Friday, October 3, 2008

Before you go see another quirky generational movie about being...

Tonight, college kids will pay their student ticket prices and pile into movie theatres across the country to see a movie that undoubtedly will speak to them, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

I know because I was there in their shoes on this very night five years ago, paying $8.50 for a 10 o’clock showing of my generation’s movie, Lost in Translation.

I had landed as a freshman at Northwestern University only two weeks before opening night and I felt, as most college kids feel, like I had finally arrived. This was where I was meant to be—living in my totally awesome dorm with the coolest kids in a great-but-I’ll-knock-it-anyway college town, where I could finally eat fresh sushi and drink sake while musing about politics with other young liberals (hallelujah!) who shared both my opinion that God does not hate me for my lefty persuasions as well as my use of unnecessary superlatives like the aforementioned 'coolest' and 'totally awesome.'

But college also has this way of setting off a self-referential inner-monologue that you can’t shake. Walking through a gorgeous campus with your iPod soundtrack while leaves crackle underfoot doesn’t exactly help to curb your deluded sense of grandeur either. So you walk from class to class, high off Rousseau and that cute guy from Econ who was most definitely at least a sophomore, and you ponder your depth and your Friday night plans because that sophomore-dude is most definitely going to the party in Allison Hall.

It was in this mindset that I found myself on October 3, 2003, huddled around California rolls with new friends and waiting for our showing of Lost in Translation. I had broken up with my high school boyfriend the night before and was really looking for some solid ground, something I could identify with and find strength in. That turned out, I would discover at about 10:45 PM, to be Scarlett Johansson’s underwear.

Who was this girl who--while deeply pondering her life (like me! twinsies!)--wore headphones, stared aimlessly at citi-scapes and bounced around on a bed in Tokyo in her underwear? How cool was that? I made a mental note to find grandma panties like Scarlett’s and figure out how to make them so sexy. Underwear aside, I wasn’t in Tokyo, I wasn’t going to Yale and I was not planning on majoring in philosophy like Scarlett’s character, but her brooding self-examination spoke to me. It resonated with my inner-being, and this was my movie.

Actually, it was our movie, all of us. If you weren't on mine and Scarlett's side of the equation: What will I do with my life?, then you were on Bill Murray's: What have I done with my life? Many of us bought the soundtrack, some of us bought grandma panties (not nearly as sexy as hoped), and all of us talked feverishly about what had he said to her?? That whisper! It defined us all!

But then, four years later, we finally found out what he whispered: “I have to be leaving, but I won’t let that come between us, okay?”

And that was it.

After defining ourselves by our imaginings in that veiled mysterious whisper, relishing in the indelible innocence of their impossible, fleeting relationship, and coveting the quirkiness of Japanese culture and (by God!) karaoke parties, that was it.

Sure, I was let down in other ways, like Scarlett Johansson’s creepy, Pygmalionesque post on Woody Allen’s arm and Bill Murray’s disastrous divorce and the way the soundtrack kind of got old by the next summer. But this revelation was the final straw in severing me from the movie that I thought had defined me.

So a word of warning to you 18-year-olds or other self-seekers who might line up in the coming hours for this Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist movie and hope to find yourselves in the characters' doomed innocence or eccentric, impossibly cute behavior: Don’t hang your hopes on underwear or soundtracks and record the playlist yourself.

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