I’ve been thinking a lot about what my favorite films are lately (this is something I do often). I try to examine why it is a cherish certain films more than others, what it is I connect with, what resonates with me and what I value in a film. One of the patterns in my taste that I’m very much aware of is that a lot of my favorites are bleak films, thematically; sometimes downright depressing. This isn’t to say I like movies that are depressing for the sake of being depressing – that’s an instant turn off for me. Melancholy’s a better word. Thoughtful and realistic. Bittersweet and genuine. These tend to be some of my favorites.
Anyway, this got me thinking – are there many movies you can think of that are genuinely, realistically optimistic, without melancholy? I’m not talking “feel-good” movies with generic happy endings, but films that don’t butter things up, yet still convey genuine optimistic ideas. I can only think of one – Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.” I connect with this film very deeply, and one of the reasons I think it succeeds is because it doesn’t ignore the negative aspects of life, but it treats them in such a comedic way, I feel warm, I laugh, I relate, but I don’t feel cheated – this is something Allen has a special knack for. So I guess it still has melancholy aspects, but the optimism wins out in the end.
For me, optimism is inherently unrealistic, so it’s pretty difficult for me to think of optimistic films I’ve connected with. Most of the ones I’ve seen ring false. But, I’m a pessimistic guy, so there’s a bit of bias.
So – the question at hand – which movies convey a sense of honest optimism and why do you connect with them?
Other things to think about… Do you think there’s a lack of good optimistic films, if there is such a thing? Or is that an oversimplification? Do you need to portray both optimism and pessimism, melancholy and joy (etc.), to be realistic? How can a filmmaker balance both perspectives so that the former wins out? What’s your personal outlook on life and how is this reflected in your favorite films? Are there filmmakers you’d consider optimists? Why?
Apologies if the thoughts expressed here are half-formed or vague – but I just wanted to start the topic while it was fresh in my mind. Thanks!
funny Allen himself thought the film (mainly the ending) was too optimistic, sort of a cop out that he regretted but he is always over critical.
Realistic optimism, The Station Agent, Last Chance Harvey come to mind.
Really? That’s funny. The ending, in particular, is the most optimistic scene/part of the movie. Well that and his monologue/flashback to his botched suicide attempt. Interesting.
I’ll have to watch those, I’ve heard of both but never got around to seeing them.
I really like this thread.
I’m trying to figure out what you’re exactly asking for. You seem to be looking for films with optimism that is genuine and convincing, but this may not be exactly the same as optimism that is realistic. For example, I think Singin’ in the Rain is optimistic—or at least it is happy and a feel good movie. However, the film isn’t realistic, but the optimism and positive feelings are utterly convincing, imo.
Or what about something like It’s a Wonderful Life? I thought of this film when I read the OP—although some may feel like the film is too corny and fantastic to be realistic optimism. You could also add other Capra films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Meet John Doe, too. Interestingly enough, I think there are darker, more negative elements in these films as well—but the films end on in a very optimistic or positive way. So I’d consider Frank Capra as exhibit A for this discussion.
As for Hannah and Her Sisters, I really liked the ending. It sort of surprised me—not just because I wasn’t expecting it, but because of the extent to which it moved me. However, while I found the happy feeling convincing, I sympathize with the view that the ending was too optimistic. Actually, I’m not really thinking so much of Woody and Diane Wiest’s characters, but the situation with Michael Caine and Mia Farrow. All the problems that we see earlier—not to mention the infidelity—seems to be swept under the rug.
I think the strongest thing about the movie is the fact that two people who despise each other meet in a different context and fall in love.
I do like films that are honestly optimistic. A lot of films confuse cynicism with realism and the tragedies at the end come of as contrived. They don’t give the human survival instinct and will to prosper enough credit.
Jirin said, A lot of films confuse cynicism with realism and the tragedies at the end come of as contrived. They don’t give the human survival instinct and will to prosper enough credit.
That makes me curious to hear which films you had in mind. (Sounds like a good thread to start.)
@Jazz – those are all classic films that I’ve yet to see! They’ve been on my never-ending list for some time. I have a feeling though that something like Singin’ in the Rain isn’t the type of film I was necessarily referring to. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t convey optimistic themes, but I guess what I was trying to articulate was something that doesn’t skirt around negative concepts, but something that deals with them comedically, or perhaps finds the joy within the negativity? Optimism that doesn’t feel cheesy, heavy-handed or unearned. If that makes sense. Maybe Singin’ in the Rain is like this, I can’t say. I’ve also never seen a Kapra picture (also been meaning to).
