THE GREAT ESCAPE

My week in escapism: The books, music, movies, and TV shows that soothed my election-damaged soul

Obsession
Glass
Obsession
Glass

If you’re feeling depressed over the results of Tuesday’s US presidential election and find it difficult to process its implications, you have an easy out: Escape.

That’s not the same thing as denying reality or avoiding your problems entirely. I don’t expect art and entertainment to make me forget what happened in the United States earlier this week. Nor do I want it to—as a culture reporter, I intend to continue writing about the ways a Trump presidency will affect movies and TV over the next four-plus years.

At the same time, it’s perfectly normal and healthy to take a break from soul-killing drumbeat of American political coverage. One of the coolest things about art is that it allows you think, wonder, and dream about worlds beyond your own. Sometimes that’s just a refreshing getaway. And sometimes the escape can actually equip you to return to the real world with a renewed energy you need to confront challenges.

So put down your phones, log off Facebook, take a break from Twitter. Go watch a movie, read a book, binge-watch a new TV series, or peruse Spotify for some new jams. Here are a few of the things I’ve read, watched, and listened to since Tuesday—all of which, in some way or another, have made me feel more hopeful about the world we live in:

Arrival

I wrote a review of Arrival yesterday, but here’s the short version: It is a truly fantastic film, and one that could not have arrived at a better time. A poignant, mesmerizing ode to globalism, the film serves as a firm rebuke to the insular worldview of US president-elect Donald Trump.

Seriously, go see this film. Today. Run to the theater. Even if you’re not in the least bit politically inclined, Arrival will move you. Amy Adams plays a linguist contracted by the US government to attempt to communicate with an alien race that’s come to Earth for reasons unknown. But this isn’t Independence Day. It’s a cerebral sci-fi drama, steeped in language and big ideas and actual science.

The music from The Lord of the Rings

I was just one of many to find solace in the epic fantasy film trilogy, and the J.R.R. Tolkien novels on which it was based. Specifically, I’ve been listening to Howard Shore’s transcendent score from the films on repeat on Spotify. Even more specifically, the track, “The Breaking of the Fellowship,” from the trilogy’s first film, is helping me get through each day.

The piece has been a favorite of mine since I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring, nearly 15 years ago. It comes at the end of the film, as the titular Fellowship—the band of heroes charged with escorting Frodo to Mordor so he can destroy the One Ring—splits apart following an ambush by Orcs. It’s a harrowing track, but also an inspiring one.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

the dog stars by peter heller
(Peter Heller/Vintage Books)

I’ve been meaning to read this book for months, and finally felt the inspiration to start it this week. The Dog Stars follows Hig, a survivor of a global pandemic, his dog Jasper, and his grouchy friend Bangley as they live out the apocalypse. It might seem like a bad time to read a post-apocalyptic novel, but it’s actually reminding me that things, as bleak as they might seem right now, can always be worse.

It’s kind of like a funnier, more upbeat version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (which, despite its relentless misery, is one of my favorite novels ever). Hig is a richly drawn character, and Heller infuses him with a distinct voice that makes the story immensely readable and seem entirely authentic.

Re-watching Lost

Lost raft launch
(ABC)

Lost is my favorite TV show of all time. I’ve heard your complaints about the ending, and I don’t care (no, they were not dead the whole time, stop saying that.) I’ve seen the 120-episode adventure-mystery series in its entirety multiple times, and I am currently in the middle of yet another visit to the Island. Am I a masochist? Possibly. But I also just really love this show, and find that it’s always captivating—drawing you into its expansive world completely—even when you know how it ends.

I’ve recommended Lost to a lot of people, and the usual response they give me is, “I’ve heard that’s really long,” or “I heard the ending sucks.” Yes, it’s long. It’s an investment. (And no, the ending doesn’t suck, at least I don’t think so.) But the people who agree to watch it are unanimously thrilled with the decision. It is the perfect series to watch when you want to take your mind off other things.

Lucky Chops

I recently discovered this funky New York-based brass band while they were busking in Manhattan’s Herald Square subway station. The group’s baritone saxophone player, who played with Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks at the Country Music Awards, is pretty incredible—he plays with precision and creativity while simultaneously busting out some insane dance moves.

Many of their songs are mashups of funk favorites like “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc. and “I Feel Good” by James Brown, but they also play originals and cover other famous songs, like Adele’s “Hello” and “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King. Watch a few of their videos or listen to them on Spotify for a quick pick-me-up.

This bluegrass cover of the Game of Thrones theme

You might not think a prestige HBO fantasy drama and banjos mix, but they very much do. Combining two of my favorite things—Game of Thrones and bluegrass, America’s most under-appreciated musical genre—the flat-pickin’ group Flatt Lonesome put a clever twist on one of the world’s most recognizable TV theme songs.

Conan O’Brien

Simply put, Conan O’Brien always make me laugh. The clip above, of the comedian and late night host being stabbed with a movie prop sword, is one of my favorites. Watching O’Brien writhe on the floor as a comically large amount of fake blood soaks his white dress shirt never fails me. I’ve watched it about 20 times this week.

Some other all-time great sketches: Conan plays “1864 baseball,” Conan visits Taco Bell, and Conan hosts a talk show on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone.

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