Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Sarah Wilson
English 201
Essay 2
December 2003

Something to Talk About:
A Story of Family Communication

I was four years old when I first began quoting movies lines. My family was on its way to church one Sunday morning, when suddenly, from the backseat of our Falcon came the tiny toddler voice: "DEATH comes unexpectedly!" (Pollyanna) It must have given my parents a shock to realize that their four year old was contemplating the deeper issues of life, or at the very least, watching too many movies.

Welcome to the language of my family. On any given day, if you came to visit, you’d more than likely hear us fire off movie line after movie line or answer questions with movie lines. Our main family activity has always been, for as long as I can remember, curling up on the couch together watching movies. We have our favorite movies that we quote from frequently—Blackbeard’s Ghost, Pollyanna, Pride and Prejudice, Angels in the Outfield, The Jungle Book, and It’s a Wonderful Life, for example. I believe that our family has both benefited and lost something from quoting and "living and breathing" movies.

For myself, it’s given me, interestingly enough, a kind of confidence and awareness of the quirkier things in life: although I’m naturally a shy person, watching and quoting so many movies, it’s turned me into a kind of "drama queen". I can quote Pride and Prejudice and Emma with the best of them and the humor in those films really come from a different kind of culture, one that used big words and a lot of word to say anything. In other words, I believe that I’ve gained a better sense of humor by watching all kinds of movies.

One of the benefits of quoting films for my family is that it has given us a connection point, something to talk about, or as my family might say, "It is a gift! A gift to the foes of Mordor!" (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). My family has its favorite movies that we watch over and over again, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Indiana Jones, and old Disney movies like Davy Crockett or Pinocchio. We can talk for hours about our favorite movies, arguing about the validity of some (like why do movies like The Fast and the Furious, or XXX even exist?), our favorite actors and actresses (like, how lame Vin Diesel is or how cool Viggo Mortensen is) and anything related to films (when is Peter Jackson going to get a haircut and go on a diet?). It’s also, as I mentioned above, a family activity. We rarely do anything else for a Family Day or Family Night; we pick something from our vast collection or go to Hollywood Video, fix snacks and stuff to drink, and we’re ready to indulge in our favorite family pastime.

All of this "Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah" (The Parent Trap) talk reminds me of Richard Rodriquez’s experience with family languages, as he relates in "Public and Private Language." While his essay focuses on the difficulties of learning to speak English while living in a Spanish-speaking home—and thus takes on a serious tone—he talks about the different languages he and family had to use. Rodriguez discusses the harshness of English compared to the coziness that he associates with the Spanish that his family used at home—"Because I wrongly imagined that English was intrinsically a public language and Spanish an intrinsically private one, I easily noted the difference between classroom language and the language of home" (284). In the rest of his essay, he narrates the changes that his family had to go though in order to become a part of American society: "there are two ways a person is individualized…while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality" (288). This relates to my own experience because in a smaller way, there is a difference between the familiarity of my family "speak" and the languages used outside our home.

I can say an obscure movie line around my family, like "Some things in here do not react too well to bullets" (The Hunt for Red October), and they "get" it, while I can say the same line to friends or coworkers, and they’ll give me a blank stare that says, "What planet are you from?", or it simply doesn’t register that it wasn’t original. On the flip side, when I say something that was truly clever, witty and unique, and my family and close friends laugh and ask, "What was that from?" that’s annoying. Contrary to popular belief, I can come up with something creative, every once in while.

There is another benefit to watching so many films: while we mainly watch movies for entertainment purposes, we have a great deal of knowledge and information about all kinds of movies. We also know a lot about the history of movies. We know about old movies and old actors and actresses, giving us a sense of the culture and entertainment way back when. We watch new movies, keeping ourselves up to date on today’s culture. This kind of knowledge might be considered trivial, or even silly, but movies are a good indicator of what our culture is like. For example, the quote, "Guns. Lots of guns" (The Matrix) could reflect on the values of society. Think of it as a barometer, or a blood pressure check: measuring where our society is headed based on what’s popular at the box office.

I mentioned earlier the losses we may have experienced because of our obsession with movies. It seems to me, that some of our effectiveness as communicators may be lessoned. For example, we have our problems just like any other family. Not long ago, while I was getting ready to go to school, my parents were trying to figure out some financial difficulty, and I said a movie line from the Gene Kelly movie, Summer Stock:

"As we of the theatre say, never become disheartened". They gave me a look that said, "That didn’t help", and I felt rather ridiculous. Like a dejected puppy with its tail between its legs, I left for school shortly thereafter. Could it be that because of all the movies that watched and concentrated on for so long, that we have ceased to really know how to communicate well? I confess that I don’t know the answer.

The movies influence my family every day. Even when we’re not watching films like The Princess Bride or Singin’ in the Rain, we still quote from them. Movies give us something to talk about. We have a common interest that helps to bind us together, whether we’re hanging out at home or in a crowd of strangers on vacation. We say the lines that make each other laugh or groan, knowing that the other members understand.

I’m nineteen years old now, and my repertoire of movie lines has expanded considerably beyond Pollyanna. For example, at my retailing job the other day, I quoted randomly, mumbling under my breath: "I don’t know! I can’t bear the thought of Mr. Darcy being alive in the world and thinking ill of me" (Pride and Prejudice). I’m not sure why, just as I couldn’t say why I cried the line from Pollyanna when I was four years old. It appears that my reasons for quoting today are still as obscure as 15 years ago.

 

Works Cited

Pride and Prejudice. Dir. Simon Langton. Perf. Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle. A&E. 1995.

Pollyanna. Dir. David Swift. Perf. Jane Wyman and Haley Mills. Disney. 1960.

Rodriguez, Richard. "Public and Private Language." Reflections on Language. Eds. Stuart Hirschberg and Terry Hirschberg. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999. 283-288.

Summer Stock. Dir. Charles Walters. Perf. Judy Garland, Gene Kelly. MGM. 1950.

The Hunt for Red October. Dir. John McTiernan. Perf. Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin. Paramount Pictures. 1989.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sir Ian McKellan. New Line Cinema. 2001.

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Bros. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Warner Bros. 1999.

The Parent Trap. Dir. David Swift. Perf. Haley Mills, Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith. Disney. 1961.

 

Copyright 2003
Sarah Wilson

 

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015