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Elayne Klasson: Did we see the same movie?

Elayne Klasson: Did we see the same movie?

From the What you need to know for Monday, August 31 series
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In the times we live, there is one question I keep asking: How can people see or participate in the same event, yet come out with completely different observations? The differences or schisms in our country, and even our Valley, are truly puzzling. Now that both major political parties in America have completed their national conventions and announced their positions, we see even more, not less division.

I thought back to an experience I had around five years ago, when I realized how differently people can see and hear the exact same event, yet react in totally different ways.

My husband and I love movies. Part of the experience for me is sitting in a darkened theater with other people … maybe munching popcorn. For me, I know it’s a good movie when I completely lose myself in the film and story and don’t register anything else around me.

However, and I don’t think this is antithetical, we are influenced by the audience around us — which is why during the pandemic, late night television hosts, having no live audience, are having a harder time landing their jokes. Often in the silence of their own home studios, comedians are having trouble convincing us, and themselves, that they’re funny.

Five years ago, I attended Cinequest, the Silicon Valley Film Festival. For many years Cinequest has brought top films to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Before we moved to the Santa Ynez Valley, we were regulars at this film festival. One evening, my husband had to work late. Having an extra ticket, I invited my friend Susan to join me for an Argentinean film by a famous director. It was called "Wild Tales" and depicted how people react in extreme, sometimes unhinged ways when too much pressure builds up.

Kind of like last month when someone at the Solvang Farmers Market was seen shouting at a tourist, all out of proportion: “Mask up or leave the market!” (OK, I admit that the unhinged lady who did that was me, and I’m not proud of my over-the-top response, but it had been a bad quarantine day.)

The film "Wild Tales" builds.

Passengers on a plane realize they are on a flight piloted by a man they all have known sometime in their lives. They also gradually realize that not only does each know the pilot, they have all wronged this man in some way: a woman who ditched him, a teacher who failed him, a friend who cheated him.

The audience in the movie theater soon realized what is going on. The passengers are at the mercy of this resentful pilot. We became horrified, thinking of the dire consequences about to happen.

But as we watched the passengers make the connection, our horror turned to nervous laughter. As more and more of the passengers realized they were part of an elaborate revenge plot on the part of the pilot, my friend Susan and I began to giggle and snort. We were soon laughing and shrieking so hard, my sides hurt.

It was a large movie theater. All around us, people were roaring with laughter. We could barely hear the next line of dialogue. Has that ever happened to you? You clutch your sides. Your face hurts from laughing. At the end of the movie, as we were filing out, whenever we caught the eye of another patron, the laughter began again.

I was so enamored of the film, I told my husband that if and when this film from Argentina came to a local movie theater, we must go.

Soon, we saw "Wild Tales" advertised at a theater in Palo Alto, not far from our home. We went the next weekend.

However, other than the popcorn, this was a very different experience.

As the passengers on the airplane in the movie exchanged information and begin to realize their predicament, there was total silence in the second theater. I began to giggle, in just about the same spot I had a few weeks before. When my laughter got louder, my husband turned to stare at me. I was the only patron in the theater who was laughing. Laughing alone in a movie theater is not OK.

I sat through the movie, turning to look at people’s expressions. The movie that I had touted to my husband as the funniest film I could remember seeing, was being greeted in this Palo Alto movie house with stony silence. My husband looked confused...torn between what I had told him of my earlier experience and how the movie was being received in this second theater.

I still think that "Wild Tales" is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. I still heartily endorse it. However, I now know that not everyone will agree. And that is why I understand that over the past weeks, as the two national political conventions were held (virtually), and watched by people across America, we did not all see the same thing.

Perhaps you will watch the movie "Wild Tales" on Amazon Prime and decide for yourself.

We have learned, and are learning, that certain words are hurtful to specific genders, sexual orientations or races, and so we are being asked to consider our word choices.

Ron Colone - I looked at him quizzically, wondering how this man who claims that All Lives Matter could suggest that the death of an old person is not as important and doesn’t count among the statistics.

Elayne Klasson, PhD in psychology, is a writer and recent transplant to the Valley. She was formerly on the faculty at San Jose State University. Her recent novel, Love is a Rebellious Bird, was released in November 2019.


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