Category Archives: The Films That Made Us

The Films That Made Us — The Adventures of the Shining Black Stripes

By Kevin McCabe

What movie had the biggest impact on me?

Whether it’s movies, music, art, or writing, it’s an almost impossible task for me to choose a favorite or the most influential. I have been losing myself in these media since the late 70’s when I was about five years old. One of my greatest pleasures is to see how creative someone else can be. So, to make this topic simpler for myself, I’m borrowing the same format of questioning I recently read in Entertainment Weekly in an interview with Emma Stone. Let’s hope my answers are different than a 23-year-old actress.

The first movie I remember watchingThe Adventures of the Wilderness Family (1975). Back before cineplexes, multiplexes, mega-theatres, etc., there were small town theatres with one or two screens. My home town had one and I loved going there with my family. I can almost remember driving there in our family truckster (nod to the original Vacation, another personal classic) and sitting in a room that had 50-60 seats.  I’m not going to lament about the low cost of the ticket, but I know the candy and popcorn were still reasonable for those days.



The first movie I watched at a drive-in: The Black Hole (1979). It was an RKO drive-in where you’d pay one price for a car stuffed with kids. This was the first film that scared me and made me cry, for different reasons. That night I was crying and couldn’t sleep because the robot V.I.N.CENT. died in the movie, and my older sister came into my room. This was the first, and last, time I can remember her being truly nice to me. Who could really blame her though, I was a younger brother.



The first R-rated movie I ever sawStripes (1981). I was about nine when I saw this. Don’t blame my parents though, it was during a sleepover at a friend’s house. Blame his parents. Shortly after this came the Porky’s trilogy, then Kentucky Fried Movie, followed by a plethora of B-movie softcore porn flicks. But on a serious note, to this day I love the work that Bill Murray does, whether it’s comedy or drama. If I ever went into acting, I would probably try and conjure my inner-Murray to pull off a scene.



The scariest movie I ever saw: The Shining (1980). I saw this on HBO at home at night by myself, and I loved it. To this day I compare most scary movies to this. Do they have as much suspense, drama, horror? Shortly after watching this I also saw The Making of the Shining, and that documentary had an even bigger impact. Now I could see anything and it really didn’t SCARE me. I would see Freddie’s signature hands and wonder how the make-up artists constructed them. I could watch The Exorcist and laugh when Linda Blair vomits all over the priest. Sure they still scared me sometimes, or made me gasp, or spill a little popcorn when I jumped in fright. But it stayed in the theatre or on my couch. I never took those moments into my dreams. I wish there were more horror movies like The Shining. Today it’s all about gore.



I guess it worked. Without trying I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to these films. They really have made me partially who I am. I love going to the movies and escaping into the minds of the director and the actors. The sense of peace and joy it brings me stems from my adolescence and the great times I had with my family. Before this exercise I also didn’t really know why my two favorite genres were comedy and horror.

Now if you ask me this same question in another ten years, I’m sure it will have something to do with parenting or children growing up. I honestly believe that each day brings us new experiences that change us, hopefully for the better. And it’s not until we look back far enough that we can see just how much we’ve been impacted.

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The Films That Made Us — The Horse Whisperer

By Brian Slattery

I am not going to tell you about my favorite movie. I am not going to tell you about a movie that affected me in any positive fashion. I have not seen this movie more than once and have not seen this movie since it was released in 1998. The Horse Whisperer, directed by Robert Redford, is the first movie I saw in theaters that I remember not liking. Did it have anything to do with the fact that I was a 12-year-old boy watching a romance movie? Of course. But the effects of me watching this movie run deep.

For those of you who do not know, The Horse Whisperer starts off with a girl named Grace MacLean (played by Scarlett Johansson) and her friend Judith going out to ride horses in the early morning. On the ride, Grace and her horse Pilgrim are hit by a truck, causing serious physical and psychological harm to both of them. In an effort to rehabilitate both Grace and Pilgrim, Grace’s mother Annie (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) takes them to Montana to visit the widely renowned “horse whisperer” Tom Booker (played by Redford).

