WHY HORROR? (Preface)

My book exploring why we love horror so much is taking longer than I originally projected, but I thought I would share the preface with you. If you like the preface, then you’ll want to purchase the book when it releases! At the time of this posting, I am on Chapter 12.

PREFACE

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” (Ghost Face, Scream). There is something to be said about the measurable energy of an auditorium at the cinema when a crowd is energized for opening night of the latest horror film. Moreover, the same can be said about your own living rooms when gathered with friends to watch a horror movie on-demand or through a streaming service. We turn into quasi participants because of the strong physiological and emotional responses to the stimuli on screen. Best enjoyed in a group setting, these movies are the stuff of nightmares and fond memories!

The American horror film brings so many people of all ages together from a bevy of ethnic, cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds unlike any other single film genre. Spawning conventions, theme park events, inspiring indie and pop artists, the fandom of horror is incredibly diverse and stratified. While the science-fiction/fantasy fandom is large and vocal, it does not often display the level and degree of diversity that horror does both presently, in our culture, and has for more than a century. From the dawn of cinema, horror has been a staple for big studios and small production companies alike.

By analyzing horror films, we can learn a lot about our past, our present, and even our future. While film is largely a reflection of life, horror is the best cinematic mirror of all because it forces us to face our fears. The monster in a horror film, may just be the manifestation of a force or idea in the real world delivered to us through a terrifying cautionary tale.

Even when a bad horror movie gets released in theatres, the auditoriums are usually full on opening night–even through the weekend–before the numbers fall off, and that title is available on-demand in a few weeks. The influence of horror on our society is witnessed throughout the decades. A great example of this is seeing fans from across four decades all gathering in one place to watch 2018’s Halloween.

Unlike other critical and box office successes in recent years, this particular franchise boasted a 40 year old legacy that brought fans and spectators of all ages together. I remember sitting there in my seat, simply in awe at the sea of people and feeling a kinetic energy surge through my mind and body, especially when the Halloween theme music began to play. What other genre generates this?!?

In order to best explore why horror brings so many people together, we need to first look what the formula is for the American horror film and then at why we are attracted to it. From there, we can travel through the decades to learn how and why the horror film developed in the manner that it did.

Understanding what comprises the American horror film will support our exploration because it will create a theoretical framework through which we can analyze the popularity and fandom of horror. When I lecture on horror to my film studies and screenwriting students at the University of Tampa, where I’ve taught since 2016, I describe the makeup of the American horror film this way:

(Art movements of) German Expressionism + French Surrealism = horror’s aesthetic

(Writings of) Sigmund Freud + Edgar Allan Poe = horror’s content

At its root, all genre horror films can be traced back to these aforementioned elements and formulas. This chapter will focus on horror’s aesthetic, while the next chapter will focus on its content. 

Ask anyone, and the single most famous scene in all of cinema is the famous shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho, widely regarded as the most pivotal horror film in all cinema history. The aforementioned scene gains a greater eerie feel upon the close of the movie when the audience realizes that Norman has little to no control over his mind and actions.

The studio responsible for solidifying the horror film as a popular genre, and you could say is the parent of the American horror film is Universal Pictures. Not only is horror the most bankable genre of film, generally speaking, it is also one of the most fascinating to analyze because many horror films written in the classical sense are social metaphors.

Throughout this book, you’ll learn about the current events that preceded a particular movement in horror, and how those fears and anxieties were explored through characters and plots. For example, it was the space race of the mid 20th century that inspired many of the alien movies of the 1950s. And with the space race, came a fear of what lies beyond our atmosphere.

Although the “modern” horror film began with Psycho, horror was an influential genre and box office draw from the dawn of cinema. In fact, many of the characters you enjoy watching today in horror films has their first appearance in the early 1900s.

“Oh no, don’t go into that house!” “Watch out! He’s right behind you.” Some of the most memorable movies of all time are the horror films. They draw our eye’s attention to that which would otherwise repulse us in real life. At the same time, our own eyes are being threatened with disturbing or bizarre imagery.

