The Power of the Monologue: In Movies and in Real Life

Movies are great. We watch them for all sorts of reasons, mostly to escape our own world for a while and experience someone else’s. Ironically, we have the opportunity to enter foreign worlds all the time if we simply listen – really listen – to the people around us.

Listening is a skill that is in short supply. If you eavesdrop on the average conversation, you will often hear people talking at, or past, each other. People are simply waiting for their chance to talk. They are not letting the words of the other person sink into their consciousness. They do not ask follow-up questions, nor do they allow an ounce of silence to leave the impression that silence often does.

Or you might hear one person dominating a conversation while the other person struggles to cram in a few words here and there, desperate to complete a thought. When there is no listening going on, an opportunity is missed. We fail to gain understanding, to indulge the perspectives of those we claim to care about. We forsake the opportunity to experience, and provide, genuine connection.

That’s one service movies provide. A movie is like one long monologue. You are not expected to talk. You are supposed to listen and pay attention – rest your jaws long enough to be told a story, to learn something, to connect to an entirely different perspective. The beauty of the actor’s monologue is that it’s a monologue within the monologue of the movie. It’s a chance to learn something not only about the character speaking, but about the other characters as they react. It is a chance to connect with other humans in a situation you will likely never experience in real life.

The above clip of Tangina’s monologue in Poltergeist (1982) is a perfect example. She is a tiny person with a soft, high-pitched voice, a southern accent, and the power and inner strength of a warrior. She literally has the rest of the cast on their knees as they (and we) hang onto her every word. On the surface, she is educating them about an entirely different world – the world of spirits, a world they know nothing about. Underneath the surface, she is establishing a hierarchy. This tiny, soft-spoken woman is “bigger” than they initially imagine. She’s in charge. They had judged her by appearances when she first walked in. She is proving them wrong. She is teaching them, and us, that we shouldn’t judge by appearances.

Carol Anne, in her naiveté, is also judging by appearances. She sees “The Beast” as a child, like her. On the surface, he speaks to her like a child, “he says things only a child can understand.” Beneath the surface, he is using her to prevent the other spirits from achieving spiritual liberation and joy. He is tricking them with the artificial light of Carol Anne’s youth and innocence, distracting them from the true Light that represents their Final Freedom – a freedom which The Beast cannot and will not ever experience.

The movie is teaching us that there are false lights and true Lights. We see this with the boss, Mr. Teague, in that he fell for the false light of money and greed, distracted from basic human decency. “They’re just people,” he says about the human remains he plans to build on top of, too cheap and callous do anything more than move their headstones. Similarly, Carol Anne’s dad, Steve, as he stood with Teague on the hill that overlooked his neighborhood, wondered how anything bad could happen in such a beautiful neighborhood, on such a perfect sunny day. Underneath all the money, comfort, and normalcy was a secret that had literally been buried years prior. A secret that would violently rise to the surface and make itself known.

Secrets, in movies and in life, are often revealed by watching, listening, paying attention. Tangina’s monologue, and all monologues – in movies and in life – are an opportunity to learn something. Movies, through entertainment, compel us to listen. People in our lives, however, will not force us to listen. We can choose to listen, or we can choose to interrupt, wrestle the conversation back to ourselves, cut the other person off, or judge them for whatever they were trying to say. That is our choice.

But if we resist that urge, if we pay attention to each other as closely as we pay attention to movies, we might just learn our loved ones’ secrets. Then we won’t be blindsided when their secrets can no longer remain buried, when they finally do force us to listen through actions that shock us and disrupt everything we thought we knew. Monologues – in movies and in life – are golden moments of connection if we listen, really listen.

So, be aware of the monologues all around you. Allow them to happen. See how many worlds you can explore. The people around us are trying to make a connection. We are wise if we hear them and learn something.

Have a beautiful weekend. And remember – things are not always what they seem.



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