This month, FilmFisher’s writers were given the following prompt:
Any great work of art, taken by itself, should offer enough to sustain a conversation. That said, many of the best works of art are talking to each other across time. Films are no different. For “Undefended” this month, let’s pair films that make good conversation partners.
Two rules for this round: (1) briefly explain why your two films go together and (2) avoid picking two films from the same director or series (too easy).
- You really ought to treat your elderly parents better (Make Way for Tomorrow and Tokyo Story)
- Two decades of postwar America (The Best Years of Our Lives and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit)
- Ghosts as romantic rivals in decadent British houses (Rebecca and Phantom Thread)
- Surreal explorations of the writer’s process with Judy Davis as the doomed muse (Naked Lunch and Barton Fink)
- Rationalistic paterfamilias undone by the incomprehensible supernatural (The Shining and The Killing of a Sacred Deer)
Bonus round: Your dad is a stag (Bambi and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and your mom is a spider (Spider and Enemy)
- Meant for each other but not meant to be together (Call Me By Your Name and In the Mood for Love)
- Pastors losing their faith (Winter Light and First Reformed)
- Men going to great lengths to rescue a young girl while battling their own inner demons (Prisoners and You Were Never Really Here)
- Falling in love with technology (Her and Ex Machina)
- Matt Damon needs salvation (Good Will Hunting and Saving Private Ryan)
Jackson De Vight
- We can understand ourselves by understanding the misanthropy we find entertaining: The Dark Knight and Inglorious Basterds
- Late capitalism has ruined our capacity to engage in positive human engagement: The Bothersome Man and The Little Prince
- Most anyone can tell when action is choreographed well, even at opposite ends of the quiet/precise <-> loud/big continuum: John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road
- A lot of film characters talk about Home as a motivating desire, but few films allow themselves to be *about* Home as a grand unifying ideal, even a source of duty: Lord of the Rings and Star Wars: A New Hope (it’s huge in fantasy, and generally missed in film adaptation)
- Once in a blue moon a studio will back a film about a context that is both underrepresented and prescient to the contemporary moment: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Sorry to Bother You
- How a city (both LA) can unknowingly create heroes or monsters (Drive and Nightcrawler)
- Reality is an illusion fed to us by mysterious superiors (They Live and The Truman Show)
- The end of an era for outlaws and lawmen in the American Heartland (No Country For Old Men and Hell or High Water)
- Public Transportation Operators’ outlooks on the world (Paterson and Taxi Driver)
- The repercussions of sin/guilt allowing dark forces to tear a family apart (Hereditary and The VVitch)
I have ordered my choices by the time gap between the films’ releases, from the shortest to the longest.
- Ratatouille (2007) and The Wind Rises (2013) — 6 years: Legendary auteurs in animation meditate on the meaning and value of the creative life by telling the stories of craftsmen who work in non-artistic mediums. (Fun Fact: Both craftsmen are coached by imaginary personifications of their European-accented idols.)
- A Civil Action (1998) and Amazing Grace (2006) — 8 years: A life spent and a career risked showing mercy and seeking justice can never, in the grand scheme of things, be considered wasted. (Consider this: Amazing Grace is one of the best films about Christians ever made, but the people most responsible for its excellence are probably not Christians. And A Civil Action arguably has a more compelling conversion story or moment than any movie by or about Christians.)
- Citizen Kane (1941) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) — 21 years: Somehow two of the most towering achievements in the history of cinema are also two of cinema’s most terrifying indictments of the hollowness of human greatness. Life is hell when we try to be our own gods, let alone the gods of others.
- Triple Feature (I had to break the rules somewhere): The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), and Where the Wild Things Are (2009) — 32 years: Our imaginary friends are among our earliest teachers. They helped us know ourselves, understand our worlds, cope with our earliest traumas, and ultimately grow up. Perhaps our imaginary friends also taught us to love our real ones, and prepared us to seek after the friend who, though invisible, is more real than anything we see.
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Truman Show (1998) — 52 years: While we pursue the American Dream of comfort and respect, what we really need is to be a part of a genuine, interdependent community, and to know the God who is both sovereign and good.
- Is it still art if you compromise with the audience? (Adaptation and Frank)
- Justice rightfully condemns sinners, but we really need grace and mercy (In Bruges and Paths of Glory)
- Love is patient and will be there when you finally come around (Lars and the Real Girl and Juno)
- Truth loses to LA’s seedy underbelly (L.A. Confidential and Chinatown)
- Dad is a little rough around the edges, but he’ll get you through the apocalypse (Take Shelter and The Road)
I have specifically chosen to pair live action and animated films as an extra challenge on this one. I also tried to pair films that are very different on the surface, but with at least one shared conceit.
- Synecdoche, New York (2008) and Ratatouille (2007). The artist nearly dies only to find that all his wildest artistic dreams come true.
- Pom Poko (1994) and The New World (2005). Environmental preservation is imperative for preserving the human condition, and not simply for preserving humanity.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Dumbo (1941). Opposite ends of the artistic spectrum (High art and kitsch, respectively) that are concerned with the same thing: transcending others and the self to become childlike.
- The Lego Movie (2014) and Citizen Kane (1941). Again, these approach similar subjects in opposite ways: Kane is a man that wants to make himself immortal, yet we’re always held at a distance from him; Emmet is an average joe, perfectly content as such, who transcends himself seemingly by accident, and much of the story is told from his point of view. Also, both were snubbed at the Oscars.
- Cloud Atlas (2012) and Waking Life (2001). What is reality, time, the collective unconscious, dreaming, reincarnation, and the afterlife?
- LEGO Batman (2017) and The Dark Knight (2008) – Because why not?
- Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Last Flag Flying (2017) – The way soldiers interact with reality and how they think of truth. Specifically, I see a lot of similarities between Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies) and Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston).
- The Babadook (2014) and Us (2019) – There might not be much here, but I’m interested in how each film addresses confronting the subconscious and if we can ever eliminate or at least somehow rein in our selves.
- The Drop (2014) and Goodfellas (1990) – Who lives, who dies, who tells your story. Seriously though, how do people deal with change and how do they reflect on themselves dealing with that change?
- About Time (2013) and The Prestige (2006) – Modern wizards and the various ways they gain and lose power.
- Raging Bull – A Most Violent Year : Two men, one a boxer, one a businessman, who just want to be let alone and live their lives without taint and infection from the world.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Arrival : Communication and transcendence is at the heart of each of these movies. Arrival corrects the chief flaw of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in that it embraces the family rather than abandons it.
- The Family Man – Certified Copy : A glimpse into a marriage that does not exist, but both enlightening in their own ways.
- Children of Men – Locke : A trip at the end of which a child is born. A study in contrasts, one theophanic, the other apophatic; one a bombastic adventure with dangers and tanks, and the other a cell phone conversation about concrete, but both are equally enthralling.
- Where the Beasts of the Southern Wild Things Are : One film is about subduing the beast within, the other is conquering the beasts without, and both films are about unleashing boldness.