But why does that which would repulse us in real life and that which is terrifying to behold, bring us together? That is what we are here to explore together! So join me as I lead you on a journey to dive deep into why horror brings us together.

From Nosferatu to (my favorite icon) Freddy Krueger and beyond, the American horror film continues to leave a huge footprint in our collective zeitgeist.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

AMERICA’S HEART PROBLEM

As I look over the major events in our country over the last couple of years, I am left with one question: What does it mean to be human?

And what does that have to do with the ideologically polarized time in which we find ourselves, you may ask? EVERYTHING.

Studying and teaching film has its benefits way beyond cinematic critical analysis. Since film is a reflection of life, we can learn a lot about a people by analyzing motion picture art. Granted, much of what we study in film is in retrospect, but these same approaches can be used to study current trends in storytelling media, which often parallel events in real life.

For example, my area of expertise is the American Horror Film, and as I wrote in the chapter on horror cinema of the 1970s, in my forthcoming book Why Horror?, I found the parallels between 1970s America shockingly similar to 2020s America. From the fights over abortion to inflation to civil rights to the rise of the new right and new left, much of what we are experiencing now can trace its roots back to the chaos of the 1970s.

But I digress.

What does it mean to be human? 

Everything we are facing in our tumultuous socio-political landscape has its roots in that philosophical question. One of the many reasons why I love Star Trek, in particular The Next Generation, is because of its central theme: the persistent exploration of humanity: What does it mean to be human? If we can answer that question, then so many of our other problems will solve themselves. Can logic and reasoning solve everything? No. But it’s far less chaotic and more strategic than constantly addressing symptoms of a larger generational illness through ideological positioning.

What is that illness, exactly? I believe it is the lack of a moral compass.

While there has been a distorted, warped definition of what it means to be liberal, I want to remind you that pure liberalism is a philosophical approach that considers all available empirical and anecdotal evidence to arrive at a solution that opposes fascism and authoritarianism in all their forms. It is not—and should not be—used as a synonym for either the political left (or for progressivism), any more than conservatism (or legalism) should be used as a synonym for the political right.

It takes only one generation to bring about the demise of a society. Just like the Roman Empire imploded—fell apart from within—our own American Empire is crumbling from within. About one-and-a-half to two generations ago, our public school systems began to drift away from teaching morals and ethics in formal classrooms. Combine that with the dissolution of the American family and the widespread abandonment of parental responsibility for teaching morals and ethics, and we can trace most of our societal problems back to this shift.

Why? Because we began to devalue truth in exchange for opinion, expression, and relativism. And when there is no truth, there is no means to know what is right or wrong. Think of it this way: a compass rose would be useless for navigation if it didn’t point to the true north. If a user of a compass was able to simply choose which north they wanted, then it would render navigation an exercise in futility. There can’t be more than one north anymore than there can be more than one truth. Without compasses (or GPSs) that are fixed to recognize the geographic north, no one is able to successfully navigate.

By not teaching the difference between right and wrong, fact and opinion, etc., children and young people since the mid-to-late ‘90s onward have not been reared and educated to respect parents, leaders, peers, and even one’s adversaries. Contrary to popular belief, respect doesn’t mean weakness or complacency. One can completely and vehemently disagree with someone, yet still be respectful.

I cite how Maverick responds to his leaders in Top Gun: Maverick, or how Jean-Luc Picard responds to countless admirals in Star Trek: the Next Generation when he is at philosophical or diplomatic odds with them. Even when Captain Picard is addressing his subordinates, he is always respectful, yet may fundamentally disagree with them. A great example of this is when he wanted Lt. Worf to donate his blood to save the life of a Romulan, but Worf refused. Captain Picard could have ordered him, but he chose not to out of respect for Worf’s dignity.

America has a gun heart problem.

By eliminating morals and ethics from our public school classrooms, educators no longer teach what is right and wrong (in the eyes of the law and humanity).

