5 Feel-Good Movie Lessons Undone By Their Own Plots
It's no secret that Cracked loves to bag on Hollywood. And let's face it: They kind of deserve it. Every movie, no matter how dark or light-hearted, attempts to teach us some sort of moral lesson in the end. It's just that Hollywood is about the least reliable source of moral values on the planet. When they try, they come across like one of those people who claims to have taught their dog to talk. "Wait, you don't hear it? He's saying the 'I Have A Dream' speech!" Nope. All I hear is a howling, whining dog.
Feel-good movies are the biggest culprits. Their entire story hinges around a good, solid moral. But when you combine that with standard Hollywood dipshit writing, it just goes to hell. In fact, in the following examples, the moral isn't just bad ... it actually undoes the entire point of the movie. For instance ...
Finding Nemo: Never Let Your Kids Out Of Your Sight
The Intended Moral:
The whole point in Finding Nemo is that Marlin, Nemo's overbearing father, needs to relax -- learn to let go and allow his son to grow up in his own time, in his own way (because that always works with kids).
When he takes Nemo to school for the first time and learns that the teacher is taking them to the drop-off, Marlin freaks the hell out and races after them. He tells Nemo's teacher that his son could easily sneak off and get hurt, that he's not ready for school yet, and a bunch of other crap that makes us roll our eyes at how demanding a father he is and how unfortunate Nemo is to have such a hardass dad. We've all seen those overprotective parents, and we always want to tell them, "Holy shit, dude, you have to settle down. Your kid will be fine."
But Marlin is absolutely right, because everything that happens during the film should convince him that instead of letting go, the exact opposite is true.
The Actual Moral:
From the moment the film begins, Marlin has to deal with so much shit it's a miracle he doesn't strap Nemo to the anemone and keep watch 24/7. Let's have a recap:
1) His wife and 99 percent of his children are eaten alive by a barracuda. 2) His son, on his first day of school, ventures away from the class and is kidnapped by an Australian dentist (Parents: Beware). 3) He is pressed into joining a "Fish Are Friends" AA-style club run by sharks, who are not sticking to the program. 4) Said club's leader, Bruce, tries to eat him. 5) He is almost blown up by underwater mines. 6) He is eaten, but not digested, by an angler fish. 7) He is shocked unconscious by jellyfish. 8) Again he is eaten, but not digested, this time by a whale. 9) He survives a spinning "vortex of terror." 10) Once more, he is eaten, but not digested, by a pelican (for a change).
He's been in and out of more mouths than Ron Jeremy.
The idea that Marlin should just chill out like a stoner turtle, or let go like an amnesiac tang fish, and let Nemo find his own way in a world that is systematically trying to kill them, is just plain dumb.
Plus, the two characters who give him this advice are easily the least trustworthy of the lot. Dory can barely remember her own name, but Marlin is supposed to believe that she knows when is the right time to "let go." Is she even a parent? She tells him this after they've been eaten by a whale.
And this dingus is getting her own goddamn movie.
As for Dude Crush (the stoner turtle), he's just lucky his kid, Squirt, isn't eaten by a passing shark or knocked unconscious when spinning out of the East Australian Current. And yet Marlin is supposed to take that as a good example of parenting?
Oh, and remember at the start when Marlin loses his shit when he learns his kid is going to the drop-off, worrying that Nemo would get away from the rest of the class and something bad would happen? That part when we all rolled our eyes? Yeah, that's exactly what happens.
The real lesson of Finding Nemo for parents is: Don't let your children go outside or leave your sight for a single moment, ever, because they will likely die.
Mrs. Doubtfire: Your Parents Are Divorced Because Of You
The Intended Moral:
In Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel Hillard quits his well-paying voiceover job (on moral grounds, admittedly) which ends his career and leaves him working in a warehouse. After his marriage disintegrates, he decides that pretending to be a woman in order to babysit his children for the next few months will not only help him pay the bills but also let him see more of his kids. A win-win situation, right?
Well, no. Not only does Daniel lose his wife (to James Bond!), he almost loses access to his kids for good. But it's OK, because in the end he gets to visit them regularly and they all live (kinda) happily ever after.
Though the annual Christmas photos got a little weird after that.
Mrs. Doubtfire was a huge deal in my life growing up, as it was the one movie I had ever seen where we not only got to see a broken family, we watched them breaking up. Like for many in my generation, my parents hit Splitsville when I was young, and it was a weird and difficult time, filling my head with basic questions such as, "Why can't mom and dad be in the same room at the same time (is it a Clark Kent/Superman situation)?"
Not all of us were fortunate enough to have Barry Allen as a parent.
The moral is delivered right at the end. When we see Daniel driving off with his kids, we hear his character on TV answer a child of divorcees, reassuring them that, "Just because your parents don't love each other anymore, it doesn't mean that they don't love you."
