By Mikhail Karadimov June 24th, 2015
I didn’t hang out much with other kids in high school. I had my friends, most of whom I’m still friends with today, I had people I would speak to about class and homework and about which teachers we liked and disliked, but I was never actually there. I was always inside my own head, doing my own thing, pondering in angst why no one in the world understood the turmoil inside my gut. I excluded myself from all functions, from socializing, and then I blamed it on the very people I shunned away with promises of: “No, next weekend’s much better, lets just hang out then.” I was uncomfortable, super aware of the acne on my neck and cheeks, aware of how tall I was and how people could see me from down the hall, even though I didn’t want to be seen—while actually wanting to be seen. I spent many weekend nights in my room reading, watching movies, piecing together jigsaw puzzles, still hanging out with my parents and their friends at drunken cook outs. I didn’t put my best foot forward when it came to acclimating myself to society. I liked watching the world around me, but without participating in it. When I talked to people I barely knew, looking them in the eye felt as if someone were pouring scalding hot water down my back. I thought the world was too bright and me too visible in it, not at all comforting like the word-cushioned pages of East of Eden or The Sun Also Rises, or the framed-up and contained ecosystems created by directors like Hitchcock, Lee, Spielberg, Fincher, Jonze, etc. I had an image of myself and it manifested ugly, so ugly that I figured my peers were just as grated by the prospect of laying eyes on me.
I felt uneasy around anyone and everyone. The pressures of having to start and maintain a conversation petrified me. The panicky sensation of static would fill my every appendage, my fingers, my toes. And it was because I knew just how much I judged them and assumed that they judged me—my appearance, my syntax, my tastes in books, movies, music—in equal return. Classic projection. This happened to me with everyone.
Save for two people:
My brother and brother-in-law.
Shortly after meeting my brother’s boyfriend—now husband—a weekly ritual akin to attending mass rooted itself into our schedule. Nearly every Friday, my brother and Tom would pull up to the front of my building in Co-Op City in this low, low red car—too low for my brother and me (we’re certifiable giants)—and from there they would shuttle me off to my newly found church: Regal Cinemas 18. (The one over in New Roc City, just north of the Bronx).
My nerves loosened at the theater. The darkness, the facelessness, the sheer number of people that would drown my presence out, the stories, the actors, the mind-enhancing photography, the crunch of popcorn, the din of pre-movie chatter, it melted my apprehensions, my hang ups, all the hate I felt for everything and everyone around me. I saw characters—people—depicted on the screen with issues worse than mine, or more fun or more hilarious, and I would forget myself. My ego would retreat into the corner and finally cease to natter on about the futility of all humanly endeavors. These movies, these trips, would blight the cynicism out of me. How could I be so far up my own ass when so much magic would suddenly ensconce me in wonderful impossibilities?
It was during these formidable years that I became a stalwart supporter of movies that are now widely disparaged—or forgotten: Ocean’s Twelve, King Kong, Phone Booth, Observe & Report—just to name a few. Those years of mindless bliss are unfortunately behind me now. Observe & Report might have actually been the turning point. Before then, I let my brain go. I gave myself up to the movies. I watched them for entertainment value, rather than commentary on agency, identity, social disparity, etc. My critical eye was far from sharpened, it wasn’t yet whetted with the acerbic pretensions that now slices and dices most of my viewings with endless thoughts of: “How can I spin this into an essay? What does it mean? What are the themes? What’s the psychology?”. Watching these movies with my brother and Tom reminded me of my more frivolous years, when I was a child, when life was momentary, immediate. When there was far less judgment doled about.
When life was more fun.
Now, almost ten years later, neither Dima nor Tom have much time for movie theaters. They’re more about TV. You have to understand: they have three children. Twin girls and one boy. A handful. So there’s little time for running to the movies unless they call me or my mother or one of their friends to watch after the children. And when they do go, they go for the high profile pictures. The movies I tend to lambast. Like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Godzilla, Gravity, or Pacific Rim. Movies that are fun and I can tell are fun and totally engrossing, but movies that that other part of my brain, the judgmental one, the critical one, that part of my brain that refuses to chill out, hang out, move from second to second, rather than second to month to year to eternity, systematically destroys. Even when I like a movie like Jurassic World or Jack Reacher, something borderline mindless, I still have to go out of my way to point out their flaws, point out how logistically the movie fails as a piece of “film”.
I think when Dima and Tom go to the theaters, they’re hopeful. They visit theaters for the very reason theaters were created: escapism. They’re experiences with movies are more engaging than mine. Whereas I watch movies like an alien studying a foreign planet, they’re in it, they’re absorbed, the characters take on flesh, the universe swells with touch. None of the preconceived notions that I drag around with me ever halters Dima and Tom from enjoying movies as they should be: joyfully. And for that, I love them. May I one day reclaim those early days and turn my brain off and have fun. May Dima and Tom always remind me of what it means to reserve one’s pissiness.
Because of Dima and Tom, I remember to ask myself (when I remember to ask myself)—once I’ve pushed through all the pseudo intellectual blunderbuss of my viewings: “Did this movie achieve what it set out to do?”
“Did it stay true to itself?”