Last year, or maybe the year before that—memory: kaput—I got all excited about some bit of movie news. "What's so exciting?" Felicia asked, and I showed her the news: Paul Thomas Anderson was making a new movie. "Who is in it? What's it about?" she asked, and I told her: Daniel Day-Lewis, and dressmaking. "Huh," she said. "I think you should show me his movies. I don't get this side of you."
I gave the subject matter some thought. Where to begin? Anderson's early films seem almost eager now, but maybe that's just me, having grown older after first watching Boogie Nights twenty years earlier. His early work felt groundbreaking—but the nature of breaking new ground is that others follow suit, and those early movies feel less bracing now as a result.
So maybe it would be useful to begin with the latter half of his filmography. If we began with the back four, then the front four might benefit from that hindsight. We could see the kind of filmmaker he would later become, little hints of it scattered among those early scenes and scripts. That seemed right, and so that's how we proceeded. Felicia had already seen There Will Be Blood and Inherent Vice in theaters with me, but she'd missed The Master, the movie that might well be my favorite of Anderson's work. We started there, and she was as transfixed during her first viewing as I was, though it was my third time with the movie. I felt as if I were seeing it for the first time. We followed it with Phantom Thread, which was new for both of us. We've finished the back four; now we need to rewind so she can see those first four: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love.
That Felicia asked me to share these movies I love with her lit me up. It's one of the rare instances where I glow at all, so that's notable. I've been sharing movies with Squish, too, searching for the same little spark inside her that I had when I was a kid, discovering Superman and E.T. and Star Wars and Alien (at a wonderfully young age). The spark was there, so I've been giving it oxygen, graduating her from the usual animated kids' fare into movies that test her ability to sit with a story a bit more: The Black Stallion. The Lord of the Rings. Contact. Field of Dreams. Interstellar. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And she went there for all of it. I've mixed it up, making sure it's not all serious-big topics; she's all about School of Rock and she loved Spider-man: Homecoming. And she enjoyed The Truman Show, which weaves comedy into a difficult story about being yourself even when the world is against you.
So when she asked me recently to pick a movie that neither of us had ever seen, I came up with several options, curious what she might choose. Night at the Museum was one of them. The Lindsay Lohan remake of The Parent Trap. Flubber. The Secret Garden. Only one of those movies promised a particular kind of story, and Squish went right for it: "Garden, please." She laughed excitedly, thrilled by the story-box we were about to open. That giddiness just slays me.
Now, I'll preface this by saying that I absolutely confused The Secret Garden for A Little Princess. Not in the story sense, but in the I-thought-Alfonso-Cuarón-directed-this sense. I'd been kind of curious to see his version of a children's movie. The opening credits of Garden disabused me of that notion, though: Directed by Agnieszka Holland. But the movie was lovely, and Squish was captivated. It seemed generally harmless enough: there are parents in distress, there are orphans, there's a disaster. All the makings of basically every other kids' movie.
But during a dream sequence, a little girl onscreen was pushing through some large plants, searching for her mother. "She looks like me!" Squish said, and she did: short blonde hair, cropped bangs. The girl's mother appeared, and then was pulled, by some unseen force, away from her daughter. The girl began to cry. Beside me, Emma did the same thing, trying very hard to hide her emotions until they were just too big, and they spilled over. She sobbed for several minutes, unable to separate herself from the fiction onscreen; it was too real, and she felt as if her own mother had been taken away. (And at that moment, Felicia was at a yoga class, so if you stretched the truth a bit, then it did sort of feel like Squish's mama was gone.)
Squish had a similar response to Bao, the animated short that ran before The Incredibles 2 (except in that case her reaction was delayed by a few hours). This is a new thing to her: that movies can cause her to feel something beyond pleasure or excitement or joy. And it's what excites me most about sharing movies with her, because she's beginning to understand that story can have weight, that it can press down on the deepest, most vulnerable parts of you, no matter how well you think you've tucked them away.
That said, I think our next movie will be a giggler, just to keep things balanced. But I have plenty of those kinds of movies to share, too, and I love, love, love that Felicia and Squish want to share in those experiences with me. And I'll keep sharing, continuing to gradually build Squish's film vocabulary until I can bring her things that expect more and more of her, and she can meet them in a place where she's not only comfortable feeling all the things they'll evoke, but where she looks forward to movies that cause her to feel enormous things. Madeleine L'Engle, in A Wind in the Door, used the word 'deepen' when a character needed to turn a corner and begin to level up a bit; that seems appropriate here. We're all deepening, all the time.