Back to Hannah and Her Sisters however (something I’ve actually seen!), I was also surprised at how moved I was by the conclusion, and like I mentioned earlier – I didn’t feel cheated. It rang true. And my complaint for most other films I’ve seen that attempt something like this is that they feel false. As for the Michael Caine/Mia Farrow plot – it’s resolution doesn’t bother me. I mean, I feel for Farrow’s character, but I don’t remember their story necessarily ending on an upbeat note. Does it bother you that it’s left unresolved in a way? Or do you think that Caine’s character deserved some sort of punishment in the film?
Jirin – “I think the strongest thing about the movie is the fact that two people who despise each other meet in a different context and fall in love.”
Agreed. Another reason the conclusion is powerful.
…but I guess what I was trying to articulate was something that doesn’t skirt around negative concepts, but something that deals with them comedically, or perhaps finds the joy within the negativity? Optimism that doesn’t feel cheesy, heavy-handed or unearned. If that makes sense.
Yeah, it does.
I think the Capra films I mentioned would qualify. What about something like Sunrise and L’Atalante?
As for the Michael Caine/Mia Farrow plot – it’s resolution doesn’t bother me. I mean, I feel for Farrow’s character, but I don’t remember their story necessarily ending on an upbeat note.
Well, their relationship seems to return back to normal, so in that way things are upbeat. I guess, one’s reaction depends on whether attitude towards Caine’s infidelity and the state of his marriage. Was it primarily a rash fling or indicative of some larger, more significant problem? Still, he puts Hannah through a rough time—not to mention cheating on her, with her sister, no less!—and all of that seems to be swept under the rug at the end.
I must admit that by the end of the movie, I didn’t feel this way about Eliot and Hannah, but I’m not sure why that is. Certainly, the claim that the film dismisses this issues seems fairly strong.
Haven’t seen those films either – but that’s one of the reasons I started the topic, to gather suggestions. I’ll move them closer to the top of my viewing list. And Capra’s work.
Re: Elliot/Hannah – I suppose the fate of their relationship is left to the viewer’s interpretation. I can’t say I remember how I felt about that particular plot the last time I watched this film. Either they stay together because Elliot got the affair “out of his system” so to speak and he has a renewed appreciation for Hannah or their marriage falls apart further down the road. Regardless, his actions (and her sister’s) were morally wrong to me and probably most viewers – so if Elliot has any morals of his own then he’d tell Hannah. I remember earlier in the film he grapples with this and ultimately decides to keep his secret because it would “crush” her. But I think that’s obviously a justification for his own cowardice. I can understand how you might view this aspect of the ending as too optimistic, but I don’t think it is; I just don’t think we’re shown the repercussions. I’ll have to rewatch it sometime soon and pay close attention to their resolution and my interpretation of it, because during prior viewings I’m always left thinking of Allen/West.
…because during prior viewings I’m always left thinking of Allen/West.
Me, too—which might be the main reason I usually overlooked Elliot and Hannah’s situation.
it’s not really that happy of an ending
imagine how odd it is gonna be for Alen’s kids with Farrow that he married their aunt and had other kids.
In a movie, we can always project what would happen in the future, but I tend to view the final scenes—and what they signal—as the most substantive position of the film’s stance. In Hannah, the ending is clearly optimistic. Holly’s life was a shambles and now she’s happily married and has a thriving career. The news she gives to Mickey is not only another fortuitous occurrence, but it’s a miracle. Eliott and Hannah seem perfectly happy, too—despite what took place before that scene.
@Dennis – what? Woody Allen’s character never had kids with Hannah, that was kind of the point. One of the reasons they split up is because he was seemingly infertile, which lends impact to the reveal that Holly (West), aka his new wife/Hannah’s sister, is pregnant at the end.
he had kids with her; they just used a donor, his friend played by Tony Roberts
he even refered to them as his kids in one scene and I believe bought one a baseball glove.
Den said, imagine how odd it is gonna be for Alen’s kids with Farrow that he married their aunt and had other kids
FWIW, I don’t actually think this would be the end of happiness for everyone involved. Certainly, it’s not as odd as Allen and Farrow’s real life situation!