Living in my little empty nest bubble, I rarely find myself in a movie theatre anymore. Gone are the days when my children and I would anticipate the next Disney or Harry Potter release. We’d often be accompanied by a carload of friends the week of the release and together savor the big-screen experience, along with the popcorn kids’ meal.
Afterwards we would talk about the movie and regale Dad with our favorite parts. Not only would the movie become a point of reference for conversations down the road, it provided a shared experience usually filled with life lessons ripe to be applied.
A seismic shift occurred in our movie sharing experience the summer I took my son and some of his under-17-year-old friends to see an R-rated thriller. The violence and language supposedly mandated parental supervision. With the knowledge of the other parents, I facilitated the ticket purchase (including my own) and escorted the boys into the theatre. Once the lights dimmed, I fled, having no desire to experience the blood and gore they craved.
The Big Short
I don’t believe that I have crossed a theatre threshold with my son since that day. Until the penultimate day of his Christmas break this year, that is. Somehow my husband and I manage to convince him and his girlfriend to see The Big Short with us.
Though we knew the outcome of the 2008 financial meltdown, we squirmed on the edge of our seats stunned by the cavalier attitude of the portrayed Wall Street hotshots, who were blind to the logical risks of mortgage investments. They never questioned how a tranche even worked, yet they bought them with abandon. At the same time, the real estate market had become so hot because mortgage brokers didn’t need to have their home buyers prove financial solvency or ability to repay when adjustable rate mortgages would inevitably rise. Life for these folks was all about collecting their bonuses, to heck with the doomed homeowner.
The good guys in this movie were the handful who dared to question the validity of all the assumptions on which the mortgage-backed securities market was based. As they conducted actual research and sought to understand what was going on in the real world, they realized that the whole industry was built on greed. Trusting their guts, they shorted the market, in effect betting against the American economy. Confident that the crash was inevitable, they persevered through ridicule and monthly financial calls until the market legitimately corrected, at least as much as the government would allow.
As portrayed by a stellar cast of actors, including Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Brad Pitt, the outsiders provide courageous examples of what it takes to proclaim that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes in this day and age. We, like the rest of the audience, left the theatre in quiet disbelief. My son, who has planned to find a career in corporate finance, was too disturbed to talk about it that night, but the movie has provided fodder for future conversations together not only about his future in the financial world but also how to live authentically and follow your gut instincts.
Serendipitously, less than a week later, I took in Concussion as part of an empty-nesters Girls’ Night Out.
In an Oscar-worthy performance, Will Smith portrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a coroner who unwittingly takes on the mighty NFL. As a naive immigrant from Nigeria unfamiliar with the fact that the NFL is the second religion of our country, he dares to pursue the truth about the effect of hard hits and concussions on the brain and how, in extreme cases, these collisions can lead to suicide. In disputing the NFL’s finding that football doesn’t cause concussions, Dr. Omalu faced threats and ridicule, and his boss was even arrested by the FBI.
Fortunately for current football players, the NFL has been forced to recognize the validity of Dr. Omalu’s research and has begun enforcing stiff penalties against players making helmet to helmet contact and flagrant hits. A game of both grace and violence, at least concussion protocols now attempt to protect the players who have grown up loving this game. No doubt the NFL never wanted this film to see the light of day, and for that reason alone, it is worth seeing, whether or not you and your family are the avid football fans that we are.
Real or Virtual Movie Night
Both of these movies extol questioning the status quo while following your own gut and seeking the truth in the face of massive malfeasance. How’s that for conversational fodder? Since the films feature actors who are legit in our children’s eyes, you might actually be able to persuade them to watch both with you.
If your children have already fled the nest for winter term or returned back to work, plan a movie night when they come back home or at least encourage them to catch the films where they are. Why not offer to buy their ticket, and be sure to see the movies yourself. Then when a speed parenting moment arises, you just might be able to weave the lessons of these movies into your conversation. You can’t be with your flown children all the time, but participating in shared experiences, even virtual ones, can help bridge the distance no matter how far apart you are.
January 27, 2016