The next hour of the movie is dedicated to the rehabilitation of both Pilgrim and Grace. Pilgrim must allow people to ride him again. Grace needs to regain her courage, both to ride Pilgrim and to take risks in general. The movie’s two main problems, solved. Great, roll credits, we can go home, right? Wrong. Turns out that Annie has fallen in love with Tom and is having an affair. This leads to an entire second half of Annie trying to decide if she wants to stay with her new flame or return home to her husband and family.

Imagine yourself as a 12-year-old boy. Is this the kind of movie you want to see? Of course not. You want to go see Godzilla destroy New York as Matthew Broderick tries to kill the beast. To this day I make my displeasure in Redford’s film known. People complain The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has too many endings; I tell them it could have ended and started an entirely new film in which Frodo has an affair with Sam’s new wife.


In this metaphor, Scarlett Johansson's look of injured memory represents Brian's theater experience. The horse represents Godzilla, naturally.


Since that fateful day in 1998 I haven’t been able to take the idea of romantic films seriously. There have been a few that I can say I’ve enjoyed. Overall, the thought of me having to sit in a theater and watch some people fall in love, have relationship issues, then get back together, is cringe-worthy. I go to movies to enjoy myself; if I wanted to watch a couple fight with each other and then make up I’d walk around the mall all day.

I am probably giving The Horse Whisperer a worse rap than it deserves, but that does not mean that I am going to watch it again. It has taken nearly three hours of my life from me. I shall not allow it to have any more. It also stole an opportunity to see Godzilla, which I had to watch a few days later than I had wanted.

And that is why Godzilla holds a special place in my heart — for being Not The Horse Whisperer.


I come to destroy New York and to heal your heart.


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The Films That Made Us — Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

By Steven Moore



In the spring of 2004 I was a college student having an existential crisis. I know it’s hard to find sympathy for a college student with first world problems, but the world had not turned out to be what I thought it was. I had been raised in a Southern Baptist home, not strict but strong in their beliefs. Every ethical and epistemological question I had was answered by this upbringing. Four years of  questioning, and reading philosophy texts, literary texts, critical texts, and any other text I could find, had brought me to a point where I wasn’t sure what or why I was. I’m sure Jim Carrey felt the same.

He had been having a good run. The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, The Majestic, and even Bruce Almighty were great films that tapped more into his sense of drama and the human condition than his comedy. He had to be questioning who he was as an actor and entertainer. Did he want to be important or just funny? That spring, amid all of the chaos of being a college student with a growing family, the questions about my future, and my questions about life, came this little movie about memories. When Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out in theaters, I only went to see it because the title was taken from an Alexander Pope poem. I didn’t even know Jim Carrey was in it.

I saw it three times in the theater. The only other movie I’ve seen more than twice in the theater is Titanic, and that’s because I was trying to get on the good side of my then-girlfriend, now wife. It turned out to be the exact kind of movie I love: small and quirky with a touch of magical realism. The message of the film is summed up in a simple exchange toward the end of the movie. The two main characters, Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (played by the most beautiful and talented actress alive, Kate Winslet), have been losing their memories through a procedure that erases bad memories from their brains. When Joel changes his mind about it mid-procedure and makes various attempts to stop it, he can’t. Eventually, the realization comes that he is slowing losing an entire part of his life, the woman that he loves, and that it’s inevitable. He can’t change it, can’t question it; it will simply be gone, and he’ll never know it was there. In defeat, Joel asks, “What do I do?” Clementine’s response: “Just enjoy it.”

What’s so incredible about this scene is that Joel is not asking what he should do to stop the inevitable process of loss; he is asking what he should do now that he has accepted its inevitability. How can he find purpose in something he has no control over, something that will vanish entirely without a thought. What do you do when nothingness is inevitable? The only thing Joel and Clementine can do is enjoy each other in the time they have. The subsequent scene of Joel and Clementine playing like children in an old beach house and reminiscing about things they should and shouldn’t have done is the most romantic scene in film history. It is pure longing and connection on an emotional level. They acknowledge the mistakes they made and love one another for those mistakes. Joel realizes that without Clementine he has to face the void alone, and his terror at the prospect eventually drives him back to her.



