The On Being Project

This Movie Changed Me
  • Casper ter Kuile
  • ,
  • Ashley C. Ford
  • ,
  • Anthony Breznican
  • ,
  • Rubén Blades
  • ,
  • Gabrielle Bellot
  • and
  • David Greene

This Movie Changed Me

Movies delight and inspire and repel. They're places the big questions we take up at On Being land in the heart of our lives. They change our lives and our life together. Get out the popcorn for this show, and immerse yourself in film scores and iconic movie moments — with David Greene on how Star Wars changed him, Ashley C. Ford on The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rubén Blades on the 1943 noir Western The Ox-Bow Incident, and more.

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  • Casper ter Kuile

    Casper ter Kuile

    is the co-host of the totally addictive podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, which explores the magic of that book chapter by chapter and what it can teach us about our own lives. And we’re excited that he will be joining the On Being Project’s new Impact Lab this spring.

  • Ashley C. Ford

    Ashley C. Ford

    is the host of the news and culture radio show 112BK and the new podcast, Fortune Favors the Bold. She’s also written for nearly everyone, including Refinery 29, ELLE, BuzzFeed, and The Guardian, just to name a few. We loved her guest spot on the Dear Sugars podcast — check it out if you’re looking for an extra dose of Ashley’s wisdom.

  • Anthony Breznican

    Anthony Breznican

    is a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly and the author of the fantastic novel Brutal Youth — if you were a teenager who struggled in high school, this book will be a friend to you.

  • Rubén Blades

    Rubén Blades

    is a Panamanian singer, songwriter, actor, musician, activist, lawyer, and politician. He has too many incredible albums to list, but Lily's favorite is Siembra, which he made with Willie Colón — it has the songs "Pedro Navaja" and "Plastico," which you should definitely check out.

  • Gabrielle Bellot

    Gabrielle Bellot

    is a staff writer for Literary Hub. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Guernica. Her piece in The Atlantic, “Hayao Miyazaki and the Art of Being a Woman,” is a work of art in itself, so definitely check it out.

  • David Greene

    David Greene

    is co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition and Up First. He's known for loving karaoke, pulling all-nighters in bars, and crying during nearly every movie, especially on planes. In a former life he was a foreign correspondent, and he details his adventures in the book Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia.


Krista Tippett, host: When I first met our now-executive producer, Lily Percy, she was covering movies and religion at NPR. I still remember her saying to me, “Movies are my church.”

I think that’s true for many of us. Movies can be whimsical, terrifying, culture-changing experiences, where the big ideas we take up at On Being show up in the heart of our lives. They can inspire and repel and teach us what it means to be human. They’re a place where we revisit personal history and history writ large.

Now, as part of the growing On Being Studios, we’re launching a new podcast with Lily, called This Movie Changed Me — one fan talking about the transformative power of one movie, every episode. We’re going to dip into some of what she’s hearing, for the next hour, and I can’t wait. I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.

[music: “You’ve Got Mail Suite” by George Genton, from You’ve Got Mail: Music from the Motion Picture]

[excerpt: You’ve Got Mail]

Lily Percy: If you’ve never seen You’ve Got Mail, the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie from 1998, you probably think that it’s just another cliché romantic comedy. The plot certainly makes it seem like it. Two people in New York meet in an AOL chatroom and fall in love without ever seeing each other. But if you’ve watched You’ve Got Mail, then you know the truth about this Nora Ephron classic — that it is actually about the power and importance of vulnerability in connecting with another human being, a vulnerability that sometimes only the anonymity of the internet can provide. This lesson, found at the center of You’ve Got Mail, changed Casper ter Kuile’s life, especially his love life. Casper is the co-host of the wonderful podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.

Ms. Percy: So I'm gonna transport you to a little place right now, I hope. I don't know if you know this, but Mr. Rogers, when he — you know Mr. Rogers? I know you're not an American. You do know Mr. Rogers.

Casper ter Kuile: I do; I have learned about it, yes.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] You learned about Mr. Fred Rogers. When he was accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys, he did this amazing thing as part of his acceptance speech, where he asked everyone in the room to take ten seconds and think about all of the people that brought them to where they were at that moment.

And I'm not gonna ask you to do that. [laughs] You can do that mentally, while I'm talking. But what I am gonna ask you to do is to think back to the first time that you watched You've Got Mail, and think about the way you felt, where you were, how old you were, all of those things, and just go back to that time when you first saw it. And I'll just look at the clock, and I'll chime in when the ten seconds are up.

Mr. ter Kuile: OK, thank you.

