5 Films that Changed My Life

To me, the power of art in shaping identity is one of the most beautiful things about it, especially when it comes to young people. Growing up, there are certain books or movies or TV shows that leave a permanent impression upon you, whether or not you know it at the time.

As you grow up, you start to see semblances of that artistic influence within yourself. I have many examples of this throughout my life, because even as a child, I was always searching for something to relate to or connect with in order to try and decipher emotions I couldn't even begin to comprehend at the time. I’ve written another piece dissecting the books that shaped my adolescence, but now, I’m delving into the movies that changed my life and sent my teenage self on an emotional rollercoaster. 

Vintage-looking regal movie theater Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

  1. 1. Almost Famous

    Almost Famous is without a doubt one of my favorite movies of all time, and I will never forget the feeling of watching this movie for the first time. It was an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and melancholy, but also a feverish desire to explore and live authentically and fearlessly. I related to this film in a deeply personal way. I saw myself in the teenage protagonist, William, for his innocence and desire for change and adventure, which was so similar to mine at the time, but I never knew how to express that longing. Kate Hudson’s character of Penny Lane became the character I always aspired to be like, and her free spirit and fearlessness represented who I wanted to be when I grew up. In the film, William’s older sister leaves him all of her vinyl records and the parting advice of, “Listen to Tommy with a candle burning, and you'll see your entire future.” After the movie finished and the credits rolled, I remember doing that very thing, my fifteen-year-old self sitting on the floor of my bedroom, listening to my dad’s vinyls from his teenage years and, for the first time as an angsty teenager, I felt understood. To this day, I still get chills every time I watch this movie for there is something about it that feels just as magical as the first time I watched it. 

  2. 2. Good Will Hunting

    Despite how vastly different my life is from the life of the film’s protagonist Will Hunting, there was a part of me that felt connected to him and his internal struggle of identity and purpose throughout the film. I fell in love with the character of Will Hunting, not only because he was played by young Matt Damon, but because he encapsulated the struggle of youth—one of cynicism and self-doubt while trying to cope with the newfound cruelties of the world and trying to carve out an identity for yourself from the box you are placed in from birth. Although an important part of the story is the issue of class, in many ways Good Will Hunting transcends that and becomes a story of not only a search for identity but escapism from the life that is expected of you into one of your own creation, which is something all people can connect with. 

  3. 3. American Beauty

    A story of facade— the facade of suburbia, youth, family, and ultimately the “American Dream,” American Beauty captured both my deepest fears and an element of my reality in a way I never before knew how to express. Growing up in a relatively small town in the south, everything felt like perpetual suburbia. There was always a part of me that felt trapped, like I didn’t belong, but I could never put my finger on what exactly it was. Watching American Beauty for the first time and seeing the homogeny and veil of contentment play out on screen encapsulated the suburban dilemma and helped me realize the life I feared having: an ordinary one. The film also led me to understand that the resentment I harbored towards suburbia wasn’t about my town itself but towards the falsehood that is the American Dream. Not only did American Beauty cause me to reflect upon myself and my own values, but it completely altered the way I view the world and the life I want to create for myself. 

  4. 4. Lady Bird

    A quintessential coming-of-age film, Lady Bird is one of the most realistic depictions of high school and teenage life that I’ve seen. It somehow manages to be a story about nothing but also everything: strained parent relationships, first love and heartbreak, and the eternal question of what you want to do with your life. There are moments in Lady Bird that were so close to my own reality that it almost felt like Greta Gerwig, the writer and director, was taking a page from my own life and that is the beauty of the film— it is a comical, raw, and sometimes painful reflection of yourself. 

  5. 5. La La Land

    As a perpetual hopeless romantic, La La Land really hit home for me. It’s a beautiful love story set to an incredible score and watching it feels like falling in love— romantic, powerful, joyful, and tragic. Seeing it in theaters, I cried throughout the entire movie and still do every time I rewatch it because it depicted the kind of love I always dreamed of growing up. In a lot of ways, it shattered the image I had in my head of what love is, and that terrified me. I now understand the greater purpose of the film and the way that people come and go from our lives, leaving behind a lesson or a piece of themselves within us and for that reason, La La Land has a piece of me: a piece of my younger, more naive self frozen in time. 

Empty movie seats Photo by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash

The human ability to create art that is vulnerable and reflective of the human experience is a powerful thing in many respects. It not only serves as an outlet for self-expression and escapism, but it further proves the interconnectedness of humanity through the sharing of certain common experiences and emotions, regardless of background. 


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