What I really needed during the holiday seasons when my husband was deployed was a therapist who believed in movie therapy. I didn’t wanna talk about my feelings. I knew all about my feelings. I didn’t wanna explore my inner motivations. I was motivated to get through the deployment, dammit.
I wanted someone to prescribe something that would make me feel better right that second. Like a movie.
This is actually a thing. Movie therapy (also called reel therapy or cinema therapy) is a developing supplemental therapy like art therapy or dance therapy.
As part of the therapeutic practice, the therapist has the client watch movies that mirror their current situation or problem in order to consciously and reflectively pay attention to their lives.
Websites like Cinema Therapy.com list movies to explore themes like love, commitment, aging, abandonment and personal achievement. But these sites don’t list movies to get you through the holidays—especially during deployment.
We have to make our own lists for that.
The president of our company told me that I should suggest Animal House—or other movies guys are likely to watch on deployment to distract themselves.
Which also is a thing. But here are the movies I have played over and over again during deployed holidays that make me feel a lot better. (WARNING: I am a hopeless romantic.)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993). I always forget this is a Christmas movie. Sam (Tom Hanks) gets pushed into talking to the radio show host on Christmas Eve. The host asks what was so special about his wife. Hanks says, “Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together... and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home... only to no home I'd ever known... I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like... magic.” I wonder if that line makes everyone think of that moment when you just knew that the two of you would be married—should, in fact, be married. That’s a good feeling to revisit when you are far apart.
Yours, Mine and Ours (1968). Forget about the stupid remake with Dennis Quaid leaving the Coast Guard to help his wife with their unruly children. Instead, go for the classic based on the real-life story of a Navy chief petty officer widower with 10 children who marries a Navy widow with 8 children. Frank (Henry Fonda) wants to go back to sea on a special assignment, but turns it down, telling his boss he can’t leave his wife with the 18 kids. Helen (Lucille Ball) tells him to go even though he doesn’t she is pregnant. Later the older son asks her why she let the dad ship out. Helen replies, “He wanted so much to go. Two people can't live with an ocean between them for the rest of their lives.” Every time she says it, I know just how she feels. Which is probably why I am alone at Christmas.
An Affair to Remember (1957). This sentimental romance (in which the climax is set on Christmas Eve) is famous for the couple resolving to meet in six months on the top of the Empire State Building. In one scene Deborah Kerr leans against the ship's rail and says, “Winter must be so cold for those with no warm memories.” In that line seems to me all the urgency for making a lot of warm memories while there is still time. Does it spark you to think of the warm memories you have made with your service member? Or does it just spark the idea that you could see Cary Grant in a tux more often?
White Christmas (1954). Irving Berlin wrote the lyrics to White Christmas in 1942. GI’s stationed in the pacific made it a hit. In the movie, it is staged as an Army unit thinking of home on Christmas Eve as they prepare to move up to the front lines. Watching it I was always aware that my husband (and everyone else deployed during the holidays) would have loved to be home just like me at that very moment-- no matter what. And there is the added value of seeing Rosemary Clooney in that black velvet gown by Edith Head and thinking to yourself about where you could get a dress like that to wear to the next ball???
Little Women (1994). “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” sighs Jo in the opening scene of the classic story of four sisters during the Civil War. Although there are no less than eight versions of the Louisa May Alcott classic listed on IMDB, my favorite is the 1994 version with Susan Sarandon as Marmee and Wynona Ryder as Jo. I’m always struck by the way this family clings together while their father is at war. I find myself trying to channel Marmee (the most perfect mother ever) when I most feel like Aunt March in all her wrinkled grumpiness.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Sorry, I know this one is cliché, but really nothing makes me feel any better than watching the story of George Bailey. Not only does it make you consider what the world would be like without you (I just know my husband would have been a spectacles-wearin’ librarian), but it is the story of all those who “wept and prayed” while waiting for loved ones at war. George is so unequivocally proud of his brother Harry. The last time I watched I couldn’t help but note how Harry comes home after four years of war and is required to be his best self among a huge group of people during an event he probably doesn’t understand. Somehow he manages to say the right thing.
Family Movies (2013). Research shows that simply seeing pictures of the faces of the people you love lifts your mood. So cue up some family movies on your computer. Put together a slide show of the past year for viewing on New Year’s Eve. Or assemble a slide show of all the best pictures of you and your beloved for them to see online.
Man Options: The guys at work all dogged my movie choices. They voted for the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol. Diehard (1988) which takes place in all its barefoot glory at a Christmas party. Lethal Weapon (1987) in which the drug bust takes place on a Christmas tree farm. Love Actually (2003) which makes you glad you aren’t single. And Bridge Over The River Kwai (1957) which has nothing to do with Christmas but makes you feel like building something.
If you were looking for a movie to make you feel better during a deployment holiday, what would it be? Because Christmas won’t be Christmas without a good movie or two.
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