Ms. Percy: So what memories came up for you, when you were thinking about You've Got Mail and that first time you saw it?

Mr. ter Kuile: I think I saw it when I was maybe 14. And I was a little 14-year-old queer kid in a boys' boarding house at a very fancy English school, and I felt so alone. I was so disconnected from the rest of the students, and — I don't know — I was bad at the things you were supposed to be good at. And I remember watching You've Got Mail, and — first of all, obviously, it takes place in Manhattan.

Ms. Percy: The magical New York.

Mr. ter Kuile: It's a magical New York place —

Ms. Percy: And a New York that doesn't exist, by the way. It's a New York that you're nostalgic for.

Mr. ter Kuile: Don't ruin the illusion. [laughs]

Ms. Percy: I know.

Mr. ter Kuile: But it was this dream of another place, where people have conversations about literature, and they go on fancy dates, and they live on a boat, because they've left their girlfriend, [laughs] or whatever it is. And just everything seemed shiny and beautiful. It was fall, and there were parks and fairs. It just seemed like this kind of adult world that I didn't yet have access to, that I longed for. That's what I remember — of longing for not only their lifestyle, but also, love that you could find as an adult, which I definitely wasn't finding as a 14-year-old.

Ms. Percy: I love that you mentioned longing, because that's the thing that came through for me last night, when I was watching it again, for like, the thirtieth time, was how much this movie captures that feeling of longing perfectly — what it feels to long for something — and not just love, but just longing in general, just to be longing. And I think about you as a 14-year-old and how that clearly came through to you.

Mr. ter Kuile: Oh, my God, Lily, it was so much worse. There's this scene where Kathleen Kelly, who’s played by Meg Ryan, writes a missive to this man that she met in this chat room —

Ms. Percy: To Joe.

Mr. ter Kuile: Right, she doesn't even know, really, who he is. And she says, at some point, "I just wanted to write this down. So good night, dear void. Even if it's just going into the void, good night, dear void." And I remember, like, I wrote that in my diary to myself. [laughs] I really thought I was that kind of person…

Ms. Percy: [laughs] Oh, my God.

Mr. ter Kuile: Just, like — yeah, you have so many feelings, and where is it all going?

And I think that's what I love about this movie, is, yes, it's a love story, but they don't meet until the very last scene of the movie. The story is really about an idea of someone. And I met my husband online, so there’s an echo in my own life here. But there is a — the story, and the love that builds inside both of these characters, is one of longing and of, really, projection onto the unknown of what might be. And I'm someone who always kind of lives in the future; I love to think about future plans, and I think this movie is so much about that — that it's — you get to create perfection in your mind, before it even happens.

[excerpt: You’ve Got Mail]

[music: “Dreams” by the Cranberries, from You’ve Got Mail: Music from the Motion Picture]

Ms. Percy: So I love that you talked about the fact that you met your husband online. And I wonder if — especially, re-watching this movie, if there are lessons that you've carried into your relationship, lessons about love that this movie has taught you.

Mr. ter Kuile: I think the thing that it really taught me was that the person that we think we want to fall in love with is often the very opposite of the person who we should really fall in love with, right? In so many ways, these two characters are ill-suited for each other. They have different values about their work. They end up in real conflict around their work, especially. And I remember, I thought I wanted some big, hunky, rugby-playing kind of guy, and the man who I ended up meeting online and falling in love with and marrying was a musician, a classical musician who sang opera and who loves aesthetic things of beauty and creates — everything he makes is beautiful, whether it’s laying the dining table, cooking a dish, or singing a concert.

And I never thought that’s what I really wanted. And I don’t know — I think there’s something in that of — the thing that maybe will make us most happy is the thing we least expect to fall in love with.

Ms. Percy: And then maybe it happens in your body before it even happens in your mind. You can’t even intellectualize it or understand it, and you have to really trust that.

Mr. ter Kuile: Yeah, that’s what she says: “Three little words: ‘I’ve got mail’ — from you.” It’s like she feels it in anticipation before she’s really able to explain it. And even when he stood her up —she’s — it’s not rational to continue a conversation with that person when they’ve done something that has hurt you in that way, but — I don’t know. There’s this powerful connection there, which she’s willing to trust and try again. I love that.

[excerpt: You’ve Got Mail]

[excerpt: The Nightmare Before Christmas]

Ms. Percy: Tim Burton’s 1993 movie musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas, does a remarkable job of capturing what it means to be an outsider, to not quite fit in, in the light or in the darkness. The story follows Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, also known as the “Pumpkin King,” who becomes bored and decides he wants to take on a new challenge by taking over Christmas. The strangeness of this movie was life-changing, for writer and radio host Ashley C. Ford, who has loved its creepy characters and music since she was a kid.

