What the top 10 movies of 2010 say about us

By David Crandall
sympathetic resonance

Like two bells ringing, we resonate when movies reflect our deepest self. (source: ccarlstead)

Sympathetic resonance

Sympathetic resonance is a phenomenon where one object responds to the vibrations of another of harmonic likeness. This phenomenon can be witnessed by using two bells of the same pitch and striking one; the second bell will vibrate in response to the first. Note that this phenomenon only occurs if the bells are harmonically alike.

I believe we experience a similar phenomenon with the world around us.

When we encounter something that resembles the deep parts of us, we are moved by it…we resonate with it. This resonance indicates something that we should take note of to learn more about ourselves.

We can learn more about ourselves and our society not by what is verbally said, but by what we resonate with.

Never-Never Land. Darth Vadar. The Fellowship of the Ring. Professor X. All of these iconic items resonate with us in different ways and each says something about us that is deeper than we realize.

Consider what we resonated with last year.

The top 10 grossing movies of 2010

For your consideration, here are the top 10 grossing movies in the US last year:

  1. Toy Story 3
  2. Alice in Wonderland
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
  5. Inception
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
  7. Despicable Me
  8. Shrek Forever After
  9. How to Train Your Dragon
  10. Tangled

We as a people paid to see these movies the most; don’t miss the implications of this. The fact that we resonated with the elements in these stories the most says a lot about us.

What these movies have in common…with us

We can learn a lot about ourselves by evaluating the common elements of these (and other) movies. Consider each of the following commonalities and how we resonate with each.

An adventure

Woody and the gang want to escape from the creepy bear at the daycare. Alice is trying to figure out why she’s in Wonderland and how to leave. Multiple layers into a dream, Cobb and his sidekicks are wrapped up in an adventure that exists on multiple levels. Shrek exchanges his domestic life for one where Fiona is a barbarian…and then has to figure out how to set things right. And sweet Rapunzel wants to see the lights she has witnessed from afar on her birthday every year since she was born causing her to venture into a forbidden world.

None of these movies took place in a living room or in front of a television. We don’t chronicle the life of someone sitting at their desk waiting desperately for the clock to strike 5:00. Even the exciting worlds of SEO and online marketing are missing from this lineup (gasp!)

Instead, every one of these movies is wrapped up in an adventure that those of us watching are moved by.

We resonate with these movies because we desperately want to live an adventure too. We want to be part of something greater than we currently are.

We were made for something more than that which we settle for.

A hero

Edward does more than just glitter in the sunlight: he is Bella’s rescuer, her hero! Harry is the only one it seems who has the ability to destroy the Horcruxes. And Tony Stark is not just A hero; in the world of Iron Man he is THE hero!

But don’t think heroes are limited to the action movies that made it in the top 10. Girls, your “chick flicks” are nothing without the presence of the hero (which is all too often just short of a knight in shining armor). To use a classic example from the Hall of Chick Flick Fame, Pretty Woman was just a hooker until her knight on a white horse (i.e. Lotus Esprit) rode in and they rescued each other.

We resonate with the presence of the hero because of a deep rooted desire for one to exist. We either want to be rescued ourselves, to be the one doing the rescuing, or a combination of both. It’s why we respond to crises like Katrina, Haiti, the tsunami, and the Gulf Coast oil spill. Someone needed to do some rescuing and we wanted to participate in whatever form we could.

In our attempt to make sense of the world around us, we need a hero to exist.

A villain

From the animated movies we had Lotso (that creepy bear I mentioned), Rumpelstiltskin, and Mother Gothel (who I thought was especially cruel to Rapunzel). Harry has Voldemort, Alice had the Queen of Hearts, and Robert Fischer’s own mind sought to destroy those in his dream.

Let’s not forget about classics either. Darth Vadar is one of the best all time villains. Magneto had his twisted concept of morality. Failure to destroy the One Ring would mean that Sauron would become whole again and destroy Middle Earth. And Bowser continues to steal Princess Toadstool. To pay homage to Pretty Woman once again, Philip Stuckey was a slime ball that we couldn’t wait to see get punched in the end.

A good story requires a villain if we are to truly resonate with it. While not always a person who embodies villainy, our enemy is often more sinister. Death, sickness, poverty, cruelty, pain, loss, loneliness. In the world we live in, these villains are the ones we most often come face to face with.

We notice the absence of a villain in stories because we are all too aware of the presence of one in ours.

We have lost our story

We are part of a larger story proceeded by many chapters. There are heroes and villains and an adventure waiting to be had. But most of us have lost our story. Most of us have lost the adventure we were meant for.

Instead of main characters, many of us have settled for the filler role of “guy at desk” or “girl in coffee shop”. We’ve let the villains steal our story and our adventure and have become the real life equivalent of a video game’s non-player character.

Yet the fact that we resonate with stories about heroes, adventure, and of overcoming villains says something about us.

