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Kristin Armstrong Finds Beauty in Second Chances

The columnist discusses the movies that speak to us and shares the lesson she learned from her favorite film, “Shawshank Redemption”

Illustration of tv on beach

Movies are the modern-day parable, teaching us valuable lessons in a full spectrum experience featuring sight, sound, thought, emotion and physical response. Is it any wonder that we completely escaped into binging movies and Netflix during COVID? We wanted to be transported — anywhere else. We wanted a temporary escape, a respite, some new vision.

Think about some of your favorite scenes from films you consider especially meaningful to you. I would bet that there are important reasons why certain scenes captivate you, inspire you, make you cry or make you want to stand up and cheer. There are reasons why you can watch certain movies or certain scenes many times over and not tire of them. They speak to you on a level beyond just words.

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Movies can tap into a primal essence of how we want to feel, or what we deeply desire in life. We relate to certain characters for certain reasons, either finding alignment and solidarity with them, or a connection to our shadow or abandoned selves, or even a connection to a higher calling or an inspiration to rise. Movies can whisper rather effectively to the parts of us that are restless, lonely or dissatisfied and call us beyond ourselves. I like asking my clients and my friends to tell me about their favorite cinematic moments. It gives a unique insight into the innerworkings of someone beloved.

I have a client who likes “Seinfeld” more than anything, and can recite lines with effortless ease. The fact that I know the significance of “sponge-worthy” or what it means to “treat your body like an amusement park” or “do the opposite” probably went a long way toward building trust and rapport. Clients who love superhero movies usually have a fascination with exceeding perceived limitations, becoming more than they ever imagined possible. They usually feel impeded in some way by their humanity. Clients who love “Caddyshack” can toss lines back and forth, deflecting us from deeper connection, which I gently call attention to, after I remind them that the pond is probably good for them. Clients who love “The Notebook,” or any romantic tearjerker, usually have pent-up emotion begging for release, a deep reverence and longing for romance or a desire to be chosen.

“Movies can tap into a primal essence of how we want to feel, or what we deeply desire in life.”

My brother has watched “The Big Lebowski” more times than I can fathom, and if any statement suits him, it’s “the dude abides.” He totally abides. A client once called me “Wolf ” (from “Pulp Fiction”) after I helped him navigate a crisis and avert potential disaster. This pleased me, and possibly concerned me just a bit. I have a dear friend who repeatedly watches “The Sound of Music” any time she needs comfort. She likes to turn away from the negativity, complexity and pain of the world and watch Julie Andrews twirl and sing about how a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

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If you could consider that your favorite films or scenes may have more to say about you than merely entertainment preference, what is revealed to you?

I wonder what it says about me that my favorite film after all these years is still “The Shawshank Redemption.” If I were to analyze myself, which is definitely dangerous work (I leave that to my therapist), I might venture to say that if I love a movie about prison, I likely value my freedom very much. Indeed, I do. I love and admire the dedicated, relentless pursuit of freedom. The tiny spoons of sand excavated from the wall behind the Raquel Welch poster in Andy’s cell represent to me a commitment to freedom that completely undoes me, personally and professionally. In my work, I metaphorically get to witness some amazing people as they slowly spoon dirt and make their way out of their own perceived cells. It is one of the most inspiring, humbling things in the world to be a small part of someone else’s emancipation from the past, from limiting beliefs, from anything holding them back — and watch them emerge, unencumbered and new.

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Finally, when Andy makes it out of the prison walls on that stormy night, he must crawl through a reeking sludge of sewer muck to make his way into the creek to find his cleansing, his redemption, his release. I sob every single time. This must resonate with the part of me who has slogged through some serious shit to find better times. I love the crack of lightning illuminating his liberation, and the rain washing him clean. I love a fresh start, putting freedom into play. I also love that the first thing he does is go find his favorite friend. After all, what is a new beginning if we don’t have a witness, someone to celebrate with?

When life grants you a second chance, what do you reach for? Who do you reach for? What do you release? What can you forgive? Where are you headed? Who do you become?

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