Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's All About the Experience

There's not much excitement in my life these days, so when the opportunity to do something "different" comes along, it's hard not to jump at the chance, regardless. Last night, we drove almost 20 miles along twisty roads in the rain to see the movie "Wendy and Lucy" in one of the smallest theaters in the world. The theater was nestled back off the side street in such a way that we drove past it a couple of times without even noticing it. Even though it was Memorial Day and Nashville was teeming with tourists when we arrived, the feel of the place changed a little after 5:00 p.m. when the town rolled up the streets for the day. It made me wonder what life was like for the residents.

The Lotus Petal Cinema is small - two people can barely fit into the space designated as a concession stand. After paying for tickets and assorted munchies (the theater offers an interesting snack selection; they will even put nacho cheese sauce on your popcorn!), we entered the viewing area of the theater. Thirty-five theater seats are nestled into a small room with blond paneling along the side walls. The area surrounding the screen is painted black. Typically, the ads designed to entertain and inform viewers prior to the start of the movie are annoying; the set at the Lotus Petal Cinema were actually fun to watch despite the typos. My favorite slide was the one immediately before the movie started. Four or five (?) Tibetan monks in winter clothing told the audience to "Enjoy the movie!" That was a first for me.

Even though the screen is small, it wasn't difficult to become completely immersed in the movie. We were skeptical at first, but we've watched movies in theaters with broken seats, a broken furnace in sub-zero weather (no heat in the "Big Chill"), and even had everything stop half way into the movie. To me, going to the movies is about the complete experience, not just the movie itself. That's why I'll go to a theater, especially a single-screen theater, to see a movie that's out on DVD.

The movie is based on the short story "Train Choir," which is included in Livability by Jon Raymond. It took me weeks to be able to check out a copy from the library, but it was well worth the wait. The concluding story in this collection is "Train Choir," and as soon as my eyes rested on the final word, I was determined to see the movie. This story is a quiet one with not a lot of action, but packed full of heartbreak, struggle, loss, and survival. Wendy (Michelle Williams), fresh from Indiana, is on her way to the fisheries of Alaska with her sidekick Lucy, a Golden Retriever type of dog. Because of car trouble in Oregon, these two find themselves on a downward path with no relief in sight. Wendy is arrested for "forgetting" to pay for a few cans of dog food, Lucy is taken by the local pound and placed in a foster home, Wendy's car is beyond repair, and money is dwindling fast.

Thanks to the small gestures of a security guard at neighborhood Walgreens, Wendy is able to locate Lucy. After seeing Lucy in her new home, Wendy realizes that Lucy is in a better place: she has nice owners, a large fenced-in backyard, and stable home life - things Wendy can't provide at this point in time. Wendy knows she can't go back to Indiana (a phone call to her sister clearly illustrates that) and without a car and very little money, completing the trip to the fisheries is going to be a challenge. That said, Wendy does the only thing she can do; she leaves Lucy, jumps on a train, and makes her way toward Alaska.

Michelle Williams performance as Wendy is powerful and painful. The viewer feels her profound sadness as each part of her plan falls apart. Williams portrays a character that is vulnerable and needs protection, but at the same time displays a strength that conveys the idea that she is tough enough to take care of herself, no matter what obstacles are thrown her way. In the end, Wendy loses it all yet still finds the courage to move forward.

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