Thursday, July 3, 2008

Counter-Intuitive

A. Peevie has more anxiety than Woody Allen. From the time he was very young, he has experienced the usual childhood fears (and some not-so-usual) only in disproportionate levels. Separation, storms, dark places, animals, death, germs--these things would cause him to erupt in a screaming, inconsolable fit of terror.

One time, at the Wisconsin State Fair, we were walking happily along the Midway when A. Peevie sighted a teeny tiny storm cloud on the horizon. The sky was otherwise as clear as the skin on a Clearasil spokesteen. AP started whining for us to leave.

As the teeny tiny cloud got a little bit bigger, and a little bit closer, the whining turned to crying. "We have to leave NOW!" A. Peevie sobbed. "It's going to rain! There's going to be lightning and thunder! WE! MUST! LEAVE! NOW!"

We kept trying to reassure him. We'll go inside if it rains, we told him. We'll keep you safe. We won't let you be outside if there's any lightning. It was no use. Gradually the cloud got bigger, and the sky started to get a bit darker as the storm moved into the county. The crying turned to panicked screaming: "A storm is coming! We're going to be struck by lightning! We're all going to DIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!"

This was all before one drop of rain fell. A. Peevie kept sobbing and screaming until we finally headed into the chicken barn. It did eventually rain, and there was brief thunder and lightning. Afterward, we tried to talk rationally to A. Peevie about his fears, but he came back with a rational retort: "Lightning can KILL you," he said. And that was that.

So anyway, my point is, the boy has fear and anxiety issues. But guess what his favorite movie is.

Hint #1: It's not Sound of Music.

Hint #2: It's not animated.

Hint #3: It was made by one of my favorite movie makers, who has a new movie that just came out in June that I totally want to see, even though it only rates a 19 percent on the TomatoMeter.

That's right. A. Peevie's favorite movie, that he watches over and over again, is Signs, by M. Night Shyamalan. He loves to pause it on the brief frames where you can see a leg, a hand, or the whole body of an alien. He replays the alien scenes, and some of the other scenes too, like the one where the awesome Joaquin Phoenix leaps back six feet after seeing a video clip of an alien on TV.

He has also watched all the extras on the DVD, which makes me think that someday maybe he'll be a filmmaker. "I'll make scary movies," he told me.

Go figure.

How is this the favorite movie of a kid who can't stay in his own bed at night because of nightmares and awakemares? Sometimes he comes into my room and tells me that his imagination is scaring him, and he can't help it. "My imagination is thinking of scary things," he says.

I know what you're thinking: then stop letting him watch scary things on TV, you dummy! But we do restrict his access to scary things. This movie came on cable one night when we were on vacation (because, as you know, we STILL don't have cable at home, do we, MR. PEEVIE?), and he accidentally started watching it. The other kids, including his older brother, ran screaming from the room as soon as the scary music started, but A. Peevie talked us into letting him watch it. He was intrigued by the aliens.

And by way of brief review, I love this movie as well. I can watch it over and over again, just like A. Peevie does, because the characters capture me, and the signs, when I recognize them, make me catch my breath every time.

I love Roger Ebert's review of this movie (of course); especially this paragraph that explains exactly why I will go see Shyamalan's new movie, even though it's getting the worst TomatoMeter rating of all his movies:

In a time when Hollywood mistakes volume for action, Shyamalan makes quiet films. In a time when incessant action is a style, he persuades us to play close attention to the smallest nuances. In "The Sixth Sense" (1999) he made a ghost story that until the very end seemed only to be a personal drama--although there was something there, some buried hint, that made us feel all was not as it seemed. In "Unbreakable" (2000) he created a psychological duel between two men, and it was convincing even though we later discovered its surprising underlying nature, and all was redefined.
It's kind of cool to me that my quietly brilliant 10-year-old appreciates the nuanced story-telling of Signs. It's counter-intuitive, but cool.

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