30 December 2011

The Last Movie You Will Ever See

It's an old conversational prompt, and I put it to you now: If you could pick one movie to be the last movie you ever saw, what would you pick? Seriously, think about it and post in the comments section what you came up with and how long it took you. If you want to add anything else about your choice, I would love to hear what you have to say. Once you've done this, come back and read the rest of this post.

(Did you really come up with an answer? I hope you did!)

I've kicked this around myself over the years with friends and people online. In October, I was admitted to Our Lady of Peace to treat severe depression with suicidal urges. On a lark one afternoon, I decided to put the query to my fellow patients. To my surprise, nearly everyone at the table had an answer almost immediately. One woman struggled briefly to choose between two movies and one young man took a few minutes to make his selection, but on the whole, everyone had their answer reflexively at the ready. I found that curious, since in every other context, it usually provokes a great show of deliberation. "Oh, wow, I don't know...I'll have to think about that...Let me see..." with much chin rubbing throughout, and vacant looks off into the ether.

Some patients were there for substance abuse problems, but most of the ones involved in this discussion were there for the same reason as me: they, too, had been dangerously close to ending their own lives. Several of them had made an attempt within days of this conversation. For them, then, the notion of contemplating your final choices wasn't merely abstract conjecture. We each had already put ourselves in the situation to reflect on such things. I can't say for certain, of course, but I suspect a very strong correlation between being close to death and having an answer handy for this innocuous little question.

Also of interest to me is that no one picked a movie they've never seen. Not one person said, "I've always meant to see Citizen Kane; I hear that's great." There was no regard at all for one last new experience or to consider a highly regarded work of art for the first time. Instead, everyone picked something familiar and most of them picked a comedy. Here's the list, written as I went around the table (obviously, no patient names will be provided):
  • Up in Smoke
  • The Goonies
  • The Outsiders
  • Something's Gotta Give
  • Lean on Me
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Now, these are not particularly revered works of cinematic history; there's no Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia to be found. I'm not trying at all to disparage anyone's choice, mind you. But I found it interesting that, in an environment that precluded being self-conscious, these were the honest-to-God picks that patients had.

You may be wondering about my own answer to the question. I don't think I ever actually shared it with the other patients, because a group session began right after I went around the table and got everyone's answer. I do have an answer, though, and it's not one based on hypothesis. The night before I was admitted to the hospital was the night I came closest to taking my own life. I had the sleeping pills ready to go. I had removed my last bottle of Old Whiskey River from its box (though I never broke the seal on the bottle itself). My wife was gone, spending the night somewhere else. We had had an unpleasant argument on the phone. The last thread holding me to life had been severed.

Knowing I was just about to end my life, I managed to have the presence of mind to try to distract myself enough to let the impulse subside. I popped in the Blu-ray of Batman. I have no idea how many times I've watched that since it came out in 1989. I've seen it on the big screen twice (the second time in 2009). I couldn't fathom how many times I've watched it on VHS; several times on DVD and now thrice on Blu-ray. I probably saw it in a TV broadcast at least once or twice in all these years. It was comforting to watch it as a young boy when I was sick. I would curl up on the couch, bundle up with sheets and have chicken noodle soup and drink ginger ale (Canada Dry, thank you very much). As a depressed adult, I sought the same comfort. It helped tremendously. I know how it sounds, but I can sincerely say that Batman helped save my life.
"Haven't you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?"
Somewhere is a psychology student looking for a subject for a senior thesis. I think there's something genuinely insightful to be gleaned from a further exploration of this seemingly trivial question. Why do people who haven't actively thought about their demise find it overwhelming to work out what their final movie choice would (ideally) be, whereas those who were thisclose to dying had their answers at the ready? What does it mean that people wanted to laugh--and at a movie they've already seen, no less? Truth be told, one of the things I enjoy most about Batman is its sense of humor. ("Decent people shouldn't live here. They'd be happier someplace else." That line cracks me up every time, and I still maintain it's one of the best lines of exposition ever; that simple remark tells us all we need to know about Gotham City.)

I don't know what conclusions ought to be drawn from this, of course; that's well beyond me. But I did want to share the anecdote in hopes that you, dear reader, may find some value in pondering it. Perhaps you're that hypothetical psych student; if so, I would love to read your final paper!