It’s said that art reflects life. It does, of course, but sometimes life’s experiences are caused by art. This is true of any art, but one of the most fun to write about is the movies. Sometimes watching a movie can affect our lives in profound ways. To illustrate, here’s a story told to me by one of the participants in my “Making History” class.
“My father was a longshoreman in the 1950s and 60s, shared “Sally” (not her real name.) “When I was young I never really knew what a longshoreman did. It was just where Dad went every day, and it didn’t matter to me. I saw my father as an uneducated man and I didn’t want to be like him at all. We had nothing in common.
“My parents scrimped and saved to send me to college, although I didn’t know about the scrimping and saving until later. I thought college was my due. I dated college boys, and I was ashamed of my longshoreman father, who laughed too loud and drank too much beer and only read the sports page of the paper.
“When he went out on strike I felt that he had done it to spite me. All it meant to me was there was less money. I thought strikes were stupid. Nobody is making you be a longshoreman – if you don’t like it, then why don’t you just quit? I didn’t have the nerve to actually say this to him, but it’s what I thought.
“It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I had an epiphany about my dad. One Saturday night I didn’t have a date, so as I sat in the lounge at my college dorm feeling sorry for myself, I turned on the black and white TV and began watching an old movie, On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, which I had never seen before.
“That movie changed me. I saw how longshoremen were treated. I looked at those rough men and I saw my father, working at that difficult job day after day, for poor pay and little respect, not even from his own daughter, just so I could have something better.
“I cried throughout most of the movie, tears of shame, and tears of anger. But at the end, when a bloody Brando walks up that gangway, I was standing up and cheering, all alone in the deserted dateless dorm.
“By the end of that semester, I had changed my major to economics, and after college I got a job working for a union, starting as a part-time secretary. I worked for the union for 36 years, and whenever I wondered why I stayed with them for so long, all I had to do was close my eyes and see my father working on the docks alongside Brando. I like to think I’m doing my part. I know whose side I’m on. My dad’s side.”
Which movies changed you?