Who’s in the movie? How are the reviews? It’s what you ask before selecting a movie. We did that. 85% on Rotten Tomatoes…starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio…and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

It should have been great.

But I want my three hours back…

It’s not the first time that my taste has differed from that of the Hollywood critics. I didn’t think much of The Shape of Water, and that had 13 nominations and won four Oscars in 2018. While cinematically lovely, The Shape of Water struck me as an otherworldly version of Beauty and the Beast. Benign enough, but slow and tedious.

Then there’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest movie from director Quentin Tarantino and starring “Leo” and “Brad.” Incredible acting. Interesting direction and cinematography. I’m sure those in the know would commend the filmmakers for the set design, costumes and technical tricks that so effectively separated “real life” from the television and movie clips of DiCaprio’s struggling character’s career.

But here’s my problem: The movie was a nearly three-hour meander through anger and emotional pain that ends with no evolution and no resolution. And it wasn’t just one plot—several subplots crisscrossed in their own violent and miserable way. The characters didn’t grow…and the good guys did not win over the bad (not that good always triumphs over evil). In the end, several people were dead and everyone else was as miserable as he or she was at the start of the movie. DeCaprio’s aging character was still emotionally distraught about his flagging career. Brad Pitt was still the man who allegedly killed his wife, but that was never proved. And the drug-addicted, angry, soulless “Charles Manson cult members” were merely inexplicably evil.

What a sad commentary on humanity.

I go to the movies for three reasons—to feel good/be inspired…to escape from the stresses of everyday life…or to be mentally challenged or have my world view expanded. I’m not against movies that have violence or that are about “bad” things. But I am against gratuitous violence for the sake of violence. What was so deeply troublesome about this movie was that it exalted the misery in each of the subplots, but it provided no growth or solution for the characters. It was an extended experiment in cognitive dissonance as the misery barreled on, and I kept hoping for a path to resolution.

I must acknowledge that there was one moment of clarity in the midst of the film’s chaos. As the Manson team is preparing to enter a home and commit grisly murders, their courage seemed to flag after one of the four chickened out and ran off. I don’t remember the exact quote, but one of the remaining women went on a brief tirade blaming Hollywood for the emotional problems of young people—Hollywood makes television and films that are violent and celebrate killing, hence the Manson crew should “get back at Hollywood” for turning them into angry psychological messes by killing the people living in the Hollywood Hills home.

Aha!! That was something I wholeheartedly agree with—at last a moment of clarity.

I flipped through the news this past weekend to learn about an accused sex trafficker who has supposedly committed suicide…continued calls for stricter gun laws after the two latest mass shootings…a cache of fentanyl that was found at the border…and the latest number of deaths attributed to the opioid crisis.

I don’t know if life imitates art or art imitates life, but I do know that the same Hollywood stars who righteously stand on their soapboxes about gun violence, drug epidemics, disrespect for women and the demise of the family are the same ones starring in or producing television programs and movies that celebrate gun violence and explosives (pick any James Bond or Mission Impossible movie…and those are the tame ones)…the drug culture (how many people were “addicted” to the TV show Breaking Bad?)…gratuitous sexual encounters (we’ve all heard about 50 Shades of Grey, but what about something as “benign” as the TV show The Bachelorette or the movie Friends with Benefits) and the endless stream of shows about dysfunctional families with absent fathers and overwhelmed single mothers?

Wild was the hit book and movie of 2013/2014. My daughter had to read it for a summer assignment in high school and hated every word. Why? Because she had to suffer through endless pages of the main character’s drug and sexual escapades as she dealt with the emotional pain of the loss of her mother. Yes, eventually the lead character “found herself”…but not before she drugged and slept her way through a series of dangerous encounters.

Even sweet Rory from The Gilmore Girls, the smartest girl in the high school class and destined for greatness, ends the mini-series revival pregnant and unmarried. Rory is who every girl of the early 2000s wanted to be, and yet even she “accidentally” got pregnant and was planning on raising her child without a father.  

I am not suggesting that we all become Pollyannas and do away with the grit and reality of life’s challenges. But we don’t need to celebrate it, either.

How can we expect our young people to understand the very real pain and consequences of these acts when they are glorified at every turn? When death is a regular occurrence on TV and movie screens, is it any surprise that people are desensitized to it? Or that they view mass murders as a living video game, just as I view driving in Manhattan like a real-life video game?

Is it any surprise that young women don’t honor their bodies when they are flaunted and exploited on social media and television and in the movies?

Dear Hollywood, Please get out of your glass house, realize your hypocrisy and do something. You seem to have a grand desire to make a difference…so go do it. Explore the emotional challenges of aging in a society or industry that celebrates youth, but let the character actually develop in some way. Sure, that’s not always the case in real life. Drug addicts don’t always get better. But Hollywood is not reality, and it is your privilege to be able to craft and tell the story however you choose and to be able to help people see the options that exist.

Choose inspiration. Choose shining a light on pathways of progress. And yes…continue to provoke and explore the dark underside of life that sadly exists and needs to be talked about. Display it…yes. But you don’t need to celebrate it.

The End.