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The Building of a Cinematic Personality – Part 1

I’ve decided to make a list of influential movies, that is, influential to me. These are also films that I consider my favorites, so, I highly recommend each of them. Generally, the older I get, the better the films I’ve watched and appreciated; better as in my opinion and popular/critical opinion.  This is part 1 of an indefinite number, as I tended to watch more movies the older I became and I haven’t made the next parts yet. I’ve listed the films in the chronological order I watched them, along with how old I was, my rating, a short summary and what they changed about me. So, since cinema is a big part of all my media consumption, and since you are what you eat, this list is effectively my personality development seen through movies.

Back to the Future (1985) – Age 5 – 88/100

A high school student’s eccentric and elderly friend invents a device that allows time travel. The teenager accidentally travels to the past and gets stuck there, and his actions start to cause a “butterfly effect” wherein he could be changing his own future. He must both figure out how to get back to his future, and make sure his actions in the past preserve this future’s existence.

The soundtrack, and the lead character himself, are the seeds that sowed a love of rock and roll in me, before I even properly heard it. It established both the genre of sci-fi, and the loud electric guitar playing 80’s rhythms, as the epitome of cool in my head.

Commando (1985) – Age 7 – 85/100

An ex-military man’s daughter is kidnapped by an old acquaintance and used as leverage to convince the man to assassinate a rival political leader in South America. The man goes on a killing spree to free his daughter.

This classic revenge action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger programed me to love action movies, and inflated an alpha-male mindset in me. Pretty standard boy stuff really.

Gladiator (2000) – Age 10 – 89/100

A man in a high military position in the Roman Empire, betrayed by his boss’ son, escapes an attempt on his life but ends up as a slave who fights others to the death for the Colosseum’s entertainment. His ambition is to kill the man who did this to him, who is now Emperor.

This movie made me obsessed with the Ancient world. I made several gladiator outfits from construction paper and tin foil, models of ancient architecture out of clay, endless lego projects, wrote a screenplay for a sequel, and couldn’t stop drawing ancient military battle scenes. I was so in love with this movie, that I started to become creative and artistic just so I could recreate the excitement I felt from watching the film in everything else I did. To this day I haven’t seen any movie more times than I’ve seen this one, which is 8 times.

The Game (1997) – Age 10 – 88/100

A rich businessman enrolls in a recommended entertainment service that introduces surprising recreational events into his life. These events turn out to be thrilling but quite harrowing. They keep getting worse and he has no idea how to terminate his “entertainment service.”

This drama thriller film is very memorable to me because of the paranoia in it. The “there’s nobody you can trust” theme lingers in me on some level to this day.

The Truman Show (1998) – Age 11 – 90/100

There is a show on TV that documents a human life in a controlled environment, i.e. a giant town-sized studio visible from space. Truman is the center of this show, he has no idea that everyone he knows is a hired actor, and that his entire world is made for him. One day, he starts to suspect his world may not be real.

Before I saw this film, I thought the exact same thing as this movie shows. I had this imagined barrier between other people and myself, where I was the only one who had desires and made decisions, that everyone else just existed and played out a routine that they never questioned (like machines). I thought I was in a giant maze of people and places, navigating my way around them to “the top,” i.e. my idea of success. After seeing this movie, I started questioning this idea. It was weakened, but did not dissolve for a long time; my sense of alienation continued for a bit longer.

Road to Perdition (2002) – Age 12 – 86/100

To some Mike Sullivan is an honorable and loyal hit-man, to others he is an evil cold blooded murderer, but to his son, he is a father. This is the story of the two weeks the father and son spent together on the road in the wake of the depression while hunted by criminals and on a bank robbing spree.

My love of 1930’s style was solidified, and the lines between good and evil were blurred. This is really when I started to become obsessed with melancholy films with a heavy musical soundtrack.

About a Boy (2002) – Age 12 – 92/100

A boy in Britain is alienated at school and feels a disconnect with his single mother parent. He meets one of his mother’s acquaintances, a burned out selfish man living off his father’s wealth, and clings to him as he seems the only one free to hang out and able to teach the boy how to be cool.

Music, really the guitar, as an uplifting tool was highlighted in this film and furthered my desire to play the electric guitar (though it would still take me another 3 years until I got up the courage to ask my parents to be allowed to get a guitar). But most of all it challenged my idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The lead disconnected and chill Hugh Grant was the aspirational goal that I had in mind for my future. This kind of content loneliness didn’t seem as attractive on screen as in my mind, so I became unsure about my identity.

Brazil (1985) – Age 13 – 95/100

A man living and working in a highly departmentalized and organized bureaucracy that values machinelike efficiency over everything, catches a glimpse of a woman, and falls in love at first sight. He neglects his work, and bends some rules to find her identity and to be with her, all to the discontent of his Orwellian society.

At this age, anything Kafka-esque is appealing, and so I was enchanted by this film portraying a victim of society. It furthered my hate of rigid authority, and heightened my distrust of government. And, though it should have lured me away from being a hopeless romantic, as it is literally the story of a hopeless romance, it only attracted me, as the struggle seemed noble. Most importantly though, this movie gave rise to a significant problem that I would struggle with: the duality between living in my head and living in the real world. It became impossible to ignore the fact that I perceived the world in a certain way, which most likely is not how other people perceive it. So I started to question, how real is my perception? What have I gotten wrong, and is there really a wrong? At this point I became a mix of confusing questions lacking any answer. Thankfully, I would settle and answer these question in a satisfying way eventually. But for quite a while after this movie, my life was rife with uncertainty about practically everything.

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