Growing up in and being educated by a system that values relativism over logic and reasoning gives birth to the kind of rampant disrespect for humanity that we’ve seen in the Pulse Massacre (in which I lost a friend and former coworker), Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Robb Elementary schools, the mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, Columbine, Uvalde, and more. Are gun laws perhaps a little too loose? Sure, I’ll give you that. Should there be universal background checks? Probably. Should the age to buy a firearm be increased to 21? Perhaps. Should military assault-style rifles be banned to the general public? Many think so.

The shooters in all those examples placed greater value on what they wanted, what they believed, and what they felt was the appropriate course of action than on the value of each and every human life. When one is reared in an environment devoid of consistent respect for others, then there is no reason not to behave inhumanely. It’s not mental illness that is driving these mass shooters (although I’m sure there is some correlation), but it’s the devaluing of human life that is the root cause. After all, this abominable action is justified or true to them. It all gets back to the heart.

If we look at this issue from a biological perspective, from the time male puberty sets in, through adolescence, until early to mid-20s, young men have raging hormones. And while we tend to associate these hormones solely with sex drive, we often forget that these same hormones and other chemicals predispose a young man to increased aggression. While some countries choose to require military service after high school, the U.S. doesn’t have any programs like that. Why is this important? Because in countries wherein there is required military service after high school for young men, they are better able to channel their predisposition to aggression in constructive ways. Not only does this provide seat time while the chemicals level out, but it also forces young men to deal with and manage these emotions.

I’m not stating that this is the only option the U.S. has for providing a method for young men to manage this biological and cognitive developmental stage, but it does demonstrate the need for a means for young men to have an avenue through which they can be educated as to how to behave like gentlemen and control their urges. Whether in military service or education, young men should be taught the difference between recognizing an impulse and acting upon it. Between inaction and impulse, there is a realm of good taste that is begging for attention.

Moreover, this stage in life also demonstrates why it’s important for a young man to have a father or a father figure in his life, because he needs to know how to be a man. Without a father at home or even a father figure in a boy’s life, there is an increased risk of inability to deal with the raging hormones and other chemicals as childhood transitions into adulthood.

For every action we take, there are consequences, be they good, bad, or indifferent. And contrary to postmodern belief, we ARE responsible for our actions. Does that mean our actions aren’t influenced by our environment? No, they most certainly can be, and often are. But at the end of the day, we—not the world—pull the trigger on our actions and are responsible for our decision(s)

But addressing these issues only fixes symptoms (i.e. the clear bigotry that motivates a variety of violence and hate speech). And by only treating symptoms, the root cause will continue to fester and get more septic over time. We will be better off by treating the cause, and then the symptoms correct themselves. Much more efficient. Children and teens today (and I’d venture to include young adults) have little fundamental understanding of (1) what it means to be human and (2) human dignity. When human life is devalued, then the risk of violence increases exponentially.

When does life become human?

Think of it this way: a baby can’t not be human until it is any more than it is human until it isn’t. It’s either human or not. It’s not complicated. Logically, the fetus is either a human child or a benign tumor, because it cannot simultaneously be both. Moreover, if we are in agreement that ending human life (when not in self-defense of one’s life or defense of one’s country when at war) is murder (and I’d hope we’re all in agreement on that), then ending unborn human life is also murder. But, if a human is only human when we decide it is, then it’s not murder because there is no standard for human life.

A great example of protecting sentient life (in all forms) can be found in the Star Trek: the Next Generation episode “The Offspring.” This is the episode wherein Data creates his child Lal. We witness Picard protecting the human rights of Lal when Starfleet informs Data and Picard that it will be removing Lal from the Enterprise to study her. Picard delivers this wonderfully profound line, “There comes a time when men can no longer blindly follow orders.” And he is willing to put his career on the line for a life.

Science, science, science. We hear so much about science nowadays; however, many only cite science when it supports their ideology. Science is science, regardless of what one believes. The great thing about scientific observations is that they can be either proven or disproven.

While science cannot answer questions that are a matter of philosophy or faith, such as the origins of the universe or is God real, science can help us to understand a great many things, such as the heartbeat in a sentient being indicating life.