Throughout the film, Clementine helps Joel face the unfaceable. He is able to face loss, shame, and helplessness as long as she is with him. By the end of the movie you realize that she gives him purpose, and that should be enough. His crisis in the film is that he doesn’t realize that she holds him up, that his crisis is only a crisis without Clementine. She helps him make sense of the world just enough that he can enjoy it instead of critiquing it.

With my wife the world makes as much sense as it needs to, and that’s enough. I am able to just enjoy it.

The Films That Made Us — U-571

By Nathanael Griffis

Every film I’ve ever seen has had some personal impact; it is simply the degree of impact that differs. I would argue, that it is the point of something artistic, to have a personal impact. Art is meant to reach out to a viewer and affect them somehow. Quality does not necessarily lead to impact. Citizen Kane is one of the best films I have ever seen, but it does nothing for me personally. This does not diminish its value as art. It is simply to state that personal impact is just that, personal and not tied to quality. I love the film Troll 2  because of all the Friday nights I’ve spent sharing this film with friends, but it is undoubtedly one of the worst films ever made.

Still, one film has always stayed with throughout my life: U-571. This is by no means the best film I’ve seen, or even my favorite, but I’ll always love it for what it meant to me and what it still means to me. It was late April 2000 and I was on spring break. I had always liked films, but truth be told I was a bookworm and saw movies simply as entertainment. I liked Schwarzenegger movies, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Monty Python, and that was about it. Movies with kissing were lame, stupid, and girly, and as such to be avoided. Basically, I was a teenage boy.



I saw U-571 in the theaters on opening weekend, which was unusual for me. I know you expect me to say I came out of the film changed, that my vision toward film or something was shaken, but the truth is U-571 is not that kind of film. What was important to me was that I went with my Dad and a friend of his who was visiting in town. This mattered to me greatly, because they let me choose and I trusted my instincts, which turned out to be good. We all enjoyed it. I remember my father’s friend and my father turning to me as we left:

“Good pick, Nate, that was one intense film. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time,” my father’s friend said.

“Yeah Nate, that was a good movie. I’m glad we saw it. You did a good job picking that one,” my father said.

Now sure, we could say this is nothing more than a clichéd response to liking a film. Where’s the depth right? Shouldn’t I be talking about a movie that resulted in a long three-hour conversation over coffee and left me a different person? No, sorry. This film matters more than most others, because I had chosen a film and people I respected enjoyed it. It lifted me up and made me realize that my opinion mattered and that I could contribute. For a child this is a profound moment; this is truly a moment when one finds an important aspect of one’s identity. It had little to do with the film, which I still think is fantastic and has some of the most intense scenes in film. It had everything to do with the idea that I could choose a good film.

How many times do we look at kids and discount their opinions, because they’re kids. Hey, it’s cute that they watch silly Disney Channel shows. We throw away what they like and neglect to even give anything from music, books, or movies that they enjoy proper consideration. It meant so much to me to know that my Dad respected me and thought I’d made a good decision. It made me feel like an adult. It made me realize I mattered. Teenagers’ opinions are brushed off and thought of as ridiculous fads (sometimes rightly), so much so that we sometimes see adolescence itself as a fad of sorts. We see it as a phase that a person just needs to get through until they matter and can start contributing.

U-571 made me want to love films more, but not because of its filmmaking prowess, the depth charges, Matthew McConaughey or Harvey Keitel’s acting, or that insane scene where McConaughey willingly sacrifices one of his men to save the rest. It was because I wanted that affirmation. Simply put, I wanted people to like me. I wanted my Dad to be proud of my choices. It seems trivial and if I look at it objectively it is, but I’m a person and people are subjective. I have since seen at least 100 more films that are better and have a strong impact on me. WALL-E reminds me of the amazing bond and value of love and friendship. Up in the Air spoke to me when I was in a time of personal struggle between being single or in a healthy relationship. A History of Violence made me reevaluate my ideas about violence in film and in life completely. A Beautiful Mind gave me hope in my own ability to conquer whatever challenge was set before me. Singin’ in the Rain is nothing short of good memories of my family and sheer elation on screen. Finding Neverland helped me address issues of imagination and reality and their relationship to mortality.

None of these matter more to me than the simple act of my father being proud of me.