, we want to wish away--the stuff that we hope might disappear if we ignore it for long enough. When we look back, we can ignore to our hearts' content...those things may as well not have been there.

But really, I don't think there are any moments in our lives that are absolutely perfect--not on their own. Not without help. And those moments are never perfect when we are in them, which makes us wonder when we look back why we didn't appreciate what we had at the magical moment we had it.

I suppose I've been thinking about this because recently I can't help but wonder if past versions of myself were happier than my present self can sometimes be. And in all fairness, I'm sure there were times when my past self felt much happier about life than my present self. Of course, I'm sure that there are times where my present self far outshines the happiness of my past self.

Nostalgia romanticizes the past: it acts as its own type of rose-colored filter. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I've always been me. I've always had strengths and weaknesses. Talents. I've always had happy times and sad times and mad times, it's just that I don't want to remember being sad or mad--so I usually choose not to. Don't most of us? We want to be our best selves, so we remember our best selves...and we forget the best selves we remember are a product of editing and some good mental production values.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Charlie St. Cloud

It's been several months since I read the wonderful novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, and as I mentioned in the review: they made a movie out of it.

Let me say this, right here and right now: Hollywood doesn't get it right often. I mean, sure, they're smart enough to know a moneymaking plot when they see one. But that doesn't mean they'll do a good job of converting a masterful novel into an equally masterful movie. In rare instances, it happens. And I applaud them. But more often than not, the film misses exactly the mark the book hits.

And yet any time a book I've loved is made into a movie, I have to see it. I'm inevitably drawn toward the theater (or, you know, Netflix) and I find myself watching a visual adaptation of that work I so dearly loved when it was only printed word and all of the visuals existed in my imagination.

I found the film version of this book lacking. And this is why: it didn't allow for the idea that Sam, too, moves on in the end. One of the loveliest things about the novel's ending is that Charlie gets to see Sam one last time--actually see Sam--but it isn't the younger-brother-as-he-was. Charlie gets to see that when he moves on, Sam moves on. In the end, he sees a young adult version of Sam--someone that Sam simultaneously could have been but still gets to be, after a fashion. They both get to move forward. In their own ways, they both get to have futures.

And while yes, that makes the book ending more than a little sentimental and while yes, some people don't believe in anything after death and that makes the whole premise...difficult...I appreciate the impression Ben Sherwood left behind in the novel, which is that Sam does have somewhere to move forward and onward. He doesn't just simply stop existing. Charlie, after all, still lives. But it's difficult to think of Sam being a nebulous child-like entity, even if he's in heaven.

But those are just my thoughts. And maybe I just need to avoid filmic adaptations of my favorite works. They never turn out as well as they could.