How Breakdowns In Movies Teach Us To Give Up Too Easily

Lynn Shelton’s “Laggies” starring Kiera Knightly, Sam Rockwell, and Chloe Grace Moretz recently entered theaters this last month. If you haven’t seen the movie, trailers, or heard about its release, the story centers on Megan (Knightly) and the aftermath of her boyfriend’s proposal. Instead of excitement, Megan experiences a quarter life crisis, causing her to flee and befriend a teenage girl, Annika (Moretz), as well as develop relations with Annika’s father, Craig (Rockwell). While the film may have some “already-been-done” moments, there is definite substance as we watch Knightly’s character come into her own.

“Hector and the Search for Happiness” (2014), “Eat, Pray, Love” (2010), “Greenberg” (2010), “Frances Ha” (2012), and now “Laggies” are all movies supporting the notion that when one has a breakdown, it will end on a positive note. Cinematic breakdowns, or movies that follow a character as he/she throws in the towel when life gets rough, or monotonous, suggests that it’s OK to give up, and that if we flee for self-discovery, eventually when we return people will embrace us with open arms. It’s one thing to move away for work, or take a stay-cation when things become overwhelming, but the idea that it’s OK for each of us to selfishly say “f*ck this” in challenging times and flee is absolutely absurd. Cinematic breakdowns have glorified our perception of how to tackle challenges with relationships, work, family, and self-awareness, and in turn have encouraged us to flee because it’s the only way to build individuality and find ourselves.

Before someone whips up the comment that a movie is just a movie and that it’s others’ fault for engaging with characters in film in this way, remember, we are the generation of social media, a tool meant to keep us in connection with one another, yet we’ve turned it into a device where we compare our Facebook “friends” lives to our own. It appears that anything to do with another person’s choices is an opportunity for us to reflect on our own reality. While social media is a consistent device to make us feel smaller, viewing two to three hours of self-discovery on the big screen heightens our personal perception of inadequacy.

The struggle with the cinematic breakdown, and our current habit of consistent comparison, is that filmmakers are creating stories about the essence of being and the genuine struggle people experience once, sometimes twice in their life. This is not a new cinematic invention, especially when we look outside of the United States, but current self reflective cinema is separate from previous films as a result of social media, and what we’ve turned social media into. These movies are enjoyable. They’re personal, simple, and uplifting. So how do we separate ourselves from these fictitious narratives whose sole purpose is to reflect reality and individual desire?

It isn’t wrong for movies to engage viewers in this way, although it may seem like a trick. Many of us desire watching these journeys of self-discovery. If the goal of cinema is to engage audiences, well done. There is a whole audience out there who enjoys movies that touch on reality and personal struggle. The problem begins when cinema is encouraging us to drop it all and flee. Blogs are feeding us lists on how to live and social media is showcasing people who appear to have it all figured out. These consistent visuals are muddling our perception of our own reality, and what we need to do, realistically, to be happy. What separates our lives from movies is that for us there are consequences to fleeing, to dropping responsibilities, and disregarding people in our lives. Not to mention, we don’t have endless funding for these spur of the moment adventures. We don’t become better people by fleeing simply because we feel we’re in a rut. Sometimes life is monotonous. In those cases, picking up a new hobby, ridding yourself of toxic relationships, changing jobs, asking for new/more responsibilities, shutting off your cell phone, or planning a weekend venture are better, and smarter options than fleeing.

Back when I was entering my second year of college, I experienced a bit of a rut, or we could call it a breakdown. Instead of brainstorming ways in which I could change my current state, I hopped on a Greyhound and travelled across Canada for three weeks, ending up in New York, bouncing to Chicago, and finally making it home. I may have learned how to travel on a budget, (couch-surfing, Greyhounds, train rides, hostels, etc.) but that life experience didn’t take away from the fact that all my problems were waiting for me when I arrived home. And to top that off, I was now broke. Is it a great story to tell my friends now that it’s been a few years? Indeed. Would it have been a better experience had my life been in order, and in a place where a trip like that wouldn’t have drained my funds? Yes.

These cinematic breakdowns of self-discovery journeys are engaging narratives. People enjoy viewing movies that are relatable, and they help us feel validated. But we need to separate ourselves from their methods of self-discovery, and enjoy them for their messages promoting individuality. We can achieve this quality, and others like it not by fleeing or resenting our current state of affairs, but by taking accountability and controlling what we can. It takes more courage to wake up each day and get shit done than simply dropping it all and leaving. The latter has consequences. Just because you leave and change doesn’t mean people won’t hold you accountable when you return. As we work on questioning social media and its display of our “friends’” achievement, we must also work on separating our own desire for fleeing in comparison to cinema’s attitude towards self-discovery.

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