[music: “Finale/Reprise” by Danny Elfman and Catharine O’Hara, from The Nightmare Before Christmas]

Ms. Percy: I know you’ve talked about, on Twitter, that you love writing to music scores.

Ashley C. Ford: I do.

Ms. Percy: And I can only imagine that this has been in the rotation for you.

Ms. Ford: Absolutely.

Ms. Percy: Tell me about your favorite songs in the movie. I’m not gonna ask you to sing them — unless you want to. Then, you can feel free.

Ms. Ford: I might, just because that’s what’s in my heart, but… [laughs]

Ms. Percy: I know. There’s some mornings I wake up, and then, I'm not even kidding, the first thing I hear in my head is, “What’s this? What’s this?”

Ms. Ford: “What’s this? / There’s color everywhere / What’s this? / There’s white things in the air” — I love it.

Ms. Percy: Exactly. It’s so infectious.

Ms. Ford: I actually — my favorite songs are probably — obviously, “This Is Halloween,” which I think is a brilliant opening song.

Ms. Percy: Oh, yeah. Oh, my God, yeah.

Ms. Ford: And then, “Jack’s Lament” is amazing, to me.

[music: “Jack’s Obsession” by Danny Elfman, from The Nightmare Before Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Special Edition)]

Ms. Ford: That’s the [sings] “Christmastime is buzzing in my skull / Will it let me be? I cannot tell / There are so many things I cannot grasp / First I think I've got it, and then at last / Through my bony fingers it does slip / Like a snowflake in a fiery grip” — and it’s just — I love that song.

Ms. Percy: So good. I’m crying here, listening to you talk and sing.

Ms. Ford: I’m sorry! I love “Jack’s Lament.” And then, I actually really like the song right at the end, when Sally — after she has basically sabotaged the love of her life to get him to understand that this is a bad idea, she’s standing on the top of that hill.

Ms. Percy: Oh, yeah, and the moon is in the background.

Ms. Ford: And the moon is in the background, and he just shows up. And the thing that I loved about the Jack-and-Sally romance was that it was really a friendship. Even if there was a little bit of unrequited love on her end, it’s like, she was his friend, and she would have been his friend, no matter what. You know what I mean? They never had to get together.

But in those final moments, he recognizes that — this is a person who cares for me so much that she did not let me destroy myself.

[music: “Finale/Reprise” by Danny Elfman and Catharine O’Hara, from The Nightmare Before Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Special Edition)]

Ms. Percy: One of the things that I love about movies is that every time you watch them, and especially as you get older, they change for you, and you learn new things, and you see things differently. And I just wonder how this movie has changed for you, as you’ve gotten older and you’ve kept watching it. How have you guys grown together?

Ms. Ford: I think the way we’ve grown together is that as I've gotten older I have recognized, more and more, that nobody can be summed up by the best or worst thing they’ve ever done. And I think this movie is a great reflection on that — that there is light and shadow in all of us, and that we will always be attracted to what’s different; but what’s different isn’t always necessarily right for who we are, and we have to take a moment to really think about who we are and what we enjoy and what we love.

And I think another thing — revelation — not even a revelation, because I heard it from Fran Lebowitz. I can’t act like I was sitting around, and I was like, “Aha!” But Fran Lebowitz has this thing that she said in an interview where somebody asked her about happiness, and she said, “One of the biggest mistakes we make about happiness, or in defining happiness, is that we think of it as a condition. And happiness is not a condition. It’s a sensation. Happiness is not something that you can hope to maintain at all times. We should never be thinking we should always be happy. We should just know that moments of happiness will come. They’ll always come. And we can look forward to the next moment of happiness.”

And one of the things that I kept thinking about, actually, the last time I watched the movie, was the fact that Jack sincerely thought he was always supposed to be happy and satisfied by his work. And it’s like the lesson that I think he ultimately learns is, “Oh, I don't have to tear down my whole life to find happiness or to find fulfillment or satisfaction. Ultimately, what he realizes in the end is that he still loves Halloween. And the only reason he loved the Christmas that he created was because it was so much like Halloween.

Ms. Percy: Exactly; but he is the Pumpkin King.

Ms. Ford: Yes, but he is the Pumpkin King. And there is a reason why he’s the Pumpkin King. And it does have to do with his passion for Halloween and his ability to continue to make Halloween better and better and better. It’s a thing where you do what you can, where you are, with the time you have.

Ms. Percy: And with the gifts that you have, right?

