Have you ever felt like a movie was made just for you? That every frame on the screen, every line of dialogue, every note of the soundtrack, was carefully crafted and curated just because someone, somewhere, knew you were out there to see it. Admittedly, it’s a pretty absurd, idealist notion. Hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of people work tirelessly on creating these films, the idea that all of their hard work is all for one person is insane, and people who subscribed to it are even crazier.
Maybe that’s the magic of film. The idea that an operation on such a massive scale can produce something so personal to so many people is a miracle in and of itself. Or, maybe the magic lies within film’s ability to make you forget that there even was an operation to begin with. I don’t quite know, exactly. It’s a Pandora’s box of questions that no one has really nailed down an answer to.
Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking about this relationship, between a film and a single viewer, a lot recently. It all started on a foggy Sunday morning last month when I watched Chris Evans’ directorial debut Before We Go instead of engaging in my regularly scheduled productivity.
The film follows two strangers (Played by Chris Evans and Alice Eve) who meet one night in New York. Starting as convenient acquaintances, the pair soon grow into each other’s most trusted confidants as a night of unexpected adventure forces them to confront their fears and take control of their lives.
As soon as the movie finished that Sunday morning, I opened my computer and started to research the film. I was astounded not only by how much I enjoyed the film, but the degree to which I personally related to it. The connection I felt was rare, to say the least. I can only think of a handful of other movies that resonated emotionally with me like Before We Go did*. The relationship I developed with these two characters, in a mere 90 minutes, was extraordinary.
“This movie’s unbelievable,” I kept thinking to myself. “How is nobody talking about this?” To my surprise, there was a remarkable lack of content about it online, and most of the reviews and discussions I did find were surprisingly negative. It was perplexing, to say the least. How could a movie affect me so deeply, and yet barely even impact anyone else?
For about a month this question bounced around the back of my mind. I thought about rewatching the film, but part of me didn’t want to ruin the image I had in my head. If I watched it again, with a more critical eye, there was a chance I would lose that initial connection. Like I said, this was rare for me, I didn’t want to risk giving that up just to have my opinion align with the majority.
But at the same time, the analytical part of my mind was fascinated by this disconnect. It wasn’t just the negativity of the reaction that astounded me, but the lack of impact the film seemed to make on almost everybody that watched it. There were only 25 registered reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (By comparison, Batman V Superman currently has 185). Of those reviews, most said something along the lines of “somewhat charming, but cliched and forgettable,” or something a little less positive. I could only find one trailer online, and the movie didn’t even have an official Facebook or Twitter account. If it wasn’t for Netflix’s “Recently Added” section, I doubt I ever would’ve even discovered Before We Go. A movie, again, that I emphatically loved. The question of how and why my reaction differed so drastically from others, (including, it seemed, the film’s own marketing team) was too juicy to leave unanswered.
So, two days ago, I watched Before We Go for the second time. Almost immediately, I felt the connection start to develop once more. Only this time, I tried to figure out why. My critical eye accounted for the connection through three factors:
1.) Following an unforgettable experience at the Sundance Film Festival, I was more open to independent and more auteristic styles of filmmaking than ever before.
2.) The movie is ambiguous enough for me to project my own opinions, beliefs, and emotions onto the characters and their situation, making the experience more personal. Which was important because…
3.) Due to my own personal situation, I was in just the right emotional state, at just the right time, to connect with the story on a very personal level. It hit home in more ways than I’d probably care to admit in a public forum like the internet.
At the end of the day, Before We Go isn’t an extraordinary movie. In fact, I honestly can’t even tell you it’s a good one. The film is a cliche-riddled, ever-wandering, romantic-dramedy that isn’t quite sure of what it wants to say. Artsy and abstract, while simultaneously trite and predictable, the movie seems stuck somewhere in between Sundance and Sleepover screenings**. To put it simply, Before We Go is a mess of a movie. But it’s a mess that I unabashedly love.
Objectively, there is no reason for me to love this movie anywhere near the amount that I do. Even with all the analysis and thought I’ve put into it, I still don’t quite understand. But maybe that’s the whole point: I don’t have to objectively understand why I love a film, because what matters most how I felt while watching it.
And twice now, Before We Go made me feel like every frame on the screen, every line of dialogue, every note of the soundtrack, was carefully crafted and curated because someone, somewhere, knew I was out there to see it. Like hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of people hand-crafted a message just for me.
It was a massive operation, made invisible by a profound personal connection.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty absurd, idealist notion. The idea that a film was made just to be seen by one person is absolutely insane, and the people who subscribe to it are even crazier.
Now, I’m one of them.
Before We Go is currently available to stream on NETFLIX, and for purchase on most Video On Demand platforms.
*Other examples include pretty much any Toy Story film, the upcoming Sing Street, 50/50, Fruitvale Station, and, as an homage to the good old days, Bridge To Terabithia.
**If you understood the meaning of that alliterative analysis, we should be best friends. I know none of you will quite get it, but I love the sentence too much to delete it.