We know we are not what we are meant to be.

  • Heroes, villains, adventures…this is everything that we are and will ever be.

    Though we may age in years and “lose our story” (very common indeed!), the essence of these characters and plot-lines remain alive within us…deep down, somewhere.

    Life is nothing if it is not an adventure. And we’d do damn well to remember that and keep our eye on the prize – namely a destiny, a *legacy* of greatness that’s worthy of remembrance.

    Now I’ll go a bit Rogue (X-Men people, come on!) and suggest that we’re forgetting a very important, nigh vital component in this chemistry of re-discovering ourselves…

    …the anti-hero!

    I submit that hero-status is a notable yet often unattainable expectation. Yes, some folks that walk this planet are seemingly “too good to be truth” with their generosity, activism, integrity, and the like.

    But who among us are not without flaws – a few cracks and dents in our armor.

    That’s the anti-hero…an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. She sees the gritty truths of life and vows to do something about it, even in unconventional and *traditionally* unaccepted ways. And she acknowledges her shortcomings, but doesn’t let them stand in her way of making a difference.

    Batman, Captain Jack Sparrow, Neo, and Cobb (from this list) are among my favorite illustrations of anti-heroes.

    Anti-heroes (like their hero and villain counterparts) share the quality of heroism – just in a different state along the spectrum. All of these three archetypes embody heroism. Some forms of heroism are just darker, more sinister than others.

    Anti-heroes are the linchpins that straddle the line between light and dark. They’re mortal (e.g. Batman) not immortal (e.g. Superman).

    David is 1,000% right! We need to stop aiming for the stand-in parts in our own stories. We need to boldly take on the lead role – with confidence, initiative, and purpose. Just be careful not to overreach in your ideals….

    …for a Heroic Destiny (a vision of your future self) is to be encouraged indeed, but not at the expense of losing yourself yet again, this time to trying to become a perfect alien being sent to planet Earth to be it’s savior.

    The world doesn’t need Superman, it needs Batman 🙂

    • You’ll be happy to know that I never hear/see the word “Rogue” without immediately thinking of X-men. Ha!

      What others may not realize is that the two of us have discussed that my concept of “hero” and your concept of “anti-hero” are very closely linked through intentionality. The classic hero archetype is someone I would say is not necessarily unattainably perfect, but rather larger than life in certain areas (Superman’s perfection fails miserably in the presence of Kryptonite) and who intentionally battles the forces of evil. The more modern antihero differs in that they are an everyman (ordinary person) but still intentional about their battle (Batman could have chosen to NOT fight back). (The ordinary person who is merely thrust into extraordinary circumstances is commonly referred to as the “unlikely hero” and lacks the intentionality of the hero or antihero; theirs is most often merely a battle to survive.)

      To be clear, I would still classify the antihero under the larger category of hero.

      It is easy to see from your comment (and from our conversations) that both of us easily agree that the linchpin characteristic is intentionality. CHOOSING to find your story and pursue that which we are meant for is the adventure worth living.

      Concerning Batman and Superman, you’ve actually given me a few ideas for the next post. Gonna stop my commenting now and go write. 🙂

    • Well said…we’re definitely a dynamic duo 🙂

      The “intentionality” point is key; thanks for filling in that gap of my above comment.

      Here’s the hero hierarchy, at least in my mind…

      Heroism (the “ideal”) > true (intentional) heroes, unlikely heroes > superheroes, anti-heroes

      To me (the superhero and anti-hero) branch off of the “true (intentional) hero). I’m still pondering what (if anything) branches off of the “unlikely hero”. It’s possible, I think (but need to research more), that there can be deviations of superheroes and anti-heroes that branch off of unlikely heroes.

      And for what it’s worth … I pit villains at the same hierarchical level as superheroes and anti-heroes…even under “heroism” generally because you know that the followers/believers of the villain hold their leader (the villain) as a hero (who posses heroic [although twisted] ideals).

      This is a fascinating subject to explore because, to me, it underpins all that we have to offer this world. Rhetorically, why do you think the “good vs evil” saga has been so pervasive throughout human history? Why do you think these archetypes still exist today?

      I’ll stop there too. And what it Crandall, I’ve had an article in the works for a while now on the Superman vs Batman subject. You’d better not be reading my mind 🙂 LOL

    • Love this. Going to go map out some character hierarchies right now. Ha!!

      And I’ll be contacting you about the Superman vs Batman idea. MWA HA HA HA

  • I haven’t watched a single one of those. Except for “Inception” I have absolutely no desire to see any of them. 🙂

    • I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by a number of these movies. Alice in Wonderland was muuuuuch better than I thought it would be. And if you have kids, Tangled was awesome; was very pleased with how the climactic moment played out.

      But…I’m a movie freak. LOL

    • How to Train Your Dragon was PHENOMENAL 🙂 Everyone (especially “adults”) should see it!

      Inception was, of course, brilliant!