Ms. Ford: Yes, and with the gifts that you have. And I think that that’s what he got, in the end, and that’s sort of what I'm beginning to get about my life, that — I sometimes get really caught up in all the things that I can’t do [laughs] or all the things that I'm not good at. I’m like, “Man, why can’t I be good at that? Something would be easier. I would be more — whatever, if I could do that thing.” And I think that what I really have to understand, sometimes, about myself, is that I do have a gift. Writing, and communicating and connecting with people that way, is my gift.

Ms. Percy: Well, it’s about further knowing who you are and accepting who you are.

Ms. Ford: Yes. Yes. There is a great acceptance at the end of The Nightmare Before Christmas that I understand in my life now so much more than I did as a child — so much more. And I love that that film reaffirms that truth for me.

[music: “Finale” by Danny Elfman, from The Nightmare Before Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Special Edition)]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, exploring the power of movies to shape and change our lives, as told through conversations from our new podcast, This Movie Changed Me, with Lily Percy.

[music: “The Family” by Randy Newman, from Avalon: Music from the Motion Picture]

[excerpt: Avalon]

Anthony Breznican: People ask me all the time, because I write about movies for Entertainment Weekly, "What's your favorite movie?" And I think — I feel like they expect me to say Star Wars, because I write about Star Wars.

Ms. Percy: Because you're the official Star Wars reporter, yeah.

Mr. Breznican: Yeah, or to say something — name some Oscar winner, like a classic film. And Avalon — is it — it's from 1990, right? Or '91?

Ms. Percy: It's 1990.

Mr. Breznican: It didn't win any awards. I don't think many people saw it. I don't think it did tremendous box office. And I didn’t see it until I was in my 20s. But it's the movie I treasure most, and I watch it a couple of times a year. I always watch it around Thanksgiving, because so many of those family scenes in the film are set around Thanksgiving.

[music: “The Family” by Randy Newman, from Avalon: Music from the Motion Picture]

Ms. Percy: Every time I think of Avalon, which is about a family that comes from Russia, I automatically want to start crying, not because anything horrible or dramatic actually happens in the movie; quite the opposite, actually. I want to start crying, because the family at the center of Avalon also reminds me of my own Colombian immigrant family, the struggles that come with moving to a new country, and the way that the passage of time, the many births and deaths, leave marks on all of us.

Ms. Percy: It was so clear to me that Sam, the character that Armin Mueller-Stahl plays in Avalon — I don't want to say he “is” your grandfather, but there are so many parallels. And I wonder if that was one of the things that really, really touched you when you first saw Avalon.

Mr. Breznican: Well, absolutely. And by the time I saw it, my grandfather was gone; he had died when I was 19. And Avalon is this story — the two men — the grandfather, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl, has this great relationship with his grandson, who's played by Elijah Wood when he was like ten years old. And the grandfather tells these stories. The movie begins with him telling the story of how he came to America. And my grandfather was born here, in America. His parents were Belgian immigrants. His father was a glass manufacturer who was brought over from Belgium to help manufacture window glass. So he was part of that immigrant experience, and his parents knew what it meant to leave their home and come to this new country and set up a life. And there are so many similarities.

Ms. Percy: The house painting, the wallpaper hanging.

Mr. Breznican: When that happened in the movie, I was like, "Oh, come on!" [laughs]

Ms. Percy: Exactly. I was like, "They wrote this for you. Barry Levinson wrote this for you."

Mr. Breznican: Because I was already like — oh, he tells this story about — Sam Krichinsky is the name of the character. He tells this story at the beginning of the movie, about coming to America, and it reminded me so much of stories my grandfather would tell about being a kid in Ford City, Pennsylvania. And then he's a wallpaper hanger and a painter, and I'm like, "Come on! This is too — am I being punked here?" [laughs]

But that's — sometimes the universe gives you these interesting little cosmic coincidences. But they're Jewish in the film; my family was Catholic. But otherwise, they're exactly the same. [laughs] And it reminds me how similar people are, really. We think we're so different, or we have these different cultures, but really, they're all sort of variations on a theme. I think people — families — are so much more alike than they are different.

Ms. Percy: As you were talking through some of the moments that you love in the movie, I was reminded of a line that I know you love, when Sam is seeing that grown-up grandson for — well, not for the first time, but for us, we see the grown-up grandson for the first time in the senior citizens’ home that he lives in now. And he says that "If I knew that things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better."

Mr. Breznican: Ugh.

Ms. Percy: Ugh. That line.

