Print Posted by Brent Marchant on 08/31/2016

Movies and the Power of Choice

Movies and the Power of Choice


At any given moment in time, we can proceed in myriad directions as we move into the future. Some possibilities may be more likely than others (the quality that distinguishes those options as probabilities), but the full range is always open to us. And, whether we look at this notion from the scientific viewpoint of quantum physics or the metaphysical perspective of conscious creation/law of attraction concepts, the principle is essentially the same in both cases. The determining factor that governs which option we ultimately pursue, however, rests with something else entirely – our power of choice.

As conscious beings imbued with free will, we innately possess the ability to select which probabilities we experience. This power to choose our destiny is a birthright, one of the qualities that make us intrinsically human. It’s a precious gift to be cherished, used judiciously and never taken for granted. What’s more, it’s always available to us, whether or not we opt to exercise it, a circumstance that effectively renders expressions like “I had no choice in the matter” to the trash heap of flimsy excuses.

In a conscious creation/law of attraction context, choice is most crucial when it comes to the beliefs we embrace, for they provide the juice that make the process work. And the beliefs we choose are fueled to a great degree by the intent backing them. Intent helps frame and/or nuance the beliefs we employ in the manifestation process, giving them the color and character that shape the forms of the outcomes that eventually spring forth from them.

Considering the power associated with our beliefs and intents, it’s important that we make use of it carefully. In light of that, it’s something about which we could likely benefit from some inspiration. And, as in so many other ways, this is where the examples set in film can prove so incredibly valuable.

Since choice permeates every decision we make with regard to our beliefs, it’s a common theme in a variety of movie genres and narratives. One of the most fundamental choice-related questions we face is what to do when assessing multiple options, a conundrum posed to a fiercely independent young woman in “Far From the Madding Crowd” (2015). When the wealthy mistress of a 19th Century English estate (Carey Mulligan) must address the advances of a trio of would-be suitors (Michael Sheen, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge), she finds her power of choice to be a valuable ally in making a decision, as well as in balancing her desires for independence and companionship.

Using the power of choice to deliberately exercise our independence also comes in handy when pressed by others to conform. This theme is revealed in several films, such as the quirky domestic comedy, “Housekeeping” (1987). When a free-spirited woman full of wanderlust (Christine Lahti) is asked to settle down and care for her two orphaned nieces (Sara Walker, Andrea Burchill) in a small Northwestern town in the 1950s, the temptation to eschew expectations and live her own life proves quite strong. But, given her obligations, what is she to do? Under these circumstances, choice just might prove to be her saving grace.

This theme pops up again in the sci-fi thriller, “THX 1138” (1971). Director George Lucas’s debut feature follows the adventures of a nonconformist (Robert Duvall) who quietly rebels against the behavioral dictates of a sterile future society in which people are treated more like cogs in a machine than as human beings. Under conditions like this, choosing to be different comes at a high price, but, considering the alternative, such resolve could be essential to preserving one’s sanity – as well as one’s very existence.

The degree to which we deliberately make our choices can have a direct – and tremendous – impact on how successful we are in realizing our goals. Sometimes this benefits from choosing to do some research, employing a variety of beliefs to try out various probabilities to see which one fits best, either in our life overall or some particular area of it. Such is the case in “Hector and the Search for Happiness” (2014) in which a London psychiatrist (Simon Pegg) who believes he’s ill-equipped to help others feel joy sets off on a globe-trotting adventure to find its source. What he discovers may prove to help him as much as it does any of his patients.

In stark contrast to such deliberation there are those who blindly engage in behavior they know to be wrong but do it anyway for reasons that elude them, a conundrum that naturally prompts the question, what beliefs drive them? It’s an issue skillfully raised in “Experimenter” (2015), a fact-based, offbeat comedy-drama profiling the studies of Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard), who conducted a series of controversial experiments to learn why people would acquiesce in inflicting pain on others just because they were told to do so. The results, to say the least, are quite fascinating, not to mention rather telling about our belief patterns and the choices we make.

Holding fast to our power of choice may be what it takes for us to survive under appalling circumstances, even if those choices are difficult and reprehensible in themselves, a notion probed in the gripping drama, “Sophie’s Choice” (1982). When a Polish concentration camp survivor (Meryl Streep) must confront her past and the choices she made to stay alive, she comes face to face with her choices and their consequences, both for better and worse, in helping her see her way through an unspeakable ordeal. Choice, it seems, can be an ally even when we might be tempted to think otherwise.