    • Glad to know this. It’s one of only two I haven’t seen; Despicable Me was the other one (yes I saw the Twilight movie…and yes I liked it. LEAVE ME ALONE!!!)

      And yes, Inception was awesome! (So, do you think he was still in a dream at the end?)

    • Nah, he wasn’t dreaming 🙂

    • But the kids never aged.

    • But the top was wobbling and about to fall – it had never wobbled like that before.

      So, you’re saying the top was a red herring?

    • No, it wasn’t a fish; it was for sure a top. 😉

      Actually, I’ve wondered if it was. There was only an explanation of what the top was for, but it was never used for anything except the story with his wife and the last scene. As far as we know, if he WAS in the dream, it’s possible that the top was pointless and something he made up.

      However, I doubt that. Actually, I wonder if the top stumbled because he believed he WAS in the real world…but then righted itself because his attention turned to the non-aging children. That caused the top to spin indefinitely.

      I’d love to see what happens 5 minutes from that point. Does he walk back into the kitchen and see the top spinning and say “WTF!!!” Haha

  • P.S. How can I RSS subscribe to your blog?

    • Glad you asked this question, realized I left out the whole “Connect” section in the sidebar with my recent redesign. Ugh! 🙂

      Here is the link to the RSS feed: RSS Feed

    • Cool. Subscribed. 🙂

    • Arms raised, “SCORE!”


  • Joel Bertles

    Wonderful post! It definitely resonated with me (if I may steal your analogy :D). I was just having this same discussion with a group of my friends; we were thinking through what this whole story-of-life is all about. Am I the main character of my own story? What would mission-accomplished or true success look like in my story? What kind of character do I want to be (Batman? Superman?)? What rules do I choose to follow?

    I really appreciate the “life as a story” analogy you laid out because it helps me to take a big picture look at my life, and it helps me think through who I want to be. I am definitely longing to be a part of a great story/ something bigger than myself. Thanks for getting me thinking and reflecting.

    • There were a few specific people I thought of when writing this post. Matt Gartland (who already commented) and you; I was curious to y’alls responses. I figured this would resonate with you based on our conversations.

      You bring up some great questions. I might just use them as inspiration for a few future posts. 😉

      I will say that if I’ve caused someone to intentionally think through who they want to be, I have accomplished something I consider significant. We share the desire to be part of a greater story, one that is larger than ourselves.

      Personally, I’d be Superman…he can fly.

  • You know this make me think of those movies where like, grandpa and grandchild are sitting somewhere and grandpa starts telling his grandson about his stories.

    My question to you is do you want to be the grandpa who doesn’t have anything to tell your grandkids or the one who does?

    I’m afraid of that day coming and my grandson hearing my boring stories like, “son, you better go to college and get a good job…and save for retir…”

    Naaaa, I wanna be like, “where do I start son?”…

    What you’re thinking already of being a grandpa? Wilson! you’re 25. Yup I know.

    Love the post David, We have lost our story, but it’s not to late to start a new one. My response is: Okay, you lost your story, what are you doing to rebuild a new one?

    • And you, my friend, have zeroed in on my ultimate message that it is NOT too late to start your story!!! Sometimes the hero requires a wake-up call to their destiny; sometimes (as Matt Gartland might say), the antihero requires a reason to wake up to their destiny.

      I saw we move towards our destiny. 🙂

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  • I find it interesting that 6 of the 10 are pure animation, and the other 4 include such a high level of fantasy as to make those “realities” unreachable by real people.

    I don’t want to discount buzz and just plain buying eyeballs (Reviewer xyz says “THA BEST MOVEE EV-AR!”), but you are right that this could be a hint toward what many people are seeking as an escape, as a wish for their lives, or in some cases just a fanciful distraction.

    • I think the unrealistic “realities” and the animation are good points to bring up. I’d view them as some sort of ideal situation in people’s minds, but we know how realistic ideal is. Ha! Even the fact that the ideal attracts that many people is interesting to me.

      I did consider the buzz worthi-ness of some of these entries too. I looked further down the list and started seeing movies that I would venture to guess appeared on that list for just that reason. Not really movies many people saw, but that critics “acclaimed”. (I’d say Black Swan is an example of a movie that critics are saying is good…but that the mass populous could care less about.) I did base the list on actual box office revenue though so I’m hoping that it DOES indeed reflect the tastes of the masses.

      Either way, I agree that it is most likely a hint that people are looking for an escape, whether for their lives as a whole or just for a two hour time span. 🙂

  • Read an article in the Indiana U Daily Student while eating supper in town. A law student (under-employed) has had some success with his blog site. Here’s the link:

    • Sweet! Thank you, will definitely look at that.

      By the way, your wife is clothing the dogs in sweatshirts. Thought you should know. 🙂

      Note: Everyone, Allen is my father-in-law…that’s how I know what his wife is doing. 🙂

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