Mr. Breznican: Yeah, "If I knew that things would no longer be there, I would have tried to remember better." Sam, at this point in the movie, is — he's got to be in his 90s. And he's not all there, but enough of him is there that you can still detect the man that we know from the earlier parts of the movies. And what I thought was cool was, his grandson is talking to him, but his great-grandson is in the room too. And the little boy is watching — I think he's watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Ms. Percy: On TV, yeah.

Mr. Breznican: So he's not even really paying attention. And later, as he's walking out with his dad, he says, "That guy talks funny."

Ms. Percy: [laughs] Yeah.

Mr. Breznican: And his father says, "Well, he wasn't born here." And he starts telling the same story that we heard at the very beginning of the movie, about how Sam came to America. And that — even — I'm not even watching it right now, but that chokes me up.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] I know, we gotta — we gotta stop it! We gotta stop it. [laughs] It's so true.

Mr. Breznican: So whenever somebody says, "Hey, what's your favorite movie?" and I don't say Star Wars, and they look a little disappointed, and instead I say, Avalon, and they go, "What's that?"

Ms. Percy: Exactly. [laughs]

Mr. Breznican: I actually feel — I don't know if anybody has ever actually, on my recommendation, sought it out, but I just think, “You are so lucky, because I wish I could watch this movie for the first time again,” because it so moved me. But every time I watch it, it still has that same power.

[excerpt: Avalon]

Ms. Tippett: All the voices you’ve been hearing are abbreviated versions of episodes from On Being Studios’ new podcast, This Movie Changed Me — one fan talking about the transformative power of one movie. It’s just launched on Apple Podcasts. You can subscribe there, or wherever you download your favorite shows. You can, of course, also listen again to this, and all of our audio, at

[music: “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” by Joe Hisaishi, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Original Soundtrack)]

Ms. Tippett: Coming up, David Greene on Star Wars, Gabrielle Bellot on Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Rubén Blades on The Ox-Bow Incident.

I’m Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.

[music: “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” by Joe Hisaishi, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Original Soundtrack)]

[music: “20th Century Fox Fanfare” by Alfred Newman]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, This Movie Changed Me, with Lily Percy.

[excerpt: The Ox-Bow Incident]

Ms. Percy: The 1943 noir Western The Ox-Bow Incident is set in a town where a murder happens; or so they think. And a group of men, a posse, goes after the strangers who have been accused of the murder. It’s a story about vigilante justice; about what happens when crowds gather together in anger and throw away the law as a result. The Ox-Bow Incident changed the life of my hero, Rubén Blades.

Rubén is a highly respected and beloved salsa musician, a leader in Latin American politics, an actor known as “Rubén Blades” here in the U.S. But something that is not as well known about him is that he’s also a lawyer. He earned his law degree in Panama in 1972, after recording his first album. And then, in 1985, at the height of his career, he took a year off to get his master’s in international law at Harvard University.

Ms. Percy: I’m curious — you talk about how this influenced you as a lawyer. What lessons did you learn and carry from that movie that really led you?

Mr. Blades: Well, the need that justice must be — that the ideal must be defended in order for it to exist. It’s not enough to speak about justice. You really have to enforce it. So I felt I wanted to be on the right side of history.

I saw that, and I suffered. It pained me to experience what those men had experienced. It’s just as if they hung me, or a part of me, as well, that day. And it was irreversible — that’s another thing that affected me. I thought: Gosh, when this happens, people are totally without any type of protection; they just succumb. That’s it.

Ms. Percy: Yeah, that’s it.

Mr. Blades: And I thought, well, the system has to make people aware of our own capability of being wrong and not to take the law by our own hands. And again, this is a situation where people who are not actively supporting the misdeed actually become accomplices of it for not saying anything.

That was another thing that I remember that I got out of it, of the film. You have to talk about it. You have to be a part of it. You have to denounce it. You have to accept that you’re wrong, or accept wrong and face it.

Ms. Percy: Yeah, and speak up in the moment.

Mr. Blades: And they didn’t. They did not, because they felt they didn’t have all the information; that they could’ve been wrong. And although they did not approve of it, they ended up joining the wrong. And I remember feeling about that and thinking: Well, how many times do we do that every day?

[excerpt: The Ox-Bow Incident]

Ms. Percy: My favorite scene in the movie comes right before the very end, when Gil Carter, who’s played by Henry Fonda, he reads that letter that Donald Martin wrote to his wife right before he was hung.

Mr. Blades: Oh, God.

Ms. Percy: So he reads it to the men in the bar. After everything has happened, all the men go to the bar to drink. And it’s such a powerful scene, because all we hear is Gil reading the letter. There’s no music.

Mr. Blades: Absolutely.

Ms. Percy: There’s nothing to manipulate us, just the words.

