Movies as community before UC Berkeley

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One thing they don’t tell you about community college — and they don’t tell you much about community college — is that it’s lonely in a very specific way. Commuting from your parents’ house, going to work and going to classes means you spend a lot of time alone, in the car, on the way to somewhere. You know (or you hope) that your situation is transient. You’re leaving soon — like you were supposed to be on a plane but it’s been delayed, and despite asking, you don’t know when you’ll be able to come home — that is, go to the place that you’re supposed to be going to that you’ve never been to. Other students, teachers, customers and strangers float past you, and opening up seems fruitless; in a few months, your job or your class will change, and there will be a dozen more people with a dozen more names that you’ll half-learn and half-forget. Time will keep passing.

As a transfer student, I felt unmoored for two years. Scrolling through my phone every minute of every day, I would live vicariously through my friends in college, seeing organizations they joined, new friends they were living with, new hobbies they picked up. And I just felt tired. Tired because I was spread too thin, driving in traffic for hours most days to race to class or to work or to study. Tired because any success in making new friends became strained once we didn’t have the same class anymore. Tired because there was always the fear that it wouldn’t work out, that all of this effort to be accepted would fail, that I would never leave this place.

I was a film major at the time. It was in my major where I first found a friend. In the dark classroom with the large screen at the front, I became paralyzed. I didn’t think about all the tasks I needed to do, all the hurdles I had to jump over. Instead, I was with all these other people, watching one film together. And when the movie surprised us, we gasped, and when the movie amused us, we laughed. And then it ended, and we left having shared something together.

I followed that feeling every chance I got. I’d look up movies I liked and watch similar ones. I saw which movies won awards and watched those. I saw as many Criterion Collection movies as I physically could.

It was less progressive than aggregative — I wrote checklists and wishlists and watched films by director, by actor, by country. As opposed to the mind-numbing bureaucracy, the pencil-pushing of the transfer process, with form after form needing to be filled and counselors needing to counsel, a movie could end. With a film, emotions come and rise and then the screen goes black. And the credits roll. And there’s life beyond. Movies created a structure I could work around. In my film classes, I was no longer pushed and pulled from one top-down administration to the next, but instead I was asked to watch a movie, to sit for a bit. Stay for an hour or two — you don’t have to go anywhere; you can just be here. It’s OK.

Two movies in particular stuck with me. One was “Frances Ha.” It was puzzling and awkward, and Greta Gerwig played her character so well. Her desire to be something, to be more than what people knew of her, to escape the troubles, to find pleasure in the little moments life gives you tore me to shreds. It was everything I was feeling at that time — lost and unable to be found, unrecognized and underperforming despite everything, exhausted and forced to keep going. The story of two best friends who slowly drifted away destroyed me, as I saw my own best friend thriving in brand-new circles, finding new, fun and more interesting people to be around and going to places I could only wish to go to.

The second is still one of my favorite films: “Tampopo,” a Japanese film all about food and people’s relation to food. It follows the story of a woman named Tampopo and her struggle to make incredible ramen to support herself and her son. The tale swerves and moves into other people’s lives and attitudes about food — a dying man plans his last meal, a mother dies but keeps cooking for her family, assistants order fancier food than bosses do. I found my other love represented — food, and the way it connects us with other people, a thing that each of us can share. “Tampopo” is my favorite movie, and I wouldn’t have been able to transfer without it. With films, I wasn’t alone. I just didn’t know who I was with. But I could just be. It was OK. It would all work out; I’d be home soon.

Charlie Kruse covers literature. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @beepbeepbooks.