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3 Movies Where Nothing Happens

3 Movies Where Nothing Happens

lady bird

Life moves so, so slowly. I spend an hour on the train to meet my friend in Bay Ridge, twenty-three minutes to get to the nearest Target. Traveling, cooking, responsibilities all of it takes up so much time and none of it is fun anymore.

I don’t ever learn my lesson, though. About the way we’re robbed of time. When I see my to-do list crammed full with ten responsibilities I’ve been ignoring, I convince myself I can conquer all of them in an hour.

“Ten things? That’s nothing. I’ve already done ten things this morning, what’s ten more?”

And, of course, the things I did that morning were wake up, brush my teeth, prep the espresso machine, spill the grounds, vacuum up the grounds, spray the corner the grounds are sticking to with an all-purpose cleaner, talk to my roommate about how far behind I am on my work tasks, talk to my roommate about going back to school next semester, talk to my roommate as they head out the door for work I am not employed full-time and make my bed it’s bridging afternoon, but at least I did it.

And the things on my to-do list include: call your loan advisor, get another job, finish the articles you’ve been slacking on God, you’re letting everyone down figure out how to pay for school next semester, publish a book, become a lawyer, cross your fingers you can make rent this month.

They’re real things. Real things take so much time, and I give them none.

Life moves at a grueling pace. Crossing off one thing is crossing off an entire day on your calendar.

My friends come up for the weekend and we spend half the time on the train.

These real things, so small on our to-do lists, are all-encompassing.

Just like the movies

I like movies that move like life. I like when the big thing that happens is not a big thing at all, but there’s so much heaviness and brooding and excitement that precedes it. That feels like life, where most of anything is the ‘before,’ rather than the thing itself.

We do and feel so much in preparation for all these things that we’ll one day summarize in a sentence.

“One time I rushed to the airport to stop a girl I liked from getting on. She was already gone, though. Came back in two weeks, anyway, so I guess it didn’t really matter if I went.”

“I used to have a thing with them when we were seventeen. It didn’t work out. Cool that they’re married now.”

“My favorite professor wrote me a recommendation letter that got me into my dream school. Nice guy.”

Movies where nothing happens

I love movies where nothing, or nothing much, happens. I like seeing life for what it is, sometimes. An indulgence in it, rather than an escape.

Lady Bird

My roommate introduced me to my first Greta Gerwig film our freshman year of college. Lady Bird has the same fight with her mom over and over again, just about different things, and we never see them truly break that pattern because people don’t grow that fast.

Lady Bird fights with her best friend, makes new friends, dates the wrong boys, has sex once, makes up with her best friend, moves to New York for college.

There’s a lot there, but it feels like my morning routine — spilling coffee grounds and scrubbing corners. It feels like high school, where everything felt like a lot and it was a lot but I thought I should be living a lot bigger.

Adventures in the Sin Bin

I’m aware this is an odd fit between two A24 movies, but I found a link to a bootleg version on TikTok, and I watched it because Bo Burnham was in it.

Brian loans his vintage van out for his friends to have sex in — dubbing it the “Sin Bin” — while remaining a virgin. He has a crush on Suzie, who everyone insists is completely out of his league. His older brother Benny once lit the school bleachers on fire. Everyone lives their lives completely non-linear to Brian, doing all of the exciting things Brian orchestrates, but never seems to be a part of.

Watching everyone around you have things happen to them while nothing happens to you is suffocating.

Towards the end of the movie, Brian chases after Suzie to try to stop her from going to New York (not permanently, either, just for a couple of weeks). His van breaks down, complications, more complications, confessions, he misses her train.

Right before the credits roll, Benny suggests they drive down to see Suzie. We don’t get to see it, but we do get to see the parts of life that move slow, and that feels important.

There’s a lot of growth that happens in the chapters we deem to be filler.

Swiss Army Man

A corpse named Manny comes back to life to guide a man stranded on an island back home. There’s a kiss with no resolution, no explanation, never fully fleshed out. There’s so much love and a strange, humorous, sometimes awful understanding of the world shared between the two men.

I think romance, or what we perceive to be romance, doesn’t have to exist within certain bounds. The underlying romance of the film is simultaneously not concrete and not unreal. The men’s bond was unspoken in the way a lot of experiences and emotions remain unspoken. And that didn’t mean that it didn’t happen, or that it was unacknowledged, just that it simply was.

You forget about how people made you feel when there’s less to tell, no story to anchor your emotions.

But it was there. And you can feel it. This film helps you remember the people you loved without evidence.

The big nothing

I guess it’s not fair to say that nothing happened in any of these movies, but the emphasis was on all of the things that didn’t: missing trains and hating the world and not fully repairing your relationship with your mom. We get to watch often unrecorded feelings in our own lives play out on a screen. We get to remember all the times this big “nothing” happened to us.

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