How the movies gave 2017 a much-needed dose of truth
Peter Knegt on how visceral cinema forced him to feel — and renewed his understanding of the medium's power
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
Like most reasonably minded people, I entered 2017 feeling pretty numb. Making it through the endlessly unfortunate news of the year prior felt like something akin to running a brutal obstacle course, only to make it to a finish line where the prize was...another brutal obstacle course. As a result, my emotions seemed to have an emergency meeting, ultimately deciding maybe dormancy was the best survival tactic for 2017.
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Their plan only lasted a few weeks, though — and ended up regularly thwarted throughout the year because of an old flame I'd had something of a falling out with: movies.
Me and movies go way back. Long story short: they were my primary obsession as a child and teenager, my major over six years of university and then my day-to-day for the first decade of my journalism career. But sometime in 2016, we grew a bit distant. I stopped really making much of an effort to make my way to movie theatres, so much so that at times many months lapsed between occasions in which I did. I can't entirely explain why. Maybe the comfort of binging television at home had proven too great a competitor. Maybe after all that time, me and movies just needed a break. Or maybe in the midst of that growing numbness, I'd forgotten what it was about movies that had drawn me in so much in the first place.
Whatever the case may have been, in late January 2017, me and movies officially began a year of serious make-up sex. Over back-to-back nights at the Sundance Film Festival, I was lucky enough to attend the world premieres of both Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name and Jordan Peele's Get Out literal days after my faith in society had dropped to new lows thanks to a certain inauguration. And I will never forget how the experience of both those films breathed me back to life. While wholly different movies — Call Me is a slow-building, Italy-set drama about a romance between two men while Get Out is a fast-paced horror-thriller that critiques systemic racism in America — both are staggering in their ability to utilize the art of filmmaking to expose paramount truths. In Get Out, it's the truth about what it means to be Black. In Call Me By Your Name, it's the truth about the vulnerability of deep human connection.
So obviously it's not like "movies expose truths!" is some revolutionary discovery I made with those films. But there was something about witnessing their authenticity in a theatre with a few hundred other people (say what you want about the ease of at-home viewing, there is still nothing like communal consumption of great art) just as the world seemed to be officially entering a "post-truth" era. It felt utterly defiant. And as 2017 continued to prove itself an extraordinary year for cinematic truth-telling, that feeling just kept coming back.
Take Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, which I've now seen five times in the movie theatre because I find the catharsis of watching its sincerity in terms of how it feels to be a teenager downright addictive. Or Sean Baker's The Florida Project, which, through astonishing realistic performances by child actors, simulates innocence like few things I've ever seen. Or Robin Campillo's BPM (Beats Per Minute), which gave me a drastically better understanding of what it meant and felt to be an AIDS activist during the onset of the epidemic.
Undoubtedly, each of these movies mean different things to different people depending on identity, background, experience, etc. I don't know what it feels like to watch Lady Bird as a woman or Get Out as a person of colour or Call Me By Your Name as a straight person. But I do know how much they collectively lifted me out of emotional paralysis, forced me to feel and gave me a renewed understanding of the power of the movies — and as I crawl to the end of another brutal annual obstacle course, that's exactly the kind of fuel I need for whatever comes after it.