So if we agree that intentionally ending a human life is murder, and murder is immoral, then we have to then conclude that intentionally ending the life of an unborn child is also murder. Moreover, this decision also influences whether or not the murder of a pregnant woman is—in fact—a double homicide. If the unborn child isn’t human, then there isn’t a double homicide; but if the unborn child is human, then a double homicide has been committed. Again, the unborn child can’t simultaneously be both human and non-human, as that would be illogical. If we begin to decide when a baby is or isn’t human (based upon personal opinion or choice), then we will be living by double standards and ignoring the science.

Well, what about surprise pregnancies? Okay, perhaps we need to revisit high school biology. Other than an immaculate conception, no pregnancy is a complete surprise. If you’re hetero, and you do the deed, a possible consequence is pregnancy. It’s not rocket science. It’s barely high school science. What there are, are unplanned or unintended pregnancies. Big difference between surprise and unplanned.

The only sure-fire method for preventing pregnancy for hetero couples is to not have sex. But we’re all human, and have human needs. And according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, sex is a basic need. Therefore, the reasonable solution is to offer morning-after pills, easy/free access to contraceptives, and financial assistance for mothers that have little to no means to care for a child.

Fortunately for most people in the United States, there is likely a Department of Health office or clinic in your area, and they have condoms they will gladly give you. Many offices, you just walk in and take a bunch out of a basket. There IS easy and free access to contraceptives. For those who fear this SCOTUS decision could affect alternative pregnancy procedures, such as IVF or surrogacy, there simply isn’t evidence to support that conclusion because those procedures seek to create and foster human life, not end it.

Earlier in the Next Generation episode “The Offspring,” Data informs Picard that he can deactivate Lal if her creation is problematic. Picard sharply responds, “It’s a life Data, you cannot simply activate and deactivate it.”

Protected rights and expression

We are all deserving of respect. Respect from those with whom we agree and disagree. The gross lack of human dignity and respect I observe around me, whether in real life or online, is dangerous. When young people are brought up not to value human life (including the life of those with whom they disagree), then they will interpret respect and dignity through their own eyes. Schools and other organizations that are focused on consistently highlighting the differences between people are actually fueling the problem.

From a position of logic, there is no white America, black America, hetero America, homo America, or Hispanic America, there is only America. Likewise, there aren’t white humans, black humans, Hispanic humans, hetero humans, homo humans, etc. Only humans who happen to be one or more of the above. Each with their own respective worldviews, beliefs, dreams, and fears. Once we begin to think of ourselves as one people, one nation, then we can fix so many of our problems.

On a biological level, there are two sexes: male and female. That’s it. Not opinion. Fact. It’s science, plain and simple. That said, while we are either male or female biologically, the manner in which we express ourselves is not limited by that binary; we can express our gender any way we want. You can be a feminine man or a masculine woman, or even androgynous. It doesn’t change the anatomy or chemistry; but fortunately, we are not limited to a binary means of expression.

The latitude of creative personal expression is as wide as the color spectrum! Every human is deserving of respect and dignity. Be different! It’s okay! Be proud of who you are, in whatever aesthetic form that takes! Just know that some will not accept your gender expression; but that’s unfortunate for them, because they will miss out on getting to know you.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of the coach from Washington state that was disciplined by his school administration for holding prayer after football games at the 50 yard line, is another hot topic. 

Instantly, I saw countless posts on Twitter citing the separation of church and state. What many people don’t realize is that the principle has far more to do with State-sponsored or State-mandated religion than it does religious expression.

Moreover, it is not the equivalent of freedom from religion. That is a gross misinterpretation. What this separation means is that the State will not forcibly impose religious beliefs on citizens. Even though there is a movement (largely within the woke ideology) to dissociate the United States from its foundation in morality, the Constitution and our laws are influenced by Judeo-Christian principles (and for this, let’s look at George Washington’s farewell address):

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

While morality and religion are at the foundation of our great country, federal, state, and local governments are not to force matters of faith on citizens. According to The Constitution, these rights are endowed by our creator; therefore, the Constitution protects innate rights, rather than granting rights that were not present to begin with. We have human rights from our very beginning as a human. Allowing for or permitting religious expression is not the equivalent of forcing it on someone.

