One of my clients recently expressed frustration with herself over the amount of time she had been spending “escaping” into TV shows. Work, marriage, family — all areas of her life had been crazier than ever, and she was struggling to keep up, to feel like she measured up in any way, and was constantly questioning whether she was “enough” for anyone. Over the course of our conversation, she realized that the shows she was watching were serving a much greater purpose for her than just escape. I reflected on why her words rang a very familiar bell with me.
There is a reason why art — shows, books, movies — the stories of fictional characters (or sometimes non-fictional ones) is so meaningful to us. It is not just entertainment; it is a certain kind of inspiration.
For example, I’ve always found movie trailers to be uplifting. And my client’s story helped me to see the reason why more clearly. A movie trailer presents you with a story in the course of just several minutes. It usually says something along the lines of: These characters are in an impossible situation. If you had to figure out on your own how they get through it, you most likely couldn’t, because it seems unsolvable. So that’s why you need to see the movie.
Because somehow, over the course of the story — with some dramatic moments, some funny interactions, maybe some music or moments of dancing in the kitchen or running across a field — they DO work it out, so it must be possible. And the underlying message that couple of moments leaves you with is that, if it is possible for them, it must be possible for you too.
Whatever impossible situation you find yourself in, there has to be another side to come out on, some version of a happy ending, if you just continue to live out your own story.
I got the same feeling when I saw the movie Erin Brockovich. It inspired me enough that I’ve kept my ticket stub tucked in a corner of my jewelry box for all these years. In the beginning of the movie, everything in her life is going wrong. And then she has a car accident that seems to be screwing things up even more. At that moment, when she is sitting in the middle of the intersection with her car smashed up, it does NOT seem like this is the heroine of the story who is going to save the day in the end; you don’t even know how she is going to save herself.
But because the title of the movie is her own name, even if you knew nothing going in about what the story was about, you know that she IS going to do something extraordinary; she is going to prove herself to be way more than that woman sitting in the smashed-up car whose life seems to be going nowhere.
And my client had found something similar in the relationship between the two characters in The Vampire Diaries. Their flaws and imperfections — specifically, the male character’s flaws and imperfections — do not define him, no matter how much he messes up. The other character’s love for him — and therefore the story itself — shows that he is redeemable, no matter how much it seems on the surface that he is fatally flawed. And seeing him from that perspective helped her to see herself from a similar perspective — as a flawed “character” whose story needed to play out in order for her to see the solution that was invisible at the time but would come if she just kept going.
We concluded that she should continue to “escape” when she felt the need to. If she could infuse herself with hope during those moments of watching, and then use that hope to take whatever action she could to address her own situation, the time spent was well worth it.
And as for me, I feel really lucky that YouTube provides me with all the trailer inspiration I could ever need.