Fear, Panic and Paranoia at the Movies
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Fun fact: Howard Hughes paid for my Disneyland trips as a kid.
Okay, not exactly. We had a family friend who worked for Hughes Aircraft in California and hooked up my family with tickets every summer when we went to visit my grandparents in San Diego. As a result, we were always rewarded with Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm after spending a week being on our “best behavior.” Looking back, that was quite a blessing, as those tickets were a hefty $16 a pop.
Anyway, I learned through my dad what a brilliant engineer Hughes was, and through my mom what a “creepy recluse” he had become. When he died, I was six or seven and all I remember hearing was about the latter. His obsessive-compulsive disorder (I don’t remember it being called that). His naked movie binges. Those needles crammed in his arms. Weird, negative, and often scary trivia items. My take from all that, which is still with me to this day, can be best summed up by The Kinks: paranoia is a “self-destroyer.”
In March, when we started holing up in our homes thinking it would be for a short time (it should have been), many sites decided it would be fun to share their favorite “pandemic” or “virus” related movies. Contagion was everywhere. Here we are at the end of May, and it feels like everyone is turning into their own versions of Howard Hughes, and getting angry at those who aren't. The germaphobe, isolated, “don't trust anyone” existence is to me also pretty dangerous to our health, and walking around a world of these folks is scarier than the chance of catching something.
So, when we’re done going through the global pandemic film fest, here’s a list of films from the other side of the spectrum: films about fears. We'll start with, you guessed it, a film about Howard Hughes.
The Aviator (2004)
Hughes is one of the most visible and famous looks at how extreme cases of OCD and similar disorders can take a brilliant, creative, inventive person, and reduce them into mush. What I appreciated about this film is it did show you more than just that aspect of Hughes (played fantastically by Leonardo DiCaprio). We do get to see his achievements and genius, as well as the condition that eventually consumed and then took his life.
I do agree with his response to other people touching my food like that. What the heck, Mr. Flynn? Here’s a peek at the movie’s way of addressing the progression of his condition:
The Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012)
Afraid of shaking hands? You don’t know the half of it. That’s just part of the spiral into madness of a children’s author turned hyper paranoid children’s writer-turned crime novelist played by Simon Pegg. This was a low-budget, dark horror comedy based on the novella Paranoia in the Launderette that kind of came and went, but is an interesting watch today, especially with social media turning people into being scared and distrusting of everything and everyone. Mild spoiler alert: not all his fears unfounded, but you can’t let fear take over your life.
This hilarious animated Disney version of Rapunzel gives us a great look at love of life, redemption, and something everyone needs: bravery to make our own decisions on what is best for us. After being kept cooped up in her tower for 18 years, all the fear-mongering the evil Mother Gothel has been using to keep her in control begins to wear thin. I think that is what is happening now to a world continuously being told to stay put “for our own good.” Could the song “Mother Knows Best” be any more perfect for today?
Blast from the Past (1999)
This is really just a fish-out-of-water romantic comedy, where a naïve tirtysomething emerges from a life in his family’s fallout shelter into the modern world. It is cute and silly, but also gives us a look at the mid-century atomic and nuclear war paranoia. One thing the movie shows is no matter how many “luxuries” we have holed up in our little private safe spaces, there is no substitute for the freedom to just get out. It also demonstrates that once living in fear takes hold of some of us, it never really goes away, as indicated in the last part of the movie where even after his initial fears were never realized, good old Dad Christopher Walken begins measuring dimensions of a new shelter
The Night That Panicked America (1975)
You would think people would take everything they hear on the radio, television or social media with a grain of salt these days, but knee-jerk crazy has always been a part of human nature. This film is based on the real-life panic that ensued in 1938 as the result of a radio campaign for Orson Welles’s “Panic Broadcast” for War of the Worlds that way too many people thought was a real alien invasion. More than anything, this should show us no matter how convincing something we hear, read or see, we need to calm down and learn the WHOLE STORY first. This made-for-television movie was one of those ABC Friday Night Movie offerings, but I think it's still available to purchase. Until you find it, here’s a cool retro ad featuring a who’s who of 1970s primetime television:
There is always something to be afraid of “out there,” from the teeniest of germs to the unknown wilderness of the future to other human beings.
Yes, by all means, be safe and be wary, but don’t ever be paralyzed by fear.