Theme of the Month: Self-Deception
Star of the Month: Alan Bates
The theme for September on Peterson Reviews is Self-Deception, the practice of convincing oneself that something unequivocally false is, in fact, true.
The notion, I think, is a fitting one for a month like September. Although it arrives toward the end of the calendar year, it is often nonetheless treated as a time of January-like renewal, thanks to a changing season and/or, for many, a new school year. I know I’m guilty of perpetuating this. When I consider the month ahead, I’m partial to looking at it as if I were cracking open a new volume in the series that is my life, even though it is, centrally, more a new chapter, or transitional sentence, in an existential tome. An innocent form of self-deception, certainly.
The practice can be more interesting when it comes to cinema. Because it is expected that films, and the characters residing in them, essentially work as melodramatic reflections of the everyday and its various victories and disappointments, exaggerated forms of self-deception are regularly seen.
I think of the trope of the unfaithful wife who has convinced herself that persuading her short-term lover to kill her husband for the insurance money will improve her life. Characters in apocalypse-set features who, after months, or years, of hopelessness, have coaxed themselves into believing that there might be an untouched oasis sitting in a place like, say, California. The cliché of the bank robber who thinks that billing a new mapped-out heist “one last job” will somehow make their actions more excusable.
These are a few examples. In spite of the hoopla, we are nonetheless usually able to relate to these characters. Even if it’s just basal, we can empathize with that custom of shifting the narrative of a certain situation to make it more acceptable to ourselves.
The star of the month is Alan Bates, the boisterous British actor who often played characters who bore such conviction in who they were that it became something of a spectacle to uncover the complicated intricacies of their inner lives. I’d say, though, that much of this is embedded in a general sort of deceit than outright self-deception; if anything, the real Bates, whose private life noticeably contrasted with his public one, better fits the theme’s bill.
We will explore a number of movies revolving around self-deceiving characters. Some of them will be fantastical, some grounded. I promise that most, if not all, will be worth a look. I hope you make some new discoveries with me. Happy watching, and happy reading!