The Significance of Serenity

Serenity is a 2019 psychological thriller starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. At first glance, the movie is exactly as advertised: Karen Zakarias (Anne Hathaway) tries to solicit her ex-husband, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) to kill her current husband so she and her son can get away from his abuse.

Like any thriller, things get trippy. Really trippy. Baker eventually realizes that he has no idea how long he’s lived on Plymouth Island or how he got there in the first place. None of his friends have any idea, either. When he tries to ask questions, he is met with generic answers or no answers at all.

And there’s this lawyer who keeps trying to sell Baker new fishing equipment so he can finally catch the elusive fish that he’s been obsessing over for years. The lawyer lets some information about a “creator” slip, which fuels Baker’s curiosity even more.

Okay, no more beating around the bush: It turns out Plymouth Island is just a simulation created by Karen’s son that he uses as a means to escape his stepfather’s abuse. And of course, he has to have his father in the game. Baker Dill actually died in combat years ago.

This is definitely a good thriller. Some of it was hard to watch, but all in all, I really liked it. I thought that was that. The more I think about the movie, however, the more I find it familiar. Plymouth Island is a means of escapism from all the stuff going on in the outside world. It’s a safe space for Karen’s son where his stepfather can’t hurt him.

Writing is my own personal Plymouth Island. When I tap into my imagination, I can forget everything else and just focus the story. It makes me feel like I’m actually good at something. It’s also a creative outlet for my feelings. My feeling scan overwhelm me sometimes, and it’s nice to be able to channel them into a story. Channeling my feelings into a story makes me feel “normal” – it’s a way for me to keep my cool and not come off as obsessive about things or people to outsiders.


I like that you’re broken

“You feel the things most of us run away from, the things the rest of us are too bottled up to feel”

Colin Firth, Arthur Newman

Picture this: Colin Firth and Emily Blunt’s characters are sitting by a motel pool.  Emily Blunt’s character (Mike) is having a panic attack like you’ve never seen because she’s afraid that she will end up schizophrenic like her sister.  Colin Firth’s character (Arthur) sits with her and says the above.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks; I don’t think I’ve ever related to anything more.  Because I’m the same way.  I feel everything so powerfully, especially when I’m trying to make sense of something.  

Hearing Arthur say that to Mike was liberating for me.  Someone finally said that it was okay to be overwhelmed by feelings some times.  It’s not necessarily fun, of course, but it doesn’t make me crazy.  And as long as I have a grip on reality — for example, I don’t start thinking fictional characters are real — it can actually be an asset as a writer.  If certain characters didn’t mean as much to me as they do, I wouldn’t be able to come up with my own stories about them.  My fan fiction wouldn’t exist.

However, there’s also another reason I love Arthur Newman.  And no, it’s not just because Emily Blunt is important to me, though she is the reason I wanted to watch the movie in the first place.  I was able to relate to the movie as a whole.  Colin Firth’s character was actually a man named Wallace Avery, a man who faked his own death to get a new lease on life.  He sees Mike in the aftermath of a car accident and takes her to the hospital.  

After she’s released from the hospital and she hitches a ride with him, Mike realizes Arthur isn’t who he claims to be — she find his real ID in his car, which he stole (or maybe he paid for it, I can’t remember).  Wallace/Arthur is obviously annoyed, but he doesn’t get mad or tell her to go away.  He’s not afraid his secret will be exposed.

As they spend the next few days together and get to know each other, Mike spills her own beans — her real name is Charlotte.  “Mike” is actually a nickname of sorts for her sister, Mckayla, whom she dropped off at a mental hospital and whose identity she stole.  She wanted a fresh start in life, too.

This next part gets a little crazy.  In the course of their whirlwind relationship, they break into people’s houses and … hang out, to put it lightly.  It was a bit triggering for me because I didn’t want them to cross the line and lose their grip on reality — that’s my own worst fear.  At the same time, I gave them the benefit of the doubt because I know what it’s like to want to be someone else.  Their brokenness and need for escapism brought them together, and that’s what really resonated with me.  They eventually went their separate ways and back to their own realities, but it was nice while it lasted.


Reading for Escapism

One day, in one of my English classes this past year, my professor – who just happens to be the head of the English department at Randolph-Macon College – said something like this:  “We don’t read for escapism.  We read to critique.”