This is it — this is the end. For the last 10 weeks, I have had a wonderful time watching and rewatching some of the classic movies of our time in an effort to learn something about what it means to come of age today. I have learned a great deal about myself in the process of writing this column, and it is my sincerest wish that some of my readers feel the same way about themselves.
To conclude a topic as expansive as the one that I have chosen is no easy task. So I’ll take the easy way out and not give this column a nice and tidy ending. After all the ambiguities that we’ve considered thus far, would coming up with one steadfast thesis on aging really be appropriate?
For me, self-deprecation has been a fun tool to use for humor. I amuse myself thinking that someone may actually take what this 18-year-old has to say to heart. It’s part of the reason that I have no conclusion. Aging never ends,and I am no end-all authority. But at the same time, no one possesses such an authority.
Movies seem to play to these ambiguities, providing a visual medium by which themes can be illustrated with a photographic truth. To see something happen can be far more impacting than reading about it. This is why I believe coming-of-age movies are so impactful. They provide tales both simple and complex, unified in their ability to capture the collective essence of what it means to mature.
My favorite movie of all time is probably Boogie Nights by Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s a movie that I can keep coming back to over and over. It’s so good that it makes me want to vomit with envy. That, more than anything, is the mark to which I hold the best movies. If you get me nauseous, you’ve done something right.
Ultimately, film will only be a tool. An instrument for gauging your thoughts, experiences, hopes and, perhaps most importantly, failures. I feel like a better person when I watch films like The Iron Giant and Magnolia. I actually am a better person when I decide to contemplate myself in relation to the film. On a subconscious level, this is the thought that I believe I have been trying to impart through this column.
Okay, one conclusion. In viewing the nine films we discussed, I have come to believe that personal autonomy is the greatest treasure in aging well. Being able to step back from enormous amounts of social pressure and self evaluate is critical to happiness. Or not. People learn to love their chains. I think someone famous said that. I just looked it up: Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones” said it. Awesome!
Maybe I shouldn’t trust the philosophy of a teenager who mothers murderous dragons. But I will. The point is that sooner or later, failure to acknowledge pressures just becomes a way of accepting them. Perhaps a mid-life crisis, in addition to being a recognition of one’s own mortality, is a way of despairing over one’s life choices. Perhaps the high paying job (or low paying job) that you sought with such vigor is not one which you want to take to the grave with you.
The stakes of being young are higher than ever. Never has there been a time when adolescents were so responsible for the overall trajectory of their lives. Figuring out your personal values at a young age is no longer something to do on a romantic, bohemian escape to the south of France. It’s something to do right now, as you’re sitting in your underwear, wondering when Netflix is going to update your favorite TV show. “Breaking Bad” is over, so I got plenty of time to reflect.
Film is only one way to accomplish the ends you desire. Literature is fantastic. Writing out thoughts never hurt anyone. Having honest discussions with close friends and family tend to help many people.
The prerequisite for any form of personal growth is courage. You must have extraordinary wherewithal to be able to stand the process of aging. Find the courage and you’ll find something real — I can promise that. As a wise man, Walter White, once said: “Apply yourself.”
Not one person reached ELI FLESCH at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeted him @eliflesch this quarter. Send some love, goddamnit.