This week of February has left me with complicated feelings since I was six—the age my youngest is now. Forty years ago today, my father died. Six years ago today, I sat next to her bed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, knowing that she was improving and expected to go home within a few days but utterly certain she would die anyway because after all it was February 8, and Bad Things Happen On February 8. The room was small and silent, and the way I distracted myself from my own thoughts was, as is doubtless true for many of us here, with movies.
I have written repeatedly about the power of movies to provide emotional support, and I don’t think that’s news to anyone. Roger Ebert’s empathy machine works two ways; it lets us feel for other people, but it also lets us feel that our feelings are seen and supported by others. It helps us process what we are feeling ourselves. We tend to choose movies based on what we’re in the mood to see, and movies can help us change our mood. Therefore it is not surprising that someone who loves movies would carefully select a handful to bring when in such a moment.
Ever since, I have referred to a handful of movies as my “NICU movies.” They were the ones I chose to bring with me that week. It’s worth noting that I’d actually brought a couple of seasons of Due South as well, but there was only one remote for the entire ward (my therapist at the time was pretty sure people had accidentally brought most of them home over the years), so I needed things where I could just push the play button on the front of the player and start them without needing a remote at all. Due South became what I’d watch when I was decompressing in my room at night, with a remote.
During the day, I only had a small selection—well, I’d intended to watch TV, after all, and didn’t bring enough movies. My need for enough movies was made clear the first night, when I came back to my room and discovered the tail end of The Shawshank Redemption on AMC. Its message of hope was important, and the confidence of that ending for me lasted through the week. It may have seemed odd that Ikiru was on my list, but it has a similar message of hope. You, too, can choose to fully live.
Another “wait, that’s hopeful?” entry was A Serious Man. I couldn’t look at the parking lot; the room had no windows. But I could take pleasure in small things, and my daughter was one of the smallest of all. LA Story had a more obvious hopeful message, and it’s been one of my comfort movies since I was growing up in Los Angeles County. The nurses took a mild interest in my viewing, and this one took the least explanation for why I’d chosen to bring it.
Sleeping Beauty held the promise of waking. Frozen held the promise of a sibling relationship with my son, who was eagerly awaiting his promised sister. (Also, I have long had a list of “at least I’m a better parent than,” and the parents from Frozen are definitely on it.) When I thought I might have to stay another week, I brought, among other things, my collection of MST3K discs—not only could Mike and Joel sympathize with being trapped in a small space far from home, I definitely could use the laughter. As, indeed, who could not?
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