Mr. Blades: Another great choice. Another great choice. In today’s sensitivities, somebody might just come up with this incredibly huge orchestra.

Ms. Percy: Exactly.

Mr. Blades: This particular case, it was just — and that’s the dignity that I believe the director — he decided to keep it real and trust his audience. He didn’t feel that the audience had to be manipulated into — cued into feeling, as many movies today do.

Ms. Percy: And it’s more powerful because of it.

Mr. Blades: Absolutely. I remember, when I saw the movie, I remember — in the theater, the hushed, completely silent, blackout theater — people sobbing. You could actually go to a movie in those days and have audience participation. People cried and laughed and talked back to the screen. And I don’t see much of that now; I think people do talk a lot now, because they think they’re home.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] Exactly, but in a very different way.

Mr. Blades: Yeah, not in a constructive way.

Ms. Percy: No. Well, it’s because a movie was the center of your universe, in a lot of ways. That was where you went to be together, other than church.

Mr. Blades: Yeah, absolutely, and also because it was a place that was respected. It was a poor man’s opera. You went there, and you sat down, and you behaved.

Ms. Percy: When I think about your career — I grew up listening to your music and being inspired by you as an activist, as someone who fights for what is right and talks about what’s wrong in your music, as well as in your law and in your politics. And I think about so much of your work being about that justice, that seeking justice for people who’ve been wronged; about how often we are judgmental towards one another.

Mr. Blades: And how many times we are quiet about it.

Ms. Percy: Yes, and how many times we are quiet. And it’s no coincidence to me that you’ve been the opposite of quiet. You’ve stood up and spoken and used your voice in every possible way.

Mr. Blades: It’s interesting, because I don’t portray myself as a hero. I was just upset. I was just angry, actually. And I wrote my songs, always, from the perspective of a different opinion, because I always felt that it made people who were feeling those things feel less lonely. That was basically it. I wanted people to know that they were not alone. That’s what I thought.

Ms. Percy: And I think you gave voice to those who didn’t have a voice, in your songs.

Mr. Blades: Well, I was one of the people. Other people did a lot more than I ever did. There were so many people all throughout, in those days, in Central America and South America, who were being killed for standing up for justice, basically.

So — but I figured, I’m gonna write about that too. And I’m sure that it was a consequence, just as it was for me to go study law; part of it was that desire to prevent the sort of things that I saw, when I was very young, exemplified in film.

[excerpt: The Ox-Bow Incident]

[music: “Buscando América” by Rubén Blades]

Ms. Tippett: I'm Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, exploring the power of movies to shape and change our lives, as told through conversations from our new podcast, This Movie Changed Me, with Lily Percy.

[music: “The Princess Who Loves Insects” by Joe Hisaishi, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Original Soundtrack)]

Ms. Percy: For our next movie, we’re delving into the world of the 1984 Japanese anime Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It’s a hard movie to describe, because the plot has so many layers. But it’s essentially about a princess, Princess Nausicaä, who is trying to survive and help her community survive amidst the crumbling world around her. The movie was made by the revered Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who is known for creating female characters who defy the stereotypes and limitations of their genders and are adventurers, soldiers, agents of their own lives. By modeling a world where gender is of no consequence, as Miyazaki does in Nausicaä, he directly changed the life of trans woman and writer Gabrielle Bellot.

[music: “The Princess Who Loves Insects” by Joe Hisaishi, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Original Soundtrack)]

Ms. Percy: I think about something you cited in this piece you wrote for The Atlantic about — which I think was taken from an interview that Hayao Miyazaki did with Roger Ebert. And you talk about his moments, and the creation of his moments, of "ma," or "emptiness."

Ms. Bellot: Yeah, this is something that is very much what I think of when I think of the reason that Miyazaki's films seem so different, because — I was actually re-watching Alien again recently. And as I was looking at Ms. Ripley waiting for the alien to appear down a hall, it made me think of how horror movies utilize something similar but quite different, these moments of emptiness in which something is not really happening.

But the difference, to me, is that — as Miyazaki says, these are moments that are not meant to create suspense — so somebody is combing their hair, or somebody is just looking at the sky, or somebody is just putting on clothes or something. And technically, it doesn’t have to be there. You could remove it, and the pace would quicken.

But I think it would be worse, because we would be losing something about the characters, something that makes them into who they are supposed to be. And that's what really, I think, defines “Miyazaki-esque,” in part — that we have these moments that don't need to be there but absolutely need to be there — the sort-of presence and absence.

