The popcorn path to redemption

A paper presented by researchers ... to the annual meeting of the American Economic Assn. concludes that violent films prevent violent crime by attracting would-be assailants and keeping them cloistered in darkened, alcohol-free environs."

-- New York Times, Jan. 7, 2008

I'm not ashamed to admit that the movies of this past year saved my life, and probably the lives of several others.

First, a bit about me. I'm a big guy, lazy eye, lisp, scars, metal hook for a hand and, yes, a strange, some have said "disturbing" -- in written statements, mind you (gee, thanks!) -- haircut. Kind of like Javier Bardem's in "No Country For Old Men," only with more body. (I know, but it's how my mother used to cut it.)

So, sure, you might look at me and just assume I'm fond of films about crazed killers, or people with hook hands, or regular folks who are pushed to the edge and just ... snap. And you'd be right. Central Casting. Guilty as charged.

But this past year, I've come to appreciate other genres as well: tear-jerkers that don't insult your, or at least my, intelligence; intimate portraits of grief, or erotic desire, or both; finely wrought period pieces -- if they've got Keira Knightley in them. Like a porcelain doll, that one, so fragile. Even some romantic comedies. Surprised? Yet who among us can't relate to the first date so embarrassing you come home and cut yourself?

Yes, for me, the films of the past year have been nothing less than a glorious kaleidoscope of inspiration and understanding.

They've also kept me out of the bars. A good thing, because the truth is, I have a tendency, especially when I drink, toward violence -- physical acts, criminality, that sort of thing. Not proud of it. But, well, it is what it is. Things most people consider part of the rhythm of daily life -- losing your dry cleaning ticket, being leered at by people's pets, rain -- can lead me to some poor decisions. Or at least they did before I found the cinema.

I'll admit that, at the outset, going to the movies had more to do with voices in my head telling me to go to the theater and await further instruction. But that was before I saw "300." I know many found it to be little more than a shallow paean to violence and the homoerotic charm of sandals. For me, though, it was something different. Namely, 117 minutes spent not committing a crime. And you know what? It felt good.

So after talking it over with my parole officer, I decided to begin spending evenings at the multiplex instead of obsessively doing squat-thrusts and searching the Internet for the whereabouts of high school classmates I remember as less than kind.

I began my own hero's journey. And things began to change.

First, I looked for films that simply sounded as if they might offer catharsis. I rooted for Mark Wahlberg to clear his good name in "Shooter." And did I shoot anyone while I was watching it? No one.

I admit I assumed Will Ferrell's "Blades of Glory" was a tale of a man who loved knives, and for a second I considered taking out my disappointment on society as a whole. But I began to laugh, and the idea of roaming the streets with my own "blade of glory" started to seem, well, silly.

Summer came, and I took in the blockbusters -- generally disappointing, but by then I'd developed a taste for faux butter topping and Hot Tamales (yes, together!).

In the fall, things improved. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" was riveting (and I found the character of Ford to be rather sympathetic. Take another look). "Michael Clayton" left me outraged at corporate malfeasance, but not enough to exact my own brand of revenge.

I didn't really get "Atonement." "Juno" was cute. Most disappointing, though, was "There Will Be Blood." Three words: not enough blood.

Zev Borow is a staff writer on NBC's "Chuck."

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