Most of the movies I have seen in my lifetime – not at, but most – have been movies I intended to see. I made a conscious effort to go to the theatre, Blockbuster, HBO, use my DVR, tape off of network TV and fast forward through commercials, get up early, or stay up late.
But there is that handful of flicks upon which my eyes would never’ve fallen had it not been for random fortune (or misfortune, in some cases). One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, for instance, is a movie I had never heard of until one steamy summer night as a teenager, on my way out to play baseball a-la The Sandlot with some kids from my neighborhood, my eyes fell upon the screen where a long medical car of some sort was driving in the wee hours of the morning, the music was literally a saw, and the credits said, “Jack Nicholson.” Needless to say, my friends survive without me striking out for the 100th time that night.
This was an example of stumbling upon a well-known flick and falling in love. But this month, we are talking about obscure movies, and I have to say that there have been a handful of instances, usually late night, that I have stumbled upon some stuff, quite unintentionally, that engrosses and (often) entertains.
And once in awhile, the movie is so good (to me), and yet, when I mention it to others, nobody has ever even heard of it.
I must’ve been a freshman in high school, and I was working on a spring term paper. My first-ever term paper, in fact. Now, I must tell you that in high school I was a homework animal. I didn’t screw around when it came time to get the work done. I didn’t require discipline or following up, either by parent or by teacher . . . it was just my duty, the way I saw it, ya’ know? Sure, I worked on homework during school during times when I maybe should’ve been paying more attention in class, all in an effort to avoid carrying home books, but I was pretty studious, all in all.
So, for my term paper, I’m sitting on my bed organizing these things called, um, “note cards,” or something. I wish for the sake of this otherwise thrilling story I could recall the topic of this term paper, but sadly I do not. Anyway, I’ve got books open, there are rows of note cards lined up and down atop the bedspread, and I’m actually enjoying this project.
And then, the sound of the silver HBO call letters flying over the buildings and out into space, declaring that a feature presentation was about to begin, whooshed throughout my bedroom while that familiar song echoed in the background, and I looked up from my work to see which movie-I’d-seen-1000-times this one was going to be.
The opening scene, nay, the opening SHOT of the 1991 movie Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges, Rosie Perez, Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro, and Tom Hulce depicts a mildly disoriented Jeff Bridges leading people away from a precarious and smoky scene. Moments later, we are in a cornfield where we see severely injured people, dying in fact, and rescue workers running in slow motion, tending to one victim after the next. And seconds after this, the camera angle switches to a helicopter’s perspective, and we learn that these people are in the immediate aftermath of a plane crash. The low, droning, ominous cinematic score flows very eerily over the visuals, people are crying, screaming, and dying, parts of the plane are exploding in fireballs all around the survivors, and the look on Jeff Bridges’s face is one of, for lack of a better word or phrase, confused euphoria. This is all in the first threethree mi of the movie.
For the next two hours, this dedicated-to-homework and always-ahead-of-the-curve student sat among piles of note cards and open books and didn’t take a single note or read a single word.
The very next sequence of scenes finds our main character, played by Bridges, trying to understand whether or not he actually survived the crash. In fact, much of the rest of the film is about Bridges trying to cope with the PTSD of being one of only a handful of passengers who, referred to by many other survivors as the Good Samaritan for his deed of leading survivors out of the wreckage, walked away from such a tragic event.
Through unsuccessful therapy, marital disaster, a coupling with another struggling survivor, and multiple run-ins with a greedy settlement attorney, Bridges slides down a cascading spiral of what he perceives as indestructibility, but what others know as self destruction.
I learned, years later while in college, that this film was used by psychology professors to teach depression, PTSD, and the “high,” as referred to in the film, that Bridges receives as he tries to defy death again and again in the wake of surviving the crash. I realized that this movie is not a movie about a plane crash, it is about a guy reaching out to be saved from a death that he doesn’t fully understand.
Directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show), Fearless is an ode to the human psyche, and to the many wondrous ideas and philosophies we can derive from it. But it is also a bitter case study that illustrates just how fragile the psyche can be, and how we all must look out for each other in moments of tragedy and loss.
I won’t soon forget Fearless. Heck, it resonated so clearly with me that I recalled where I was and what I was doing when I saw it first on HBO twenty-nine years ago.