Which, I'm here to tell you, was something I really needed to hear way back when.
The Actual Moral:
The problem is, and I hate to do this to my 8-year-old self, that's not the real moral of the story.
That comes during the trial at the end, after Daniel's plan has come undone in a drunken fuck-up. After it all unravels, the judge passes "that despicable order" (in Daniel's words), telling him that his behavior was potentially harmful to his children and not only is he denying him access to them, he suggests Daniel seek professional help.
Does this look like the face of a crazy person to you?
Which is completely rational from a legal standpoint.
Mrs. Doubtfire seeks to assure kids that even if their parents are separated, they still love them. No one would argue against this in Daniel Hillard's case, but this love manifests itself in very harmful ways: It pushes his wife away and almost turns his son catatonic when he discovers that the babysitter has a pee-pee.
In defense of his actions, Daniel says, "As for my behavior, I can only plead insanity. From the moment I held them I was crazy about them. I was hooked. I'm addicted to my children."
His children are his drug, and his inability to find a middle ground where he helps his wife look after them in a mature way costs him his marriage (and, very almost, access to his kids).
Of course, the drugs Daniel actually needs are antipsychotics.
So the real message of the film is: The reason your parents are no longer together is because they love you so much. That love is a mental illness. It will make you uncontrollably obsessive, to the point that you lose your ability to think and behave rationally.
I'm sure that's a great comfort.
Forrest Gump: Do What You're Told, Idiot
The Intended Moral:
Stepping to the side of the Jenny abuses Forrest debate, this Oscar-winning epic of a mentally deficient boy going on to deeply influence popular culture and succeed in everything he does seems, on the face of it, to have a very positive message (again, apart from the Jenny-abuses-Forrest thing): Mentally challenged individuals can exceed expectations and inspire others.
Forrest comes from humble beginnings, so humble in fact that he is almost denied a basic education but manages to go on to graduate college, become a war hero, invent Elvis' dance moves, and earn a shit-ton of money. And if that ain't the American Dream, then I don't know what is.
Dude even puts a positive spin on stepping in dog poop.
Take another look at Forrest Gump, however, and you find a very different lesson.
The Actual Moral:
Everything Forrest does or achieves is either a result of luck (investing in Apple, surviving the storm to create the Bubba Gump Shrimp empire, cleaning his face on a T-shirt and inadvertently creating the smiley) or, most importantly, by doing what he is told to do.
Forrest's mom tells him, "Stupid is as stupid does." Well, she may be right, but blindly following everything you are told until you're informed otherwise isn't stupid: It's brainless.
"If you ever catch a feather, always start telling total strangers your entire life story."
Someone must have attempted to sit down with Forrest and explain the rules of football to him, but because he was told to run (most notably by Jenny when he was younger), he does just that until screamed at by half the stadium to stop. His C.O. tells him he's a "goddamn genius" because he does exactly what he's told, to the letter, with no thought about what he wants, thinks, or needs. The perfect soldier, in other words.
With the attention span of a moth, but still.
His ability to focus on one task at a time (be it running, assembling rifles, or keeping his eye on the ping-pong ball) leads him to the top of each field. Forrest becomes a Vietnam War hero, an Olympic champion, and a Forbes 100 CEO, and all because he never asks any questions (such as, "Why am I running from coast to coast?" Or, "Do I think the war in Vietnam is just?"). Instead, he mindlessly sticks to everything he does because he's told to.
That's one helluva criticism of society in general, and a total slap in the face to anyone who suffers from a disability: Do exactly what you are told and don't ask any questions and you'll do just fine, because "Life is like a box of chocolates; you don't buy those for yourself -- someone hands it to you as a gift."
Just gonna leave this here ...
The Wizard Of Oz: Never Go Home Again
The Intended Moral:
It's little wonder that, in the 1985 Disney sequel Return To Oz, Dorothy is sent for electro-shock treatment: Having your house blown away by a tornado and crash-land in a world with dancing munchkins and witches with flying monkeys would be enough to give Chuck Norris PTSD.
Dorothy's quest sees her and her loyal dog, Toto, make lifelong friends, alter the socio-political order of the country, and unmask what must be one of the biggest fraudsters in all of fiction: the great and powerful Oz.
He was not wearing pants 10 seconds earlier.
But everything Dorothy endures, all the evil she helps destroy, the people she frees, and the friends she makes are all unintended side-effects on her journey to get back to where she was snatched away from.
The movie's theme, for those who nodded off at the end, is: "There's no place like home."
The Actual Moral:
But that ain't a bad thing, because, not to put too fine a point on it, Dorothy's home is a shithole.
That's not a sepia filter; Kansas actually just sucks that much.
It is bleak, colorless, and bereft of hope (and not a stranger to magical weather phenomena). Contrast this with Oz: a Technicolor wonderland full of the kind of adventure, creatures, and magic that any muggle would trade in their limited-edition lightsaber for.
