Rob Edelman: Happy Endings?

Jul 2, 2018

Sometimes, movies are serious, sobering sit-throughs that deal with serious, sobering issues. And sometimes, such movies get beyond these issues and feature solutions to these issues and upbeat, happy-ever-after endings. Their message is that, if you hang in there and focus on life’s positives, all will be well. The closing credits can roll, and you can leave the theater with a wide smile etched across your face. But how does this particular film relate to real life? Can all problems be solved in the real world? If you look hard enough, will you be able to transcend the pettiness that surrounds you? Can life’s everyday cruelties always be overcome by seeking out and embracing everyday kindness? These questions are dealt with in a range of films, produced across the decades.

One of the more intriguing came to theaters last year. It is titled WONDER and it is the story of a boy who was born with a serious facial disorder, and his plight as he enters fifth grade and begins attending a mainstream school. How will his fellow students, and the world in general, respond to him? Will he be shunned simply because of his disfigurement and be viewed as little more than a freak, a real-world Freddy Krueger? And to employ a term that for good reason is much in the news these days, will he find himself the object of some heartless bullying? Now sure, this youngster is blessed with loving, supportive parents and a loving, supportive older sister, but can he survive and even thrive when he is outside their domain? 

These questions come to mind outside the movie house, upon learning of the latest school shooting. And here, as we all know, the lives and futures of one-too-many young people are heartlessly snuffed out. The reasons why the shooters choose to show up at schools with guns and begin blasting in every which direction are not the issues here. The point is that, unlike the boy in WONDER, there is nothing in their worlds that allows them even the slightest bit of salvation. All that is left for them is to gain attention and express their fury by snuffing out lives. 

Now of course, a film script or a play or novel can be fashioned by its author. An issue may be presented, and it may be conveniently resolved by the closing credits or final act or last chapter. So those in the story who are consumed by nastiness may, in a flash, be transformed into sensitive, kindhearted souls. Problems can be solved. A happy ending is possible. But all too often, that is fiction. Films like WONDER are well-meaning, and uplifting. But WONDER ultimately is fiction and, too often these days, real-world angst takes us directly and inevitably to Santa Fe, Texas, and Parkland, Florida.

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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