Make It So

Life is unfair. Shocking, I know. And no amount of legislation can ever make it fair. Utopia is an idea, not a destination. Some people will always have it harder than others. But that is why we create systems that provide tools to individuals that want to reshape their future. It takes hard work. But just like working for your first car, you will value it so much more than if it was given to you. It works against all logic and reasoning to devalue one group in order to place greater value on another. Or blame one group for the problems of another. It’s counterproductive.

From the time we are born, we are selfish. We have to learn not to be selfish. If we are not teaching our children the value of respect, logic, and selflessness, then they will grow up ignoring those foundational concepts and grow in selfishness, which can lead to destructive behaviors. That would be a far more constructive conversation than the age at which discussions of sex and gender expression should take place.

Let’s do the next generation a favor by showing them that they need a moral compass to successfully navigate life and to know what it means to be human.

One of the reasons why Star Trek’s Q is fascinated by humanity, in particularly Picard, is humanity’s moral center, which is something lacking in the Q Continuum. Let’s start instilling into our children and young people the importance of morals, ethics, and logic. Next time you are faced with a loaded sociological or political question, think about it from a logical perspective, because it will help to place you on a stable path devoid of counterintuitive, cynical theories.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others (which are mostly film reviews and deep dives) and FOLLOW this blog!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THIRTEEN LIVES docudrama mini review

Interesting. Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation of the true story of the daring rescue of the Thai youth football (soccer) team from the flooded cave is faithful to the wikipedia page, but with an impressive addition of underwater cinematography. Thirteen Lives chronicles the seemingly impossible rescue that captured the attention of the entire world in summer 2018. While Howard’s docudrama is well-made all the way around, what audiences will find most fascinating is the mechanics of the rescue. It took thousands of volunteers in the labyrinth of caves, mountain peaks, and basecamps to bring all the boys and their coach to safety. Although none of the performances particularly stand out, the film delivers solid casting. Thirteen Lives is a different kind of “based on the true story” film, because it does not have particularly strong plotting to map-out the narrative. On one hand, it is a simple plot rescue the boys, but the film ultimately plays as a blow by blow description of what happened. Upon viewing the film, I thought to myself, why not just make a documentary instead; and then it occurred to me, that there would have been little to no footage of the inside of the caves. Therefore, docudrama was the way to go. There really isn’t much in the way of connective tissue between plot points; events just happen. That’s not to say that what we are watching isn’t terrifying in places–it certainly is–especially if you have kids; but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a cinematic story in the conventional sense. Even though we all know how the true story ends, the film focuses on the steps that were taken in order to rescue the youth soccer team. Is it good? Well, it’s not bad. It just kind of is. Often we see based on a true story films that take so much dramatic license that it’s no longer a faithful big or small screen adaptation; sometimes, character or situational nuances or motivations are lost in translation. Thirteen Lives is so incredibly focuses on a dutiful adaptation, that it sometimes forgets that it’s also supposed to be finding the narrative amongst the facts. I wouldn’t wait to see this on the small screen, catch it during its limited theatrical run because the visuals are impressive.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

NOPE horror film review

Nope, no plotting here. With a sensory explosion of stunning shot composition, outstanding sound design, and unnerving score–combine those with a refreshingly original expression of the classic monster movie–and you should have a great horror film, right? That was almost the case here, had it not been for the meandering narrative and thoughtless plotting. Brilliant idea, but poorly mapped out. There is so much to like about NOPE, but the full potential of this beautifully looking film is ultimately held back by screenwriting mechanics. Peele’s NOPE feels like a combination of The Birds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Signs. Unfortunately, it lacks the structure and substance of any of those. Clearly, Peele had a wonderfully original idea for his latest feature film, but his idea fails to deliver narratively. The plotting is all over the place; there are scenes that simply do not pay off dramatically. Individually, each scene is meticulously crafted, but many are not connected methodically to the rest of the film. What we have here is a film, that clearly demonstrates a love for horror cinema and film history, that pushes experiential boundaries, but the plotting leaves much to be desired. Moreover, there is a disconnect between the performative element of the mise-en-scene and characterization. Fantastic performances; but the characters, as they are written, are not very well developed. The pretense of the film is one exuding cinematic gravitas, but the pretense is the equivalent of a beautiful house with a shaky foundation and infrastructure.

