“I Felt Like I Was in a Movie”

Some Sunday afternoon fun. Ever had an experience that led you to feel like you were in a movie? What was it? Here is mine:

I was driving on a wintry day down an icy road that had a railroad crossing. I saw a freight train barreling toward the crossing and moved to step on the brake when “BANG” there was the sound of an explosion inside the car!

Evil looking green liquid began pouring in from all the vents followed by clouds of toxic, choking smoke that blinded me as I hurtled toward destruction.

And in my head, I swear I heard Ernst Blofeld speaking from a hidden microphone “Good Bye, Mr. Bond”.

(It was a heater core explosion, I opened the window to release the gas, pumped the brakes and skidded to a halt just in time to prevent a collision with the train).

Your movie moments, RBCers?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

32 thoughts on ““I Felt Like I Was in a Movie””

  1. I unsure that I am grokking the phrase “experience that led you to feel you were in a movie” correctly. But I generally get my thrills from high speed bicycle descents. On a mountain bike, you have to be in the flow reacting w/o thinking in order to survive w/o crashing. Crashing has a potentially large range of unpleasantness. However, once you’re in the flow, less visual data is required than you might otherwise guess. This explains why me and a bunch of my buddies repeatedly made full velocity 1500′ descents on the very rough single track on South Mountain in Phoenix. At night. Always there were crashes. But we were young. And that was definitely better than any movie I’ve ever seen.

    These days I do high speed descents on the road. They’re actually more dangerous, when things go awry. But most of the time things don’t. The movie aspect arises from having to avoid the intangibles, such as (recently), squirrels zigzagging near my wheels (ignore the potential pertubation, as the incoming mass is too small), and a flock of javelinas crossing just past a blind curve (aim for the rear of the last fellow, and be prepared to bail (i.e. crash)). This stuff happens at 35-50mph.

    Around ’82 or so my wife and I got held up on the Appalachian Trail in GA, about 5 miles from the nearest access, by a hick (my people) wearing flip flops, brandishing a pistol. I gave him all my money, a dollar. He let me keep my drivers license. Driving in Italy is a wonderful movie. But I also enjoy driving in Boston.

    Back in ’84 my wife and I were sitting in a restaurant in the Miami airport when some people lit up cigarettes and due to the quirks of the ventilation the entire smokestream passed right through us. We complained loudly and a scene ensued. After everyone left in a huff, we boarded our plane to London. Our seat companions were the puffing couple. Now that was a movie scene.

    There was the day when I was 15 or so (in the ’70s) and I was told to use the float rope to haul myself down to lobster traps in 15′ of water (so as to better poach the lobsters) (hicks really are my people). Unusually for South Florida, the water was incredibly murky, maybe 3′ of visibility. When I got to the bottom (holding my breath), the theme from Jaws got stuck in my brain. End of that activity. I’m not really cut out to be a poacher, anyway, unlike my (now passed) relatives.

    (Bonus anecdote, did you see that youtube outtake clip of the Bond scene where he runs across the backs of the crocodiles? This is no lie, the cousin who suggested I dive down to the lobster traps was a good personal friend of the guy who did that stunt, and I actually visited his spread when I was a child. Lots of exotic animals. Old Florida was something else.)

  2. Visited New York City in 1980; tired of panhandlers and hucksters/hustlers, I pretended not to speak English. Finding it kinda sorta fun, I decided to keep it up for the whole day (a vacation-lark).

    Found myself at MOMA, site of a major Picasso Exhibition and bought a ticket from a guy on the street for entry about two hours later; walked around the corner and was accosted by a panhandler/hustler, whom I shrugged off with my non-English-speaking indeterminate European accent. A cop heard my sputtering English and asked me for help, he was having trouble explaining to a foreigner that the guy’s ticket for MOMA didn’t allow entry until an hour later — and the guy had exactly the same accent I was faking!

    I then repeated to the guy, in English, with my phony accent, what the cop had just told him; they both looked at me funny as I walked away thinking that I had just lived the scene in Woody Allen’s Bananas where the diplomats speak English to each other through an English-speaking interpreter.

  3. Well, the visceral fear ones are obvious. There’s nary a baby boomer alive who’s ever summered on the East Coast, since 1973, who hasn’t, when hopping off a boat for a dip in deep water, not heard the “dum Dump…..dum Dump….” coursing through their soul

    During black-outs? You have to make your way back to that cellar storage room for the flashlight batteries or lantern or generator? There’s usually a guy with a hatchet and a hockey mask waiting behind the door, yes?