[music: “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind — Opening,” by Joe Hisaishi, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Original Soundtrack)]

Ms. Percy: Yeah, I think of, in Nausicaä, when we see her in the very beginning, sitting among the spores, daydreaming, when she's walking through the wheat fields as a little girl — all these moments that add so much — I can't quite explain why, but they add a lot of humanity and vulnerability. You feel vulnerable with the character when you're watching these moments.

Ms. Bellot: I agree. And I think it's partly because those really are moments that are human. It's easy to forget, in a sense, what it means to be human, even as a member of this unfortunate species, because we can sort of forget all of the emptiness that we have in our daily life. We're waiting for the train or checking our phone, not really expecting something.

And that's something that you honestly just don't get to see, in lots of movies. And so I sort of like to think of it as — Milton tells us that he's going to show us the ways of God to Man, and I sort of think of Miyazaki as, in some sense, improving on this. He's showing us the ways of world to human. And so we really get to see what it's like to be us, even if we're in a world that is not like one that we would recognize.

[excerpt: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind]

Ms. Percy: Something that I so appreciated is something you touched upon earlier during our conversation, about the androgyny of her character. And the thing that I didn't pick up on initially was that other than people calling her "princess," which has a connotation of being a woman, she doesn't really have any kind of restrictions. They don't treat her in the role of a woman. She just does what she does. She does it freely. She's accepted. She was just allowed to be herself.

Ms. Bellot: I do think you're spot-on, because there's really no explicit sense that because of what she is she needs to slow down, or she needs to not talk back to this person or something.

Ms. Percy: Or go ask permission from her father — I kept being like, "She's not asking anyone for permission!"

Ms. Bellot: Oh, yeah, no, no, her bravery is on fleek in this movie. It's fantastic. But the thing is that she's not just one of those characters who is unstoppable. She's not this archetype of perfection. And you can tell that she not only can be beaten but is on the verge of being emotionally beaten. And I love it, because you know that she is exceptionally tough, but you know, as well, that she can be broken.

[excerpt: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind]

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Ms. Percy: The first time that I saw Princess Leia in Star Wars, in 1977’s Episode IV – A New Hope, I remember thinking that she was kind of like the Che Guevara of the Rebel Alliance. Princess Leia, embodied beautifully by the late, great Carrie Fisher, was the first time that many little girls saw a female leader on-screen. And it left an impression on a generation of women that grew up in its wake.

But it wasn’t just women that were affected by the power of Princess Leia. She also changed the lives of men and shaped the way that men saw women. That’s what NPR host David Greene felt when he first saw her in Star Wars.

Ms. Percy: So I'm so fascinated by something that you mentioned when you first said that you were gonna pick this movie. You talked about the wanderlust. You also talked about how it allowed you to really see powerful women and respect powerful women. And I wonder if you can just tell me a little bit about that. You were raised by a single mom, so clearly, this powerful woman was always part of your life. But what did you see in Star Wars that reinforced that?

Mr. Greene: From the moment that Princess Leia confronted Darth Vader on that ship, she showed not an ounce of fear.

Ms. Percy: Her face is just stone.

Mr. Greene: Her face, it is stoic. It is like — “Only you would be so bold.” And she is standing there, ready to confront him. And he could've pulled out a light saber and destroyed her in a second flat, and she knows that, and she was absolutely fearless. And I think it really drove home the power of a strong woman. And I knew that, because I was raised by one, but throughout the movie, I remember just being enchanted by that.

And she owned Han Solo [laughs] and his just ridiculous, naïve attempts to woo her. And she just owned that relationship.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope]

Mr. Greene: I remember being devastated when — in Jedi, in Return of the Jedi — when she was enslaved by Jabba the Hutt and made to wear that bikini, because — I know it's been a much-debated scene from that movie. But it was painful to me, because it was —

Ms. Percy: It was like the ultimate debasement of her.

Mr. Greene: It was. And I think I was — I don't know. I can't remember when Jedi came out, but I was a teenager, probably. And I didn't know the word "objectification," and I didn't know words like "demeaning."

Ms. Percy: But you’re like, “That’s wrong.”

Mr. Greene: But I was like, "That's wrong. This is a strong woman who is now…"

Han Solo was frozen, and that didn't bother me. But to see Leia like that — that was really, really, really painful.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] That was it. Oh, David, so enlightened you are. I love this. [laughs]

Well, you're married to a very strong woman yourself.

Mr. Greene: I am — a lot stronger than I am.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] And you know it, and that's her power. And you co-own this amazing bar/restaurant with her, Compass Rose.

Mr. Greene: She owns it. We should be very clear.

Ms. Percy: She owns it, OK.

Mr. Greene: I'm probably involved, but yeah, she's the owner and the boss.

