The Thing I Like About …

Insidious (I, II, and III): Elise.

She starts out as a psychic and family friend who helps the main characters handle a demonic incursion. She ends up as a psychic who helps the main characters handle a demonic incursion. In between, we find out how hard it’s been for her to have her gifts, yet still be unable to counter fate or death or time – her husband has died, her gifts seem often like a curse, and a woman who follows her from the afterworld threatens daily to kill her.

She knows this woman will kill her one day. She sees the chair where she will die, and feels the hands around her throat. Understandably, she doesn’t want to die, and so she abandons her psychic practice and hides in her house … for a time.

But ultimately she is strong and compassionate, and she doesn’t really know how to ignore people who come to her for help. She decides that she’s one of the few people to whom others can turn when they experience things that are out of the ordinary. She decides that she needs to deal with her husband’s death, with the ranting threats of the demon-woman, with the fear of horrible things that interact with our world from the other side … she decides that everybody dies of something, so she might as well do her job.

She’s nice. She’s smart. She’s getting older. But she’s not getting older the way Hollywood usually allows women to get older – with heavy make-up, plastic surgery, and trick lighting. She’s just a regular woman in regular clothes, having regular feelings – of fear and bravery, of indecision and fortitude, of weakness and strength. She doesn’t pretend she’s twenty. She doesn’t mention that she’s not twenty anymore. She never says, “I’m too old for this.” She just asks herself if the next thing coming is a thing she wants in her life; she just decides one choice at a time whether or not she’s up for another challenge.

And in the end, she saves every client who comes to her.

She’s capable, but not fancy or dramatic or posturing. She’s smart but not condescending or domineering. She’s pleasant but not a pushover. She can be hurt – she can be killed – but she doesn’t let her fears control her for long, and she doesn’t let others face evil alone.

Everybody dies of something … but before that we get to pick what we do, how we feel, and who we are. We get to decide how to treat people, how to help them, how to help ourselves, and what callings we attend to. It’s all well and good to think, “I could be a superhero, and do great things, and be awesome!” But it’s even nicer to think that we could just be regular people in regular clothes, with our ordinary gifts and talents and lives, getting older and wiser, and doing great things and being awesome.

If we’re brave enough to be regular folk, and to be ourselves for better or worse, we can end up doing extraordinary things. If we can know what we’re worth even when we’re not superheroes, we can end up being real heroes who help real people in the real world … right to the very end.

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The Thing I Like About …

Last House on the Left (2009):  the parents.

After an escaped felon and his “family” kidnap and viciously attack seventeen-year-old Mari, they wander, coincidentally enough, to Mari’s house.  Mari’s parents graciously allow the bad guys into their house and out of the storm, unaware of the horrific things these “people” have done to their daughter.  Then they learn the truth.

They ask each other where the keys to the boat are (Mari had taken the car); they look at each other without speaking because they don’t want the bad guys to overhear them.  But they never exchange “meaningful glances”, or discuss the ethical conflict involved in exacting revenge.  It’s not some weighty consideration that one or the other of them has trouble with; it’s not something that one of them has to wonder what the other one is thinking.  Without a moment’s pause, they shift into a dark space where only swift and total retribution is allowed.

And then they kill all the bad guys … with kitchen tools and fire extinguishers.

And a microwave oven.

Am I saying it’s good for people to turn effortlessly into killers?  Well, not when you say it like that, no.  But it’s good for them to know their priorities, and to be able to act to protect those in their care.  It’s good to have a relationship where the trust is absolute.  And it’s good to be brave in the face of evil, to do what needs to be done.

It’s not that the average parent is going to be faced with such a dire and unlikely situation.  It’s that it’s a nice alternative to the world we seem to live in, where being a good parent includes television/Netflix/video games/telephone/texting/twitter/facebook/girls’ night/guys’ night/getting nails done/etc., etc., etc.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things – on the surface.  But when those things become the things we have to get done, and when we feel like every moment is a moment “for ourselves”, then suddenly we just simply aren’t good parents anymore – we’re babysitters, talking to our boyfriends and raiding the fridge and saying, “Go away, kid, ya bother me!”

It would be wonderful to live in a world where all parents understood their responsibility and were willing to make tough choices – like axing bad guys – for their children’s safety.  But sometimes I wonder if “modern” parenting is even aware of what should be obvious:  the kids aren’t there for us; we’re there for them.  And if you’re bad guys who try to hurt our children, well … it sucks to be you.