Searching for Action Heroes

“I like to go to this small theatre,” he said, “where they show all these foreign art films. I don’t think my girlfriend enjoys it that much, though.”

In hindsight, I was probably expected to gush about my own love for confusing art films shot only in natural light with no clear resolutions. But when your automatic reaction to a challenge are the words, “well, yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” loneliness is expressed by “talk to me, Goose,” and ultimate affection by the phrase “you make every day feel like kindergarten,” you’ve relinquished any right to take yourself seriously.

I laughed awkwardly instead, hoping to gloss over my sudden discomfort that there’s very little I love more than a good action movie. To do so usually involves owning up to the scarlet letter of being less than intelligent, which I’ve more than come to terms with. To do so as a woman, however, seems to open the door to questions about a broken moral compass and mental instability. The presumption being that women are somehow expected to skirt away from violence, and to prefer romantic comedies, indie films that require thought, and/or tear-jerker dramas. Anything but bloodshed, gunfire, and revenge.  

To make matters worse, no one is impressed when you’re impressed by violence. For all the obligatory honesty and lack of self-consciousness in admitting that you’ve seen all – yes, all – the Transporter series, and that you communicate with your best friend in quotes from across the entire Fast and Furious series, such admissions are, more often than not, met with derision and suspicion. At best, some suspect it’s a move to gain points with the guys, as if scripted quotes could magically get someone to go home with me (I wish). At worst, I’m a closet psychopath preparing to go Postal (and though I’d almost prefer it, not in the way that involves a mini fridge full of blood bags).

 “But, why action movies?” Most people say.

When pressed to make any definitive statement on the matter, I am often reduced – like a Playboy aficionado – to offering, “but the story was really good in that one.” Action movies are really dramas wrapped in rampage, I like to claim, as if their appeal isn’t largely confined to their innate brutality. I’ll concede that there is no denying the catharsis of hand-to-hand combat, car chases, gunfights and improbable escapes from equally unrealistic situations…but really, I’m captivated by the inner conflict of the protagonist. Really.

It’s not complete bullshit. Aside from the thrill of violence, any action movie plot involves turmoil of the nonviolent kind, which usually requires a brief suspension of belief and reality. And it is this plunge into the fantastic that I love as much as the explosions and kung fu contortions. As the lights dim in theatres, action movie addicts take a leap of faith that there is a world where good will eventually overcome, the hero gets the girl or guy, and revenge – sweet, cold, justifiable revenge – can be ours. Like watching Lance win all those Tours “clean,” it’s the shared experience of optimism on EPO that keeps me coming back for more.

That’s probably why, when anxiety attacks hit after passing scenes that remind me too much of New York, Paris, happier times, when sad or frustrating thoughts start creeping in, I’ve found that a good action movie works better than medication. When the typical remedies – pharmaceuticals, pictures of Heinrich Haussler – can’t stem the flow of tears and snot, I turn to Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone. I suppose it’s a good thing you can’t drug out heartbreak yet; I still have a lot of movies to catch up on.

The other day, searching for something I haven’t seen before, something with reasonable acting but lots and lots of action, I felt momentary guilt being so comfortable with being so mindless. A scene tugged at the corner of my guilt, then, and I finally had the perfect response to that statement made months ago about art films.

"" I should have hissed. Not that he would have gotten it.