Movie Night, Sharing the Familiar [Secret Life of an Expat]

Last night I forced M to watch Stand by Me. I say forced because, it was already 10 pm, and we’d just watched Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End, full of squid-faced special effects and swashbucklery. But after that I wanted something, I don’t know, familiar? If I had been in the states, I would have been happy to turn on the TV and sit through a rerun of Law and Order, but in France, I went to my pile of DVDs from the library.

Knowing nothing about the film but what he read on the DVD jacket (1959, four boys go on a camping trip to find a dead body in the woods), M wrinkled his nose and said “Okay, but don’t be mad if I fall asleep.” I said we only had to watch half of it, I was just craving something familiar.

Stand by Me, directed by Rob Reiner, tells the tale of four, twelve year old, small town boys who walk 20 miles on train tracks to see the body of a dead boy in the woods. It came to theaters when I was twelve years old myself. It was especially popular among twelve year old girls for its casting: Will Wheaton as the thoughtful future writer boy, River Phoenix as the misunderstood hoodlum with a heart of gold, Corey Feldman as the war obsessed son of a crazy WWII vet and Jerry O’Connell as the wimpy, fat kid who knows the location of the dead body. A young, hot, Keifer Sutherland is their nemesis, and Richard Dreyfuss’s gravelly voice narrates the thing.

The issues these boys were struggling with were far beyond anything I would ever know, but I still cried with them, and there is enough suspense in the film to keep you on your toes. At the time, just knowing that I would see a dead body on the screen was enough to keep me nervous. I never owned the film, so I didn’t have the chance to memorize it like with another Rob Reiner favorite, The Princess Bride (“Inconceivable!”), but I’m pretty sure Stand by Me taught me how to swear, and I was surprised how well I remembered the beats … the blueberry pie barforama story, “Sic balls Chopper!” or the worst one of all – “LEECHES!”

My French husband did not fall asleep. He laughed at all the jokes, sang along with the soundtrack of 1950s music, and seemed genuinely charmed by the film. But I didn’t tell him “I told you so, I told you it was an awesome movie,” because, while I rented it to share with him because it is an awesome movie, I hadn’t expected to be so engrossed myself.

It used to bother me that M and I don’t share a cultural history. We have some films in common, we know some of the same bands, but not every detail of a country’s cultural experience jumps the pond.

One day last year, tired of not getting the joke at work, I asked my colleagues to help me compile a list of the French films they were always laughing about. They weren’t necessarily the good films, they kept telling me, but they had left their mark on the cultural psyche (for example, Les Bronzés, Les Sous-Doués, Le Père Noël est Une Ordure). I was a bit daunted as how much I had to learn to better understand my peers, and I still have a long way to go on that list.

Now, after last night, I’m glad our cultural history isn’t the same. M and I can share with each other our feel good familiar films, and create our own little cultural experience together. In fact, I’d like to start a tradition. One film a week, we alternate who picks, and share the tale of when and why the film was important to us. If we run out of films we can move on to music and books. It could take a lifetime. If all my sharing experiences are to be as successful and heart warming as with Stand by Me, I can’t wait for the future.

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