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10 Things Summer Blockbusters Teach Us About Life

How much wisdom can Spidey, Batman, and Jason Bourne possibly deliver? Quite a bit, says film critic A.O. Scott.

Black and white photograph of boy pretending to be a superhero in a black frameKana Okada
Every movie genre has special lessons to impart. Serious dramas offer sober reminders about how miserable people were in the olden days. A decent horror flick will teach you not to camp out in the woods with a group of rowdy, sex-crazed teenagers. Romantic comedies helpfully illustrate that the guy (or the girl) who seems perfect is actually a narcissistic jerk, while the friend you took for granted is really your soul mate. Action movies would seem to be the exception. They dominate the summer, when school is out, and specialize in car chases, explosions, and fights. But they are also about heroism. And since we all want to think of ourselves as heroes, it doesn’t hurt to ponder what it might take to be one. It’s not easy. In fact, these lessons distilled from a decade of professional moviegoing are full of paradox and contradiction. Just like life.

1. Heroes don’t always know that they’re heroes. Sometimes a wise old Jedi or a magic owl shows up to inform you of your destiny. Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and you have to do the right thing. But sooner or later you will be called, and your life will change forever.

2. Heroism is a lonely, thankless vocation. Poor Spidey. Poor Batman. Poor Harry Potter. Ultimately, each is alone with his powers and responsibilities, burdened with expectations and misunderstood by even his closest friends and allies. Yes, it’s cool to be that special, but the chances to really enjoy it―to turn invisible, to fly through the air, to hang upside down and kiss Kirsten Dunst―are fleeting and few. The reward for being a hero is not fame or adulation but the quiet satisfaction of having done good.

3. When the going gets tough, the usual rules don’t apply. Your editors, commanding officers, supervisors, and teachers and other authority figures will insist on routines and protocols. You will try to explain that flesh-eating zombies, a psychotic super-villain, a global conspiracy, or an extraterrestrial eco-catastrophe (I’m speaking metaphorically here, more or less) calls for extra-ordinary measures, and you’ll most likely be punished for your insubordination. Until, that is, your bosses need rescuing. And then they will take credit for your bold, imaginative thinking.

4. It’s always personal. The bad guys will find a way to get to your spouse, your lover, your children, your mother―the people who matter to you most. And your professional motives will thus be doubled by the more intimate imperatives of rescue and revenge. Your job is never just your job, and you never do it for its own sake, but rather because it’s connected, sometimes painfully, to everything else that’s important to you. Not just money or (if you’re lucky) health insurance, but meaning, passion, conviction―maybe even truth and justice.

5. You can’t trust anyone. Your boss is working for the bad guys. Your best friend harbors secret thoughts of revenge. Even your husband may be in league with the terrorists who are trying to kidnap you. The crew on that trans-atlantic flight Jodie Foster was taking with her young daughter in Flightplan? Not friendly at all! Be vigilant. Keep your ears open for whispers and your eyes open to hidden agendas.
Read More About:Inspiration & Motivation

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