Stories That Endure

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in Now Voyager

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” ~ Ben Okri

It’s been a rough week. I’m still not completely recovered from my cold, so I dragged myself into class last night glad that the movie I’d picked was short. This class I teach every spring is titled dramatic structure. In the class we watch plays and movies and deconstruct the way the story is put together so we can discover the main message the writer and director are trying to get across to the audience. I’m always surprised when students like a classic movie, or play we watch. It gives me hope that maybe they will tune into Turner Classic Movies sometime and watch a vintage movie they might never have considered before taking the class.

Last night I was happy that my students loved the 1942 movie Now Voyager. This is the first time I’ve shown this movie, even though it’s one I love. It’s a domestic drama staring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. Davis plays Charlotte Vale who has a nervous breakdown and must learn how to deal with her tyrannical mother played by Gladys Cooper. She is helped by Rains’ character Dr. Jaquith. The thing I love about the movie is that it shows Charlotte not only learning how to build friendships but how to stand up for herself without causing her mother to throw her out. It’s a neat balancing act. She also finds love in an unconventional relationship with a married man played by Henreid. Even though they make a pact never to see each other again, in the end they are brought back together when Charlotte has the opportunity to help Henreid’s daughter with the approval of Dr. Jaquith. I wasn’t surprised that my students could relate to having difficult family relationships and that the film gave them some strategies they could use in their own lives.

There are so many classic plays and movies that are still relevant for us today. And I’m happy to be introducing my students to some of them.

I’ve also been surprised that my students liked Gentleman’s Agreement, staring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, a story of anti-semitism right after World War II. That ground breaking movie is important because it breaks down the subtle ways people maintain their prejudices while fooling themselves into thinking they have none at all. That’s the movie for next week. I’ll be interested to hear what the students have to say about it.

An Ideal Husband, is another favorite of my students. It’s a play by Oscar Wilde in which he uses witty lines to make the audience laugh, but which has a serious message underneath. Lord Goring, the most frivolous of heroes, helps his friends navigate a serious problem in their relationship. He tells his best friend, “Gertrude, it is not the perfect, but rather the imperfect who have need of love.” We all hope for love and forgiveness from the ones we love. Oscar Wilde delivers that for his characters while at the same time making us laugh at their foibles. It’s a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned.

Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised when a student says something profound about one of the movies or plays we’ve just watched. One year, after a viewing of a filmed stage production of The Taming of the Shrew, we were discussing Kate’s final speech. This is one of Shakespeare’s speeches that is discussed adnausium because it seems that Kate gives up her will to her husband. One student surprised me by saying, “I think that speech and Petrucio’s reaction to it show that they tamed each other.” I had never thought of it like that before. I have always fantasied that after the play was over Kate and Petrucio were going to have a vibrant, sometimes contentious, but deeply loving relationship. But to think that the tamer also gets tamed was a wonderful new way to look at that play.

Now I know that some people watch movies for pure entertainment and don’t want to discuss all the nuances of the story. But social media is full of movie fan discussions dissecting every aspect of the latest movie in their favorite franchise and if that’s not evidence that stories have a kind of power to touch us deeply, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate all your comments and likes.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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