As a Dad, Watching Movies for the First Time

As a Dad, Watching Movies for
COurtesy of Paramount/Disney/Weinstein Co.

I think it first hit me in Las Vegas. Seated in the Colosseum theater of Caesars Palace, watching the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s “Finding Dory” with the film exhibition community at the industry’s annual CinemaCon confab, my heart noticeably softened.

Director Andrew Stanton’s command of story and emotion was enough in and of itself to draw a reaction to the film’s preamble; any lower lip would quiver watching an adorably-voiced baby tang fish helplessly search for her lost parents. But I was two months away from being a father myself, so I could tell the energy emanating from that sequence had found a new crack in my armor.

Watching Garth Davis’ “Lion,” I felt the same inflated pang of sadness for a young Saroo Brierley (played by the effortlessly tender and emotive Sunny Pawar) as he canvassed an empty Indian rail station for his older brother. Creeping dread set in as a train carried him thousands of miles away from his family, soon giving way to a sense of relief when a loving Australian national took him in as her son (providing a different appreciation for Nicole Kidman’s performance). When the story reached its inevitable emotional conclusion — a boy, now a man, finally shedding the immeasurable guilt he had swallowed his entire life — I was a bit of a mess.

When a car accident left a young boy crying meekly for the loss of his mom and dad in the early moments of David Lowery’s “Pete’s Dragon,” I surprised myself at my sharp inhale. When a Boston police officer dutifully stood guard over the sheet-covered body of a murdered 8-year-old in Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day,” it triggered unexercised emotions. When a man lost his daughter to the grip of a dangerous ideology beyond his control in Ewan McGregor’s “American Pastoral,” I felt a different sort of anxiety for the first time.

It suddenly occurred to me that I had been watching the films of 2016 through an entirely different prism. I was watching them — reacting to them, engaging with them — as a parent.

Certainly movies dedicated to exploring this specific thematic tissue left their mark. I had already been affected by Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life,” when a filmed adaptation of the material (Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival”) screened at the Telluride Film Festival in September. The unfolding journey of a woman coming to know, in her very DNA, the profundity of being a mother was electric, both on the page and the big screen.

The melancholy of Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” and the guilt-ridden head space of a father, inhabited brilliantly by Casey Affleck, settled deep with me. The fireworks and fury of Denzel Washington’s portrayal of an all-too-human father in his own filmed version of August Wilson’s “Fences” sent lightning bolts through my soul. Exasperated and with conflicting empathy, I screamed internally at a grief-stricken woman for abducting a mother’s infant in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between the Oceans.”

I took tickled note of dos and don’ts in Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic” and Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women.” I felt outsized protection for the protagonist of Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” as well as sincere adoration for his fleeting father figure. And my blood curdled at elements of Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” such that it may well have affected my capacity to enjoy the film.

Many times over this year I engaged with cinema in these new, complex ways. I laughed and I cried as a father, not as a pundit or a critic or even just a film fan. I was a different person when the lights went down each and every time this year.

It’s moving to discover you’ll wrangle with art differently for the rest of your life. So I thought I’d share.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

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  1. Henry says:

    First time reader/commenter, but I had to say thanks for sharing. And congratulations on being a father!

    I think the first time fatherhood hit me hard was during a screening of Inside Out. My wife and I cried on at least 4 different occasions. Later that week, as I talked to several (mostly single) people who’d seen the movie, our experiences were completely different. Sure, they cried, too. But the takeaway was completely different for them: they remembered what it was like to be children, while I saw my child’s not-so-distant-future playing right before my eyes.

  2. Evan says:

    As a long-time reader, Kris, it was very heart-warming to watch you grow into your new role as a father over the course of the year. You must have mentioned that fact to half of the guests you had on the Playback podcast. It almost got to be a game to see whether or not you’d mention it in your interviews! A hearty congratulations and Happy Holidays to you, your wife, and the little one.

  3. KJ says:

    Your honesty and openness are greatly appreciated.

  4. Dad On Arrival says:

    As much as it hurts to read the horrible abusive (criminal?) behaviors of Casey Affleck towards the women he works with in films, particularly that one failed indie film, I have to say his performance as the flawed but loving surrogate father to his big brother’s little teenaged boy was one of the most heart touching performances of the year. I am glad he is being recognized for awards despite the egregious behavior he exhibited behind the scenes and off camera. It is disheartening to see that white men in Hollywood still cling to racist double standards when it comes sexual abuse allegations proven and unproven. The white guy that white people uphold to high esteem gets a slap on the wrist for sexually abusive charges that could have risen to the level of crimes had women went there with temperatures rather than taking the civic court route, while the black guy, Nate Parker, that was a quitted of rape by an all white jury a decade plus ago, gets decapitated at the box office and during awards season. This disturbingly sick double standard has not gone unnoticed by the world of entertainment. White American racacism still makes itself well recognizable and it’s past time for these hypocrites to stop acting like racism is only an issue in the South. Racism is an ugly part of Hollywood. Black father’s are given no respect in films unless they’re doing some filth for white audiences to.enjoy. Sad. Hopefully, Denzel Washington ‘s FENCES is another winner for father figures in films of 2016. Dad’s in film were really under fire this year as role models.

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