Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Belief vs. Magical Realism

Magical realism is one thing. Although I do find that magical realism adds an interesting element to a story, today I'm not focusing on magical realism. At least, I don't think that I am. Today I'm focusing on two movies; probably there are more stories that display the same trait I've picked up on, but these are the two I've chosen. The movies are A Little Princess (1995, directed by Alfonso Cuaron) and Secondhand Lions (2003, directed by Tim McCanlies). (You could probably argue that both of these films are magical realism, but I'm taking a different approach.)

And the concept that is "slightly different" from magical realism is the idea that, essentially, belief creates reality. Now, I don't mean this in the sense of Bridge to Terebithia, where the children are playing make believe and because they're choosing to see this magical realm it becomes real to them. There isn't actually any magic in either of the two films I've chosen here. But the characters do have to decide whether or not they'll believe in storytelling, and their decisions to believe or not to believe do directly affect the real world. In other words, your perspective makes a difference.

I'm going to guess that most people have seen A Little Princess but not so many people have seen Secondhand Lions (if you haven't, you should: it's a good movie that only gets better the more times you watch it). This is also a shame because Secondhand Lions is one of those movies that's hard to describe.

Basically you have a boy (Walter) going to live with his great uncles and they tell him stories about when they were younger and went to Africa and had all sorts of adventures--and he has to decide whether or not he believes their stories, stories that don't really sound plausible, stories that a regular person would think that they were just making up. And of course in A Little Princess, Sara tells stories and uses her imagination in order to make other people happy or to lift up her own spirits.

So along the way, the stories that Walter hears begin to actually make sense; that is, there are things that he sees in the real world that could be the results of those stories. Maybe he heard embellished versions of the truth, but he decides that those stories are truth. And because he first decided that they must be true, he is able to hold onto that truth and choose it over alternative versions--and this is what allows him to escape the sort of chain of mistakes that his mother is making and has also been dragging him into, this is what allows him to make into reality his own life. He believes and therefore it is.

Notice this also with Sara. Once Sara loses everything, she and Becky try to rely on make believe to get through the harsh realities of their daily lives. While she used to love storytelling, Sara almost loses her love of it at this time in her life. But her friends help her get back to it, and once again she's the one using imagination to comfort Becky when Miss Minchin sets out their greatest challenge yet. They imagine fancy clothes and a great feast at night--and then wake up to truly find fine furnishings, clothing, and food in their room. It looks like magical realism. But there are all of these hints that it was the neighbor, Ram Dass, who gave it all to them. So it isn't a case that they believed in something so hard (like Peter Pan) that it became true to them. It was that they put forward that positive perspective into the world--and someone noticed and thought that they deserved to have something positive as well as believe in positive. And then, of course, this one instance leads to others until eventually the whole story has a happy ending.

But isn't that interesting? I'm not saying that I dislike stories like Bridge to Terebithia that show the comfort that can be gained from imagination. But isn't it something to see the real world effects of belief in something positive. If you believe in the people around you (like Walter believing in his uncles and Sara believing in her friends and neighbors), they will notice and they will react to that. If you're walking around with something good in your head, you will reap good. And if you're doing good, then some of that will come back to you, one way or another.

Magical realism is a fascinating way for fiction to express something about reality. But when you choose to believe in the right perspective, reality itself gives you a different kind of "magic" that is fully tangible.

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