Lights, Camera, Action!
What better way to stave off the ill effects of a travel lull than by watching movies about faraway locales? Whether it's a jaunt in the station wagon to see Grandma, or a grand European tour, travel movies inspire us to escape the doldrums and see the world. Always entertaining; sometimes poignant and sometimes comical, movies that center on travel offer a cozy way to travel from my very own sofa. After ‘visiting’ a place from home I feel even more enthused to go there and see it for myself.
The following movies always leave me daydreaming about my next adventure:
1) Shirley Valentine (1989)
This British ‘dramedy’ is about Shirley Valentine; a middle-aged housewife from Liverpool, England. Shirley finds herself talking to her kitchen wall while preparing her husband’s Chip and Egg, wondering what happened to her life. She compares scenes in her current life with what she used to be like. Stagnated and in a rut, she feels as though she's lost herself forever. When her best friend wins an all-expenses-paid vacation to Greece for two, Shirley begins to see the world, and herself, in a different light. If you have ever felt like going on holiday and not coming home this is a must-see!
2) The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
This Argentinean film chronicles the four-month long journey taken in 1954 by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. Together they fulfill a dream motorcycle trip throughout South America starting from their home in Buenos Aires. Their quest is to see things they've only read about in books and to finish the trip on Alberto's thirtieth birthday on the other side of the continent, in Venezuela. They encounter trials and tribulations on the road to discovering what is important in life. Motorcycle Diaries inspires me to buy a motorcycle and take a transcontinental trip!
3) Eurotrip (2004)
This hilarious, slap-happy comedy follows Scotty Thomas and his three best friends across Europe as they search for Scotty’s German pen pal, Meike, whom he initially mistakes for a man. Once Scotty realizes he has feelings for Mieke, he and his friends visit London, Paris, Amsterdam, Bratislava, Berlin and Rome encountering embarrassing and awkward situations along the way. The movie portrays stereotypes for each country with side-splitting perceptibility. Eurotrip is so, so, so funny and highly quotable!
4) Lost in Translation (2003)
An American ‘dramedy’ that stars Bill Murray as Bob Harris, an aging actor, and a recent college-graduate named Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, as the two develop a unique closeness after a chance meeting in a grand Tokyo hotel. Bob and Charlotte, both Americans, find themselves 'lost' in a culture that is foreign to them, and their displaced location during their blossoming friendship enhances their connection with one another. The movie explores themes of loneliness, alienation, insomnia, and culture shock against the backdrop of a modern Japanese cityscape. This is definitely a travel movie that, ‘with more intensity’ creates a feeling of being overwhelmed in a faraway land.
5) Out of Africa (1985)
This epic adventure drama is based on the memoir, Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (pseudonym for Karen Blixen). Meryl Streep plays Karen Blixen who immigrates to Kenya from Denmark and establishes a plantation. The film chronicles her experiences in the African bush during the years of 1914 to 1931. Her life is complicated by a marriage of convenience, a true love, and troubles on the plantation; schooling of the natives, war and disease. This film is a testament to the perseverance and strength of Karen Blixen, a woman whom is out of her element and alone. Out of Africa inspires me to always keep trying harder.
6) Beyond Rangoon (1995)
A poignant American drama based on real people and real events. A distraught Laura Bowman (Patricia Arquette) travels to Burma with her sister after her son and husband are brutally murdered. There she discovers the suppression of democracy under General Ne Win and receives her first glimpse of Aung San Suu Kyi, the embodiment of hope for a peaceful future in Burma. When Laura loses her passport at a rally, she gets detained in Burma. She meets a former university professor and pro-democracy students, monks and others. This puts her on the junta's enemies list. She spends most of the film evading soldiers while attempting to make her way out of the country with her group. Laura, who is a doctor, decides to remain in Thailand treating refugees fleeing oppression. Beyond Rangoon is one of my absolute favorite movies; it educates, it inspires, and deeply impacts me every time I watch it.
7) Vacation (1983)
This is a travel movie classic! Vacation is a comedy that follows Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family’s ill-fated trip to Wally World, ‘America’s Family Fun Park’. The Griswolds pack up their metallic pea green station wagon a make the trek from Chicago to Los Angeles and face hilarious mishaps all along the way. From vandals in St. Louis to Aunt Edna’s accidental death in Arizona the Griswolds experience less of a vacation than a descent into a peculiarly American kind of hell. Catastrophe after catastrophe create laugh after laugh.
8) Before Sunrise (1995)
On his last night meandering around Europe, a 20-something American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) convinces Celine, a French grad student (Julie Delpy), to explore Vienna with him. They get off the train and explore the city while opening up to each other as only travelers can. They wander the city all night and fall madly in love, unsure if they’ll ever see each other again. Before Sunrise is a great movie for adventurers, explorers and hopeless romantics.
9) Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Divorced and Depressed, Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) travels to Tuscany to get her mind off of her troubles. While stopping in the small Tuscan town of Cortona, Frances discovers a small villa for sale. By happenstance, her tour bus stops in front of the villa and Frances believes it is a sign. She buys the dilapidated house and renovates it room by room. During her renovations she makes a life for herself in Cortona. Her dreams of having a wedding and a baby in the villa, and people to cook for are realized when she opens herself up and makes friends throughout the town. Under the Tuscan Sun is a beautiful look at the courage it takes to move to another country.
10) Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
A tale of two friends who take a vacation to Barcelona, where they meet a mysterious painter, Juan Antonio, who asks them to spend the summer with him. Vicky is the more reserved of the two, engaged to be married, while Cristina is more of a free spirit. The relationship between the three is sexually charged, and drama ensues. Things only get more complicated when Juan’s mentally disturbed ex-wife shows up. The movie is entertaining, and is set in the beautiful landscapes & cityscapes of Spain. It shows how travel can open you up to new experiences.
The above films leave the viewer asking questions about how other people live and that’s what travel is all about. Travel opens our eyes to not only the ‘where’ but also the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘who’. The location of the story becomes like a character itself.
Any filmmaker will tell you how important it is to develop characters, create a sense of place, and leave the viewer feeling like they were part of the story. Travel, while real and unedited, achieves the same thing. We must feel a place, understand its people and experience it on an emotional and personal level.
While it’s snowy and stormy, airports closed and flights delayed, trade in airline peanuts for a bowl of popcorn. Snuggle up with a blanket and travel to a faraway place from the comfort of your own couch.
What are your favorite movies about travel? Comment with not-to-be-missed flicks and I’ll update my Netflix queue!