Dorothy matters in Oz. She takes out no less than two evil witches (both by accident, but still), defeats the philosophies of Hate and Bigotry by making friends with the most unsuspecting characters, and makes real, positive change for the citizens of that world.
Except for the Munchkins, who now have a jank-ass cottage to deal with in their town square.
Back in Kansas, she will have to get up at the crack of dawn, do back-breaking work all day long, and go to bed at night exhausted, with little or nothing to show for her efforts (this was Dust Bowl-era Midwest we're talking about here, folks). Not to mention that everyone on that farm, from relatives to the workers, all treat her like a nuisance. No matter what she does, she's just patted on the head and sent away, like a toddler. "Oh, you silly little girl. Go play over there, while the adults do adult things."
"Over there" being the rusty, tetanus-ridden whatever-the-fuck-that-is.
A more accurate message that The Wizard Of Oz actually teaches kids would be: Leave home as soon as you can and don't look back. There's nothing left for you there. The rest of the world is so much better than that shithole you live in. Seriously, in the 77-year history of this movie, has anyone watching ever been happy for Dorothy when she gets back home?
You know, besides the creepy farmhands?
Dorothy could have kept the ruby slippers, a flying monkey or two, and ruled part of Oz. Instead, she goes back to that black-and-white farm that her family are about to foreclose on. Why?! I'm not sure, but perhaps electro-shock therapy is the answer.
It's A Wonderful Life: Kill Yourself
The Intended Moral:
George Bailey, at the end of his tether, tries to kill himself by jumping off a bridge on Christmas Eve (because what better gift for your family than fishing your frozen corpse out of the river on Christmas morning?). Luckily for him, Clarence, an angel looking to do a good deed to earn his wings, intervenes by jumping into the river first and forcing George to pull him out.
Because if there's one thing a suicidal person needs, it's to be one-upped.
The rest of the film is Clarence showing George what life in town would be like had he never existed: His brother would have died in a sledding accident when they were kids, which means he wouldn't go on to save a transport full of soldiers during the war, years later; the vast majority of the town would have lost their homes or local businesses during the stock market crash, had he not given up his holiday with his wife to see everybody through OK.
The theme of the film is the easiest to work out on this list, as it's the title: It's A Wonderful Life. But the quintessential Christmas feel-good movie has, at its heart, a big ol' contradiction.
The Actual Moral:
The problem with the entire plot is that, by committing suicide, George is not undoing all of the good deeds he has done in the past; he has simply reached a point where thinking about everyone else before himself has left him without hope of doing or being what he wants.
Clarence says, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" That's true (depending on the man) but, by killing himself, George wouldn't somehow go back in time and erase himself from history. His brother would have still saved those soldiers in his platoon. By sacrificing his round-the-world trip the townsfolk would still have their homes and businesses. So on one level, Clarence is full of shit.
He could have angel-dried their clothes in a second, but he needed to buy time
to Keyser Soze up some lies.
Seriously, why is it called It's A Wonderful Life? If you watch the film and see what George has gone through to get to that bridge, it's obvious that, no, it's bloody well not. For a selfless man like George Bailey to be driven to the very edge of sanity, where he thinks that doing himself in on Christmas Eve is the only way to silence the demons, proves this.
Showing him a list of great things he's done only adds to the problem. George knows he's a good guy and that things would suck for others if he'd never been born: That's the goddamn problem! He may wish he had never existed, but he does; that can't be undone (especially by wingless angels). The fact that everyone makes so many demands of him, all the time, means he's living a constant, inescapable hell.
In which he's perpetually strangled by children.
It's obvious that George takes after his father. "Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I'll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was ... why, in the 25 years since he started this thing, he never once thought of himself." That would be an accurate description of George too: He hasn't thought of himself in years; instead, he has spent all that time trying to lift his fellow citizens out of poverty.
Then, when he finally does start thinking about himself and decides to end it, an interfering old angel (with a definite conflict of interest) steps in and fucks it all up.
"What do you want from me, man, the moon? Because I already promised it to my wife."
Now, saving the life of a good man is a noble act, but still, the only reason I can figure that George Bailey survives the film is that Clarence guilt-trips him into helping him. George, a classic people-pleaser is forced to try to resolve the wingless angel's crisis before his own. Either that or because he's already been in the water and doesn't want to get cold again.
The real moral of the story then, is: Life is a thankless slog, and the people who depend on you will bleed you dry.
See why the ending of Monsters, Inc. will result in major layoffs for the monsters when you read 5 Movie Happy Endings That Are About To Go Horribly Wrong, and learn why the real tragic figure of Titanic is the poor sap who marries Rose in 6 Horrible Aftermaths Implied By Movies With Happy Endings.
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