Hi. My name is Ariana and I graduated high school exactly two months ago today. Everyone told me senior year would be the one to break your heart because it marked the end of everything you knew. But, I did not expect the excitement of graduation to dwindle into existential terror and fear of the future so rapidly. I felt miserable and lost as if everything I was passionate about in high school evaporated and was replaced with self-pity and meaninglessness. So what did I do? I looked to cinema to save me.
That sounds ridiculous. I know. How could I expect a motion picture to provide my life with purpose and direction? Well, for the longest time, I have proclaimed my desire to pursue screenwriting and film criticism as a career. However, as each day of the summer passed I began to write less and less and feel like a failure with no future. Moving to L.A. after four years seemed hopeless and “you are not good enough” was a common thought in my mind. So, maybe if I were to rekindle my love for film, I would find inspiration, meaning, or even simple recognition that I was not alone. Here are some films I discovered/rediscovered during my ongoing journey mild spoilers ahead:
In Search of Fellini (2017)
This film appeared to me as a Netflix-recommended algorithm, its title catching my eye. What I watched was an enchanting, mysterious tale about a young woman learning to grow up. Lucy has never had a job, did not go to college, and lives in a little dreamworld alongside her protective mother Claire. The two seem to reside in their own little bubble, watching romance movies together, seemingly distant from reality. When Lucy overhears that her mother is sick and worried about how Lucy will survive without her, Lucy attempts to join society and get a job. When that fails, she stumbles upon a film festival dedicated to Federico Fellini, and with that, a new dreamworld is created. Lucy decides to travel to Italy to find Fellini after binge-watching his bizarre films, and with that, a strange adventure that parallels the strangeness of growing up and finding yourself emerges.
By the end of the film, I was sobbing. I had not cried like that to a film in quite a while. As the credits rolled on my small screen, I continued to cry and cried all the way to shower and during it. I could hardly explain why I felt so moved, but I’ll try. My mother and I are incredibly close. We are not as detached from reality as Lucy and her mother are, but with my graduation and entering into adulthood, I too felt this sense of insecurity that dealt with finding who I was outside of being my mother’s daughter. Like Lucy, I too feel the pressure and fear of growing up and making your own decisions. I watched Lucy’s story and I too desperately wanted a film to change my life, to rock me to my core and incite an emotional revolution inside me, ultimately leaving me content and inspired.
The Truman Show (1998)
I first watched the 1998 film in my freshman year geography class and though I enjoyed the movie, I was nowhere near as impacted by it as I was when I rewatched for the fourth time a few weeks ago. I felt that with my growing sense of disassociation from reality it might be helpful to watch a man go through the same struggles, sort of. Truman Burbank is a man living in a fake world. His entire life has been crafted by a director and writers and what he knows as “home” is what the rest of the world knows as a television show set. As pieces of this faux-reality begin to unravel, Truman questions who he is and where his life is going. And though I begrudgingly accept my own reality as true, I find myself asking the same things.
[notices Sylvia’s pin that says “How’s it going to end?”]
“I like your pin. I was wondering that myself.”
And the film’s final scene is one of my favorites of all time, because it dares you to create your own existence and meaning, and not be fearful of the darkness of the unknown of which you are about to enter.
The Graduate (1967)
Once again, it took rewatching this film at the right time in my life to help me appreciate it on a much deeper level. The Graduate was already one of my favorite films, but it was truly empathizing with the characters that skyrocketed it to my top 10 list. Never had I seen the loneliness I felt visually represented in such a beautifully sorrowful way. Tracking shots at a busy airport and yet feeling so alone, camera angels of being inside a diving suit and hearing nothing but your own breathing, Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate who does not want the same life his parents have and feeling so utterly disconnected from life, hit close to home. When he meets the older Mrs. Robinson and begins an affair with her, we see that she too is lost in her loneliness. As the affair continues, Benjamin finds himself on a date with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine, which is something he swore he would not pursue. Though Benjamin finds himself in love with Elaine, it is apparent that he is compensating for his loneliness with anyone who will listen to him. And it is that iconic final sequence of the film, in which we see the faces of two rebellious lovers who have made a life-altering decision, come to terms with what they have done, and wonder “what now?” The uncertainty of your decisions and future resonated so deeply with me. As a screenwriter, I am more-so invested in the writing and dialogue, but this film’s direction, editing, and cinematography, truly touched me and described everything I felt inside.
Ghost World (2001)
I would not be a true film-buff had I not quoted a film on my graduation cap, and it was this 2001 comic-book adaptation that wound up on my cap. Specifically, the main character Enid’s deadpan remark to her fellow, preppy classmate:
“Yeah. We graduated high school. How totally amazing.”
Since my first viewing of the film, I saw myself in Enid. She was a mean and cynical artist who hesitates in growing up. The film begins at Enid and best friend Rebecca’s high school graduation, and I rewatched the film the night before mine. Rebecca immediately assimilates in adulthood, finding a job and looking for apartments so that she and Enid can move in together. Enid, however, stalls. When Rebecca suggests they dress nicely to meet the owners of an apartment for rent, Enid dyes her hair green. When Rebecca suggests Enid get a job to save up for their apartment, Enid gets a job at the movie theater and sabotages herself, winding up fired. What unfolds in Ghost World is an unconventional coming-of-age film that flips the genre on its head by rejecting what society says is the traditional way of growing up and becoming an adult. The movie criticizes being an adult, especially through the character of Seymour, an older man who Enid and Rebecca sneer at because he is pathetic. Eventually, Enid befriends Seymour. The film ends with Enid completely rebelling this miserable future that presents itself in her hometown, and magically catches a bus that has not operated in years. Though some may view the ending as a metaphor for suicide, I hope that Enid did find something better out there for herself. And I hope that I find that too.
So, did I find a movie that changed my life and provided me meaning on a platter? No. Because life is not that simple. But, I did find movies that provided me some clarity and comfort. I have no idea what my future has in store for me. I do not know if ten years from now I will be working in the film industry or will have gone down a completely different path. What I do know is, I love movies and learning about the human condition through them, and that I am the only person standing in my way of doing things that make me happy and content. I start college in a few weeks and I don’t expect to have my shit together by then, or during, or after. But, I’ll be sitting here, watching movies, and trying.
-Ariana Martinez (A.M.)
I do not own these pictures.