I watched a film last night that left a deep impression on me. Not only due to the dark and challenging content, but because of something kind of funny that happened while watching it. I went over to a friend’s house, snuggled up with a blanket in front of her high-definition tv, and felt the typical anticipation I feel before I watch a critically acclaimed movie with a-list stars and a difficult premise. I knew We Need to Talk About Kevin was somewhat of an indie flick, but when we started watching it, the “indie-ness” became wildly distracting. As the movie progressed, it continued to feel like someone’s home movie of a community theater production. My enthusiasm turned to disappointment, but more than anything I was confused. I genuinely wanted it to be good and had heard good things, so it didn’t make sense that it would have such poor production quality, especially with technology these days. I even tried, and failed, to reason how the poor quality could be an artistic choice. So despite my initial optimism, the drama, sadly, kept falling flat. In my mind, and also out loud, I criticized the cinematographer, questioned the director, and furrowed my brow in disbelief. I was frustrated that a movie with so much potential, from the concept to the characters to the actors, would cut corners like that. That is, until another friend came over and, upon hearing our commentary and watching us shake our heads, started googling tv settings and resolution. He hypothesized the quality had to do with the different ratio of what the movie was filmed on and the tv settings... or something! He changed some settings as I looked on skeptically (but hopefully). Lo and behold, the color changed to a cool, almost washed out and stylized blue-ish tone, much more polished looking and fitting for the theme. The movie suddenly transformed from a daytime soap opera to something I might actually see in an art house movie theatre.
Still, something about it felt like a first year film school project (no offence film students!). We watched for a little longer and just when we were about three quarters of the way through, my friend made another breakthrough in his research. He had another hypothesis and, despite his uncertainty, I encouraged him to experiment... just to see. (Truth be told, I desperately wanted it to be better. While the others had given up and filed it under weird, I still had hope.) Again, he searched through the controls and finally found one that adjusted the picture speed and turned some fancy function off. Sorry I can’t report any of the technical details. All I can tell you is that with a flick of the menu’s back button, it became a whole different film.
Suddenly, I was emotionally engaged. The music gave me goosebumps. Tilda Swinton’s gaze became captivating. I could see deep into the characters’ souls. And the film developed a dramatic weight that felt like I’d just been thrown a bowling ball. Firstly, I was excited. As I said, I really wanted it to be good and I couldn’t explain why it wasn’t.
But what is even more profound to me is how seemingly simple and “inconsequential” effects can drastically change a film’s quality and potency. To be specific, the speed and the filter changed my whole experience. I finished the film feeling satisfied and moved by the performances. That’s when my mind began to expand on this epiphany. If you look at your life as a film, your surroundings a set in which the drama of your existence is played out, the filters through which we see the world and the pace at which we move through it are incredibly important. They can dramatically change our experience of our selves and our lives - positively and negatively.
Have you ever been in a state where you felt completely on track? As if everything around you was happening on cue and you were standing exactly on your mark? Sometimes I feel this way waiting for a subway train or brushing my teeth; other times, it’s at an amazing concert or lying in shavasana at yoga. The reality is, the time and place is irrelevant. It’s my own internal settings that allow me to experience any moment exactly as it is: perfect. It was a good reminder that next time I’m feeling dissatisfied or critical, rather than blaming or trying to figure out why, all I have to do is mess around with my internal settings. After all, finding the right hue, the right speed and just the right emotional soundtrack can completely change the way you “talk about Kevin.”
"When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves." - Viktor E. Frankl