Paul Malikkal

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Four Movies that Shaped me as a Person

Paul Malikkal

In 1936, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan reinterpreted the work of Sigmund Freud by introducing the idea of the “mirror stage.” Lacan stated the infant’s first perception of selfhood arises when he or she identifies with his or her reflection in the mirror. However, at this stage the infant doesn’t grasp that it can exert control over this image, so it simply emulates the figure’s behavior, striving to achieve unity with it. Lacan proposes that this aspiration for unity with an ideal is a struggle that repeatedly manifests itself over the course of a lifetime.

In a eureka moment, I realized I’d been having “moments of recognition” since early childhood, and I’d been adjusting my behavior accordingly. However, I didn’t find figures to imitate in the mirror; I found figures to imitate in films.

I did, of course, relate to the characters, but it was always more than that. I identified with the film as a whole and wanted my life to resemble it. Much of my life has been spent consciously and subconsciously modelling my life after the films I’ve loved. Though the results have never been totally successful, they’ve led to crucial self-development.

Annie Hall

Annie Hall was my first Woody Allen film, aside from Antz, and it introduced me to the Woody Allen schtick, which soon became my schtick. I’d never seen a character like Alvy Singer before. He had the charisma of James Dean and the neuroses of George Costanza. Until that point, I’d stuffed all my idiosyncrasies, hang-ups, and fears into a little box marked “Do-Not Talk About.” But after hearing Woody spin these supposed character flaws into comic gold through his non-stop neurotic pontificating, I saw them in a different light. I felt that it was time to stop bottling up these so-called quirks that had such tremendous comedic potential. Now, unconventional preoccupations and wacky ideas account for much of what I talk about. As a result, I’ve become a more honest, assured version of myself.

Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise took an undeniably romantic premise, spending a night with a person you met on a train, and made it realistic. The screenwriters made the idea of the chance encounter even more romantic, by making it seem plausible. The profound connection the two characters form as they spend a night walking and talking in Vienna spoke to the romantic in me, while the undercurrent of melancholy and the emphasis on the transience of human connection spoke to the realist in me.

The scintillating dialogue and performances made the notion of truly connecting with somebody seem attainable and worthwhile, despite the ephemerality of such relationships. This is what I constantly pine for. As a result, I strike up conversations with strangers more readily than ever before, in the hopes that we’ll find some sort of connection. I try to be candid about what I care about and listen to what other people share. But unfortunately forging profound bonds with people is difficult and rarely attainable, but the thrill of the possibility is enough to keep striving to find significant connections time and time again.

Andrei Rublev

I had never even heard the titular character’s name before seeing this film, but after watching the three-and-a-half hour masterwork, he became a personal hero of mine. This was largely due to a truly noble, albeit fictional series of decisions Rublev made in the film. During a Tartan siege of Vladimir, Andrei stops an invader from raping a deaf girl by slaying him with an axe. He then takes the deaf girl into his care. To atone for this sin, he renounces his passion for painting and takes a vow of silence.

I’ve always struggled with satisfactorily righting my wrongs. Christianity offered me a pat solution, the sacrament of reconciliation. This consistently provided me with a remedy for my guilt, but a temporary one. Weeks, even months, after receiving the sacrament, I'd still feel the weight of those sins on my conscience. I never felt I’d adequately atoned for my wrongdoings. This guilt was exacerbated when I became an atheist and renounced the Catholic faith at the age of thirteen. Now there wasn’t even a temporary solution to numb the pain of guilt. Who could absolve me of my sins if not God?

Andrei Rublev provided me with the answer; no one can truly absolve you of your sins. The only antidote for guilt is accepting responsibility for your actions and coming to terms with them, through whatever means necessary. Of course, disowning one’s passion and taking a vow of silence is a rather extreme form of reparation, but it’s certainly an honorable one.

Since seeing Andrei Rublev, I haven’t expiated for my misdeeds by undertaking vows or renouncing my passions, but I have begun embracing guilt more readily. I don’t ignore my culpability or justify my actions to myself. Having to live with that guilt is my way of coming to terms with it.


Boyhood is a film that taught me to embrace the everyday. Nearly every coming-of-age film celebrates the monumental, touting clearly demarcated landmark moments, like birthdays, proms, graduations,and first kisses, as the thresholds to maturity. Boyhood, however, poetically omits these preordained milestones from its narrative, chronicling a boy’s life through a series of ostensibly mundane vignettes over the course of twelve years.

Boyhood etched the idea that maturation is possible at any given time or place into my mind, and it’s stuck with me ever since. The big milestones always seemed like the moments I had to pay attention to, and the everyday episodes were simply the insignificant events that transpired in between. It took a brilliant film like Boyhood to show me that those milestones rarely carry any kind of weight. The act of growing up can happen anywhere and at anytime. This has inspired me to pay attention to everything because any experience can incite change.

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