Difficult choices also surface in the action-adventure thriller, “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012). When Gotham City’s Caped Crusader, Batman, and his alter-ego, philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), must make some hard choices about the future of their beloved metropolis, they must look to their beliefs to decide what’s right to save their community, as well as their own souls. With high-stakes consequences at risk, they had better choose carefully.

The consequences of our choices provide a recurring theme in a number of films, including such offerings as the dark Martin Scorsese comedy “After Hours” (1985), in which a bored New York office worker (Griffin Dunne) seeking a little excitement in his life gets a valuable lesson in “be careful what you wish for”; the raucously funny road trip comedy “Thelma & Louise” (1991), in which a pair of girlfriends (Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis) become unwittingly embroiled in a multistate crime spree as a result of the choices they make; the bittersweet romantic comedy “Le Week-End” (2013) in which a long-time married couple (Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan) return to the site of their honeymoon in Paris to reassess the choices they’ve made and those they want to make for the future; and the inventive one-man drama “Locke” (2013) in which a philandering contractor (Tom Hardy) sincerely seeks to make restitution for the missteps he’s made in a heartfelt act of personal redemption.

Of course, as noted earlier, understanding the intent behind our choices is just as crucial to assessing why our reality unfolds as it does. For instance, when we clearly see the intent behind our choices but willingly look the other way, we may set ourselves up for serious consequences, as seen in the gripping Roman Polanski thriller, “The Ghost” (2010). When a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) is hired to tweak the political memoir of a retired British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) knowing that this type of work is not his specialty (but that he takes on anyway because it carries the promise of a big payday for a month’s work), he suddenly finds himself swept up in a web of intrigue that he never saw coming – and from which he may have unimaginable difficulty extricating himself.

Similarly, attempting to unduly finesse our intents into agenda-satisfying solutions frequently leads to ill-considered choices, as is apparent in the made-for-cable movie, “Game Change” (2012). This docudrama chronicles the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (Ed Harris) and his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) as his running mate, a decision driven by intents other than finding the most qualified candidate. As the story plays out, viewers come to see how far off-base our results can be when we try to game our beliefs; this practice might indeed change the game but in ways far flung from what we had hoped for.

Using our intents for purely self-serving reasons often proves unsatisfying, too, a theme that underlies the quirky romantic comedy, “Ruby Sparks” (2012). Calvin Weir-Fields, a onetime-wunderkind writer (Paul Dano) seeking to recapture the success of his previous efforts is stifled by writer’s block, in part because of the pain of a failed relationship. To get back on track, he begins work on a new book in which he creates a character, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), who embodies his idealized woman – and who is so utterly realistic that she literally comes to life. With his dream girl now alive, Calvin also discovers he can manipulate her persona by simply writing those qualities into her character. But, with such tremendous power at his disposal, will he be able to control it responsibly, or will he selfishly employ it purely for his own ends? This is a thorny question Calvin must address for the sake of himself and his creations – all of them,

Getting a handle on our intents may be easier said than done, however. Our own uncertainties can creep in, making us unsure of what we’re actually trying to achieve and leaving us to sort out the options available to us. That’s the case in the nostalgic comedy-drama “American Hustle” (2013), in which a pair of con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams) wrestling with going straight become involved with an overly ambitious FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) seeking to make a name for himself through the government-sponsored sting operation known as Abscam. Coming to terms with the motivations driving intent proves crucial for everyone.

Seeing intents compared against one another can be an effective way of bringing clarity to them, as is the case in the Nora Ephron comedy, “Julie and Julia” (2009). The film parallels the experiences of famed chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and author Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who chronicled her year-long experiences of cooking her way through Child’s seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. With the two biographies playing out side by side, viewers have a valuable opportunity to witness how different intents toward the same subject matter can lead to markedly different results – and how harmonizing those intents can yield remarkable symmetry.

Sometimes being able to view intents from a variety of perspectives can be helpful in understanding them. Such is the case in the quirky comedy “Please Give” (2010), in which a New York antique furniture dealer (Catherine Keener) seeks to understand what drives her and those around her in the decisions they make regarding everything from business concerns to relationship fidelity to service to others. Her exploration brings her into contact with an array of intents in a multitude of contexts. In the end, engaging in such a pursuit ultimately may not bring us any closer to finding any of the answers we seek, but it certainly enlightens us to a range of possibilities broader than what any of us might have ever imagined.

When deciding upon or choices and intents, we clearly have many options and opportunities available to us. However, as many of these films show, there’s also a tremendous degree of responsibility associated with this task, regardless of the context involved. So, with that being the case, if there’s any one lesson we can take away from these principles (and the films that illustrate them) it’s this – choose wisely.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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