To go into why this film’s plotting does not work would be incredibly spoilerific, so I cannot go into many details. All throughout the film, I thought to myself “I can tell that this is supposed to mean something, perhaps subvert something, but those idea are not being communicated effectively.” What this film will likely become is one of those that a pretentious cinephile or armchair critic will respond to those that express difficulty in following the plot with “it’s not for everyone” or “you just don’t get it.” Whenever I hear those remarks in defense of films that objectively fail to deliver narratively (plot+story), it makes me want to vomit. They are copouts for explaining away why a film doesn’t have to follow established storytelling conventions; furthermore, the “you just didn’t get it” is a tool for the cinephile to establish intellectual superiority over the individual rightly questioning the screenwriting of a film.

Caretakers at a California horse ranch encounter a mysterious force that affects human and animal behavior.

Where the film excels is in the very concept of the film itself and the technical achievement! Upon watching it, I was reminded of great films such as The Birds, Signs, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Moreover, I was also reminded of the sci-fi/horror movies of the 1940s and 50s. Because I was reminded of those, that demonstrates Peele’s love for classic horror cinema! And I applaud him for attempting to craft something for modern audiences that feels familiar yet fresh. To the best of my knowledge, there has yet to be a film (classic or more contemporary) that expresses the alien plot in the manner that Peele does. Where the films to which he’s harkening surpass NOPE is in the plotting. Original ideas are very much needed in 21st century cinema, but these ideas need to be paired with coherent plots.

Peele’s eye for shot composition is exceptional. He knows precisely how to frame and shoot a scene dramatically, even when the shot is largely static. What makes his shot compositions work so well is that the shot is a direct extension of the emotion of the scene. The camera isn’t merely documenting the course of events, but is ostensibly an active participant in how the scene unfolds.

The brilliant sound design and unnerving score work in tandem to draw the audience into the film, especially when watching the film in Dolby Cinema (which is what I did). No sound effect or bar of score is wasted. Every sound, every note is intentionally selected as an extension of the action or emotion of a scene. Although a film should not rely upon a great score to carry the story, sound and music are two very important tools in a filmmakers tool belt to increase the sensory stimulation of the film.

Peele is such a gifted director, but I hope he chooses to work with other screenwriters in the future to take his original ideas and map them out methodically and chronologically (whether linear or nonlinear) more soundly. We need refreshing ideas such as his, but we also need them executed in more conventional ways. Have the thoughtful subplot and subtextual theming that will inspire discourses, but make the outside/action plot more accessible because it’s the vessel through which the subplot and theming is communicated.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS motion picture review

A peerless delight! A throwback motion picture as exquisite as the House of Dior itself! Refreshing, uplifts the human spirit. A film to inspire dreamers and doers. Easily one of the best pictures of the year. Slip into Director Anthony Fabian’s meticulously crafted film that is sure to make a beautiful statement in any cinema! Lesley Manville delivers a command performance as the title character that will tug at your heartstrings. While the setting may be in the pretentious world of haute couture, this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s timeless novel takes audiences on a journey that is just as relatable and relevant as it is whimsical! When so many films depict the fate of the world at stake, preach a woke-filled sermon, or rely on showmanship over substance, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is an endearing fairy tale that feels very close to story in which we could find ourselves. Realistic enough wherein we effortlessly buy into the story with just the right about of fantasy that it serves as a much needed cinematic respite from the deluge of larger-than-life movies overcrowding cinemas across the country. Simple, yet complex. It’s a perfect drama that provides audiences with hope and hutzpah.

In 1950s London, a widowed cleaning lady falls madly in love with a couture Dior dress, deciding she must have one of her own. After working to raise the funds to pursue her dream, she embarks on an adventure to Paris that will change not only her own outlook — but the very future of the House of Dior.

