James Rubart says many interesting things. Which is a good thing, since he is a writer of such big selling books as The Chair and Rooms.
I was locked in a room with him sitting in an uncomfortable chair last weekend, along with best selling legal thriller writer Cara Putman and about twenty-five other folks. We were learning about story. Okay, I was learning about story. I can’t speak for what the other twenty-four were doing. We’d all paid to be at the ACFW, and I wanted to get my monies worth.
In the midst of the intriguing discussion Rubart said, “Tell me your three favorite movies, and I will tell you the theme of your life, which is really the theme of all your stories.”
I told you he says interesting things.
What I wondered was, is it true? Can someone deduce your major life theme (assuming a person actually has a life theme, which is not something I’m sold on completely) from the films you really like. He did the experiment with himself–and showed how it fit into the theme of his life and therefore was the overarching theme of his books. Then he performed the wizardry on a couple of other attenders to the seminar.
It was fun and entertaining. But is it true?
As others were talking and sharing, I began to make the list of my top three movies. This is a near impossible task, as I have shared here before. I love many movies across many genres. Picking three is a fool’s errand. But I worked at it.
The first thing I did was work on stand alones. That meant Star Trek II was out the window, and so was The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Series of movies can grab so many different themes and are primarily character driven. My love for them might have more to do with memory or character bonding than anything else. That is why From Russia With Love can’t be on the list either. No Indiana Jones. No Star Wars.
Should I put The Godfather on the list? It is such a great film, but I decided it might be in my top ten, but not the top three. This is the same fate as The Outlaw Josey Wales. These movies are wonderful, and in the top ten, but not the top three. Same goes for you, Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks (although I have found Mars Attacks to be prophetic. Someday I’ll blog about that, but that day is not today). As for recent films, Spotlight came close. Very close, to making the list. But it didn’t.
Before I give you the top three, a caveat. The list may change. Nothing is settled. I reserve the right to change my mind.
- North by Northwest
- Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
There they are. The mother of all cliches, the greatest spy movie, and pure 1970s alien nostalgia.
Now find my theme! I’ll give you a moment to work it out.
Okay, I’m tired of waiting. It took me a bit to work through what Rubart was saying, but then it hit me. Each one of these films features a man trying to find a way to beat the system that is blatantly set against him. Bogie has to beat the Franco-German officials to find a way out for Ingrid Bergman. Cary Grant must find a way to survive in the face of Russian spies, Martin Landau, and American intelligence. Richard Dreyfuss knows what he saw and where he must go even though everything is telling him he’s wrong.
My theme is me against the system. You can see how Spotlight, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather, The Outlaw Jose Wales, and even Mars Attacks all fit this same basic template? Interesting (strokes beard), very interesting.
Realization washed over me when I found that Butch Gregory’s theme is the same. The inherent evil in the broken system was a major part of the plot in The Little Girl Waits and the conspiracy angle was high in How Great Is The Darkness.
Then there are my monster stories, which I have taken down because I am re-releaseing them with five times more story early next year, which are all about the evil system of mad scientists at Deep Cove.
Guess what? That motif pops up, not as strong, but it pops up, in my current WIP.
I guess Rubart was right.
I’m gonna turn on comments for this post. I’d love to hear your three favorite stories and how it fits.