Ms. Percy: She's the owner and the boss. I was trying to bring you in there, but OK.

Mr. Greene: Yeah, I appreciate it. [laughs] Throw me a bone.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] And I know that there's a very famous bar scene in Star Wars.

Mr. Greene: Yeah, love it.

Ms. Percy: That is my favorite scene, by the way.

Mr. Greene: Is it? Do you hear the music sometimes?

Ms. Percy: Oh, my God. I do.

[music: “Cantina Band” by John Williams, from Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

Ms. Percy: It's one of those things where you automatically hear that music, and how can you not picture all the creatures that are in that bar and how weird they look? There's one dude who I've never known what he is, but he's doing something to something that sticks out of his mouth, for like ten seconds.

Mr. Greene: Yep, it's just disgusting. Everyone is different and weird and wonderful.

Ms. Percy: And they're just chilling there and drinking. And I just wanted to share that that's my favorite scene and wondered what your favorite scenes are.

Mr. Greene: That was my favorite scene. And I have loved bars ever since then.

Ms. Percy: Because of the weird characters that hang out?

Mr. Greene: Because of the weird characters — and a bar is a really special place. You walk in, and you feel uncomfortable. You feel a little out of place in the very beginning.

Ms. Percy: Vulnerable.

Mr. Greene: Really vulnerable, as we saw with Luke. He almost got killed, and he needed Obi-Wan to save him.

Ms. Percy: Just because they didn't like what he looked like.

Mr. Greene: Just because they didn't like what he looked like — which was great, wasn't it? Because he's probably, objectively, the best-looking person in that bar with a bunch of weird-looking aliens, and he's the one who is different. And that was not lost on me, either.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] Exactly. "We don't like your face."

Mr. Greene: Right, exactly, which is kind of beautiful.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Mr. Greene: But the whole relationship with a bar is — how quickly does that kind of discomfort go away? How quickly can you make a connection and begin to feel comfortable? And that's the whole narrative and cool thing about a bar. It's a place that's always open, or almost always open, and it's almost a friend. And you're gonna meet wacky characters who are completely different. You're gonna be exposed to people, or aliens, who you'd never come in contact with elsewhere.

Ms. Percy: Exactly, yeah. It's kind of like an equalizer. I know there are classy bars and dive bars, but I feel like it's a place where you meet all kinds of people, different backgrounds, some people with money, some people with no money. Everyone's there just to be with someone else. It's kind of that idea of being alone, together.

Mr. Greene: 100 percent. There was a place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Harvard Square, where I would go often during college, called The Tasty. And it was just one of those greasy-spoon, cheeseburger joints, where they had cheeseburgers 24 hours a day that were delicious.

Ms. Percy: Ugh, it’s amazing.

Mr. Greene: And you could go there — there could be someone who was homeless and was trying to find just a place to stay warm and get a cup of coffee. There could be a hipster. There could be a poet. There could be a college professor. There could be someone who had gotten back from a Red Sox game and was just wasted. And it was just this collection of people from all walks of life. I remember, whenever I went in there I was always reminded of the Star Wars scene, because it was exactly like that — at a human level, but it was exactly like that.

[music: “The Throne Room and End Title,” by John Williams, from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope]

Ms. Tippett: David Greene, interviewed by Lily Percy. This hour, you also heard Casper ter Kuile, Ashley C. Ford, Anthony Breznican, Rubén Blades, and Gabrielle Bellot. They are just some of the voices from On Being Studios’ new podcast, This Movie Changed Me — one fan talking about the transformative power of one movie, every episode. And in the full episodes you hear so much more of the movies and rich conversation. I promise, you’ll love it. You can download This Movie Changed Me on Apple Podcasts or wherever you download your favorite shows. And as always, listen again to this show and all of our podcasts at

[music: “Cantina Band” from Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

Staff: On Being is Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Malka Fenyvesi, Erinn Farrell, Laurén Dørdal, Tony Liu, and Brettina Davis, Bethany Iverson, Erin Colasacco, and Kristin Lin.

Ms. Tippett: Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating. And the last voice you hear, singing our final credits in each show, is hip-hop artist Lizzo.

On Being was created at American Public Media. Our funding partners include:

The Fetzer Institute, helping to build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Find them at

Kalliopeia Foundation, working to create a future where universal spiritual values form the foundation of how we care for our common home.

Humanity United, advancing human dignity at home and around the world. Find out more at, part of the Omidyar Group.

The Henry Luce Foundation, in support of Public Theology Reimagined.

The Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy, and fulfilled lives.

And the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based, private family foundation dedicated to its founders’ interests in religion, community development, and education.