Whimsical, yet relatable. Pretentious, yet authentic. That is the magic of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. Films depicting central characters setting out to realize a dream are in no short supply; the examples over the nearly 125 year of cinema are seemingly endless. But what makes this film so special is just how within arm’s reach it feels. Our central character of Ada Harris (Manville) is an everyman–one of us–fears, dreams, and all. She comes from a world not unlike the one in which you and I may find ourselves. Grated, we’re not all housekeepers, but we’re either presently or have been the invisible, under-appreciated worker within our respective vocational fields. We know what it’s like to have a dream, and work to make it happen. That’s the key here–work.

From the moment Mrs. Harris lair eyes on the Christian Dior dress in one of her employer’s wardrobes, she knew right then and there that she needed to own a Dior original! Not to impress others, but because it was so beautiful! For some, it’s a designer dress, for others it may be a particular automobile or work of art. We all dream of owning something that has special meaning to us–it makes us feel happy! But the real accomplishment is when it is the result of hard and smart work. Mrs. Harris is a hard, dedicated worker who values the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to provide for oneself or craft something beautiful for the world to see and appreciate. Mrs. Harris also reminds us that it’s okay to want something exquisite or beautiful because of how it makes (or we believe it will make us) feel. Treat yourself! Moreover, Fabian’s film also provides commentary on the dangers of placing one’s identity into material possessions or status symbols. There is a healthy balance, and Mrs. Harris lives that out! She is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

Lesley Manville’s Mrs. Harris is loved by nearly all whom meet her, because of her genuine spirit of kindness, graciousness, and generosity. Those whom have trouble with Mrs. Harris find her authentic spirit unfitting, disruptive, or something to be taken advantage of. When those with the best of intentions, come to disappoint Mrs. Harris. What I love about Mrs. Harris’ internal and external journeys is that they don’t simply fall into place through some deus ex machina methodology. She’s met with some serious setbacks and heartbreaks along the way. Even when you’re sure it’s gonna work out like it does in the movies, it’s more like one step forward and two steps back. But she doesn’t let that defeat her. Even her great apprehension about leaving her comfort zone, does not stop her. Still, she demonstrates inner-struggles when faced with the comfort of the status quo, or taking a chance on something wonderful!

Even though this movie harkens back to Hollywood’s feel-good movies in a post-WWII world, the characters are not one-dimensional caricatures from a bygone era. Our lead Mrs. Harris, her best friend, and Dior staff all have multiple layers about them…each goes on a journey of self-discovery paired with tangible goals. In others words, in screenwriting terms, each has a well-defined external goal and internal need driving the character. Is every character that well defined? No, but importantly the central and chief supporting ones are. Perhaps you’re a Mrs. Harris, maybe you’re a Natasha (the model), Mrs. Colbert (the legacy employee), or Mr. Fauvel (the accountant), You will likely find yourself as one of the prominent characters in the movie. It’s possible that you may be one of Mrs. Harris’ various employers (which will give you some pause to evaluate how you treat your employees).

Underpinning the A Story, is a story of worker exploitation. Even though the film could have spent a great deal of time on employer-employee relations, the backdrop of workers;’ rights serves as a conduit through which the film is able to comment on how employers should treat employees and even adapt with the changing times. It’s not a heady-handed message, and does come off a little hokey, but it works tonally in this film. There is a documentary by the title Dior and I, and I recommend watching it as a companion piece to this film as it will give you a greater appreciation for Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. Furthermore, you may want to search for the 1992 adaptation starring Dame Angela Lansbury. Manville’s expression (and Fabian’s expression) of the character and story are not the same as the 1992 film, so you can appreciate both for all they respectively bring to this timeless story.

Between Top Gun: Maverick and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, we are seeing the power of timeless stories brought back to the big screen! That’s why these two films work as well as they do: some stories are just that–timeless. Each has a simple plot and complex characters, entertains and inspires. Both of these films uplift the human spirit in ways that seek to bring people together instead of dividing them apart.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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