Welcome to Happiness – A film for me

There’s something magical about Welcome to Happiness, and I think by even writing this article I’m going to ruin some of that. You see, I watched Welcome to Happiness the way I never, ever watch movies. I watched it knowing absolutely nothing beforehand.

I google films while watching films, and say that things are Lynchian, and introduce films to my friends by the directors name first. I’m one of those sorts of people. I love film, I think most people like me do. I think they’re incredible and transforming and powerful. But I often times only think films are like that. I rarely actually feel the magic. It’s the sad side effect of wanting to know how the magic trick was done. Once the mystery has been revealed, there’s nothing to be amazed by anymore. I’ve tried to combat this by avoiding trailers, by never reading reviews until I’ve seen the film in question. Yet I still see the scores they’ve been given, the directors at the helm, the stars and cast and crew. I know the people behind the magic trick, I know all the pieces, and I’m only really watching the movie to see if those pieces fit together. I managed to watch Welcome to Happiness with none of that baggage, though, and it ended up being one of the most pure experiences I’ve had with a movie for a very long time.

So, if you want to experience this movie the way I did, turn back now. Here lies the point of no return. Still here? Huh. Well I guess I actually have to talk about what happens now.

The film begins with a scene so well played in its strange otherness that I couldn’t even bring myself to go and get my glasses. I was so intrigued that I just slumped to the floor, legs stretched out in front of me, inches away from the screen. There is a woman, and she’s nervous, confused, the perfect conduit for the audience, and there’s a man, calm and in control, almost hypnotic in his mannerisms. These two don’t know each other, and already something strange can be felt in the room. The man then starts to ask questions. Seemingly random questions, things that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with anything. Until finally, after a strange moment with a colourful rock, the man leads the woman to a small yellow door in his cupboard.

I love this sort of thing. Magical realism, when done as well as this, is so exciting to me because it lays out a promise of adventure. My favourite moment in the chronicles of Narnia is when Lucy first steps through the wardrobe. It’s the apprehension, the confusion, the wonder that feels so much more incredible once contrasted with the every day. The opening to Welcome to Happiness builds towards the reveal of the little yellow door so perfectly, slowly layering odd moments that don’t quite make sense over each other until you’re left dazed and unsure. Everything we see could be easily explained as a simple sleight of hand, as a magic trick, and yet…

At this point in the film, we have no idea what the machine behind the magic is. We don’t know where the little door leads, if it even exists at all. We don’t have a clue what direction the films heading in, and the possibilities are endless.

By the time the credits roll, we have gotten most of the answers. The journey isn’t as vague as it could have been, there are concrete reasons for why many things in the film are the way they are. Which was absolutely not what I was expecting. I thought it would be ethereal and complex, the sort of story you have to think about for weeks before you fully understand it.  But then, I shouldn’t have been expecting anything in the first place.

Welcome to Happiness was of course a film about happiness, and it had a message, one delivered rather plainly and clearly. The message was a simple one, and wasn’t anything new. Reading reviews I think this has lead people to believe the movie wasn’t deep enough. In fact, reading reviews I get the impression people didn’t like this movie very much at all. But I watched this film completely open, and when it turned out to be something much more clear than it could have been, I wasn’t disappointed. I reacted to what was on screen, and I think what was on screen, untainted by any outside influence, was strange, and funny, and beautiful. The magic trick stayed firmly in place until the credits rolled. I didn’t know what was going to happen, who was going to pop up, and I didn’t have any guesses about those things either. I just watched the film, pure and simple. I was open to it, and I was listening.

The message of the film is obvious. But that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it can be helpful to be reminded of something, told something even though you already knew it, because chances are when you need that lesson it’ll be tucked deep away in your mind somewhere, inaccessible. People don’t like this film, and I appreciate why. But to me, it was magic. It was fresh, uninfluenced magic, brand new and important to my world right now. I heard the message, because I wasn’t judging the movie, I wasn’t thinking about whether it was good or bad or if Michael Moviedude was right about the weak performances. I experienced it like I wish I could experience all movies; I experienced it with the magic unbroken, and the wonder very much intact.

It’s when the main character in Welcome to Happiness finally understands what goes on behind that little yellow door that everything goes wrong for him. Up until that point things are mostly okay, really, and it’s the knowledge of what’s really going on that ruins it. It’s hard not to want to know how something as special as cinema gets made, but I think sometimes, every now and then, it’s a good idea to keep the door locked. For the first viewing, at least. The older I get the more I miss feeling magical, but I think Welcome to Happiness has taught me that it’s my fault the magic has gone. I think it’s about time to try and rekindle some of it.

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