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Second Sight: How Channel-Surfing, an iPod, and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED Restored a Movie Critic's Eyesight

Press Play By Aaron Aradillas | Press Play April 1, 2014 at 1:50PM

I wondered if I would get my vision back in time to watch the Oscars. I was excited that "The Wolf of Wall Street" got nominated, and then realized I might not get a chance to see a Scorsese movie for a second time in theaters. Was it going to be the last Scorsese I would actually *see*?
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Then, one day I was sitting on the couch with my dad, channel-surfing, and came across Peggy Sue Got Married. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola during his ‘80s wilderness period, it’s a movie I saw many times as a kid. Having not seen it in years, we decided to watch. A variation on Back to the Future (which came out a year earlier), Peggy Sue Got Married is more fanciful and slyly more profound. It contains Kathleen Turner’s finest performance as Peggy Sue, a 43-year-old wife and mother who is given the opportunity to go back in time and make different life choices. What surprised me is how vividly I could recall the movie even though I hadn’t seen it in years. An early sequence got to me: It’s 1960, and Peggy Sue has passed out after giving blood at her school’s blood drive. A couple of teachers decide to take her home. Sitting in the back of a car, the radio starts to play The Champs’ “Tequila” as she looks out the window. The camera stays on Turner’s face as she sees the landmarks of her youth. Everything feels new again. (The Oscar-nominated cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth is warm and nostalgic without being gauzy.) When she arrives at her childhood home, Peggy Sue tentatively approaches the front door. An off-screen voice cheerily says, “I left the door open!.” It’s Peggy Sue’s mother, played by Barbara Harris. The moment her mom enters the room Peggy Sue reaches out to touch her. Without it being said, we realize that her mother has been dead and she’s seeing her for the first time in years. The scene climaxes when she sees her younger sister Nancy (played by Sofia Coppola in a fine bit of acting), and rushes towards her. (It’s never stated, but we sense that maybe her sister is either dead or that they don’t speak to each other.) Even as a kid I knew this scene was an early emotional peak in the movie, but now it resonated even more. The seemingly random development of not being able to see (and possibly facing the reality of not seeing again) was being reflected back at me as Peggy Sue saw her childhood one more time. Ebert believed movies were the best vehicle to create empathy, and my ability at that moment to use critical thinking in order to make this connection with a movie I hadn’t seen in years gave me hope.

Slowly, my vision started to get less blurry. While January moved at a snail’s pace, February went by in a flash. I became acutely aware that time moves both agonizingly slow and incredibly fast. The four light bulbs that hang over the family room table went from a single bright blurry glob of light to four separate blurry globs of light. I would look into the bathroom mirror and see an out-of-focus reflection. For a moment I thought I was having an existential crisis. Then, one day I found myself sitting at my desk in my home office for the first time in weeks. I turned on my CCTV and I was able to faintly make out the back cover writing of the Thief Blu-ray. Soon, I could read it without straining. I decided to go to a promotional screening and watch Liam Neeson save a plane full of ungrateful passengers. I’m glad I chose to see a B-level highjack-airliner thriller as my first movie to see instead of something more significant. It took the pressure off of thinking too much. (For the record: Non-Stop is a fun entry in the highjack-airliner thriller genre, but still doesn’t beat the terrific Executive Decision.) Two days later my dad and I went to see The Past. (We sat in the front row so my dad could whisper the subtitles to me.) I caught up on True Detective. (Its Zodiac-like plotting is quite impressive.) I got to see the Oscars. And I got to see The Wolf of Wall Street for a second time in a theater. My doctor likes what he sees so far. There’s no telling how long my vision will stay healthy. A year? Five years? Ten? The cornea I have at the moment has been intact for nearly eighteen years. Do I have that much time left? Maybe half that time. I don’t know. What I do know is I’m ready.

Aaron’s Ten Best Movies of 2013

1.     Fruitvale Station

2.     12 Years a Slave

3.     American Hustle

4.     Before Midnight

5.     The Wolf of Wall Street

6.     Prisoners

7.     Blue Jasmine

8.     Rush

9.     The Past

10.   Gravity


San Antonio-based film critic Aaron Aradillas is a contributor to The House Next Door, a contributor to Moving Image Source, and the host of “Back at Midnight,” an Internet radio program about film and television.

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