There are a few universal truths I have learned from watching movies throughout my lifetime: Killing is only OK if the guys are bad, love is more important than stuff and, given the choice, always bet on black. The lessons imparted by films may seem trite or cloying at times, but they are always important because they reflect the principles and priorities of our culture. We use the morals from movies as blueprints for our own lives, so even though infidelity, brutality and deceit can exist in a story, we know that by the end someone is going to be held accountable for it all, preferably while being karate kicked out of an airplane.
But every once in awhile we get confused. A plot device shows up in so many movies and across so many genres that we mistake it for one of those lessons we're supposed to be applying to our lives. The trouble is, when we try to shoehorn fictional tools into reality, we only end up frustrated and angry that we aren't any good at living according to rules that don't actually exist. Let me show you what I mean.
#4. If You're Happy With Your Current Life, You Are Living a Lie
The Offenders:Up in the Air/Crazy, Stupid, Love./Failure to Launch/Knocked Up/The Family Man
The moral of a lot of movies, romantic comedies in particular, is that we all need to check in with our priorities now and again to be sure we're still on the right track in life. Workaholics need the realization that love is more important than money, and reluctant adults have to see the value of growing up. So far, it's a fine lesson.
The problem is that 100 percent of movie characters who bother to take an honest look inside themselves realize they've been sucking at life the whole time. Of course, they have to have this realization, otherwise movies would be short and boring. But with every protagonist discovering how awful they've been through introspection and then hopping back on the right path to happiness, movies are inadvertently teaching their audience that if you look at your own life and don't see something wrong, then you are blind to your own problems.
Only one of these people is on the path to personal betterment.
These movies have made us hypervigilant about fussing with our personal character because the consequences of failing to find our own faults means we could be living a lie forever. But it also forces everyone into a state of artificial angst, where it seems impossible to be truly happy unless we've discovered some awful truth about ourselves. In reality, living this way make us terrible, self-centered people. Fear that something might be wrong with our lives even when we feel great is exactly why cleanses have gained traction, as well as Eat Pray Love trips to foreign countries in panicked hopes that distant places will finally reveal what we're really missing. The boring reality, however, is that sometimes being content really is just being content.
#3. Everything Happens for a Reason, Except for the Stuff That Doesn't Pertain to You
The Offenders:The Matrix/Slumdog Millionaire/Forces of Nature/Bruce Almighty
An easy way for films to ensure that the protagonist ends up with the right love interest or that the right characters survive a disaster is to blame it all on destiny. Even films that don't blatantly mention fate by name still rely on chance encounters and pure luck to keep a story moving forward. The alternative would be a movie in which a bunch of bullshit happens with no relationship to the plot until it finally stops happening and credits roll. That's a little too close to life for anyone to pay money to see. A story literally relies on some kind of providence because that's the only way to get to the right ending. Unfortunately for an audience, that starts to look like a message after a while.
"She never would have become my wife's friend if I wasn't supposed to sleep with her."
Surrendering to fate works out so well in films, it's easy to understand why we'd try to apply it to reality. After all, it's comforting to believe that our lives are headed toward a happy ending. The problem is that there are two main differences between reality and films:
1) There is no ending in your life except when you die.
2) In the real world, everyone thinks they're the protagonist.
Destiny only works when it's built around one person's story because without fail, some auxiliary character is going to get shit on and then die. Movies need monumental travesties or disasters to happen so that the main character can learn a lesson or fall in love or become, like, a painter or something, but in reality, those disasters are hurting (sometimes even killing) people who probably thought fate had something better in store for them than to be used as a building block for someone else's narrative. We can't all be the center of destiny because life doesn't work that way. Yes, we all think we're Neo in The Matrix, but some of us have to be the security guards he mows down in the lobby while saving Morpheus.