    I’ve been to Czesky Krumlov twice. The second time was after seeing the movie Hostel. Same principle, glancing at doorways on abandoned alleys late at night. Wondering which.

    And when you’re alone at night, and the phone rings, and then you hear the click….did it come from inside the house? Or was it sorry, wrong number?

  4. A first date. Back in college I met her met at a party. She agreed to go out with me. I drove to the apartment complex where she lived which was fairly large and popular with college students in general. I had some trouble finding her apartment because the buildings weren’t clearly marked. But finally taking my best guess I knocked on her door. Lynda didn’t answer but I recognized the man standing in the doorway who seemed giddy to see me. Someone from my math class who was gay and not too shy about his attraction to me. And there I was standing at his door. With a rose in my hand. Turns out I had the right apartment number but was off by one building. I stumbled over to Lynda’s place, my head reeling at the astronomical improbability of that scene.

  5. A few weeks ago I was in Nevada on business. I took a cab from the airport to my hotel. The cab driver spent the entire ride talking about the coming election, how Nevada was a swing state, what issues were important, his personal encounters with candidates at rallies, etc. I felt like i was trapped in a Thimas Friedman column.

  6. My movie moment was a Woody Allen movie, where I delivered the good lines in real time, rather than figuring them out two hours later.

    Jew for Jesus: Are you Jewish?
    Me: Do I look like John Lindsey?
    JfJ: Have you thought much of Jesus Christ?
    Me: Ach. He’s okay for the goyim.

    1. The alternative ‘a nice Jewish boy who was very naughty’

      (echoing the brilliant ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’).

  7. Buddy movie. Almost three decades ago in West Germany, not long in country and a couple friends heard I was going solo backpacking in the Austrian Alps & we all went, one had his military-issue duffel bag with “shoulder straps” that hurt in 10 minutes, especially from all the stuff he didn’t need that we finally stashed. First night out was very cold and morning was coffee so we could move and warm up. That second day, starting to see more and more old people chugging along in lederhosen and hiking sticks, and where are all these people coming from?!

    We turn the corner to the valley where we are going to camp and there stands a hut (?!). With a menu and beer and tables and bunk beds for rent. We pitch camp anyway at the creek and come back for a radler, then two. We decide its too crowded and drive down to the Dolomites to finish the trip, wow the scenery – goats, golden eagles, snow, sheep! Even better, driving out in my BMW 525 I’m racing a Fiat down narrow Italian roads and my buddies are screaming in fear and holding on for dear life, I’m pounding down this mountain trading the lead, and the trees are a blur and the slate quarry is loud and its all I can do to look and whoop and drive without going off this narrow mountain road, way better than any movie car chase scene and the heart is racing and shoulders tense… and we get to the bottom and my buddies’ faces were cracked from smiling from surviving and adrenaline. The Fiat driver gets out at the bottom, and was yelling in joy and adrenaline, and we kinda understood each other and what we just did and didn’t wreck. It was like a James Bond-lite movie for young guys on their first big foreign adventure.

  8. Taking care of patients with Multiple Personality Disorder. You literally have to ask “Who am I talking to now?”

  9. In college I went to a party dressed as Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. Black fedora, black bowtie and LOVE/HATE inked onto my knuckles. The only problem is it was cold and I didn’t have the right black jacket so I just wore a trenchcoat. After a few hours I was feeling a bit claustrophobic so I bummed a couple of cigarettes from a friend and went outside (I don’t smoke). Standing in the rain under a fire escape with just a bit of moonlight I guess I was a bit hidden at the top of the stairs. As I lit a bright match and cupped my hands around the flame I heard a woman gasp, “God you look just like you’re in a movie.” She had walked out on the patio just as the light flared. I guess I should have said, “of all the dames in all the gin joints in all the world…” Anyway it turned out that I wasn’t Robert Mitchum, but maybe I was Bogey in Casablanca. Or maybe I was Orson Welles in the Third Man? (I did go out of my way to ride the Vienna Ferris Wheel featured in that movie two years ago. It still exists, still working – one of the oldest in the world).

  10. At a party given in my honor by a bunch of punks before I left for NYC, I learned another guest had raped a friend of a friend, who was in a back bedroom crying because the rapist was present. I asked some guys I knew at the party to escort the rapist out. They declined, citing (without words)male solidarity. “This is my party,” I thought. I went up and poked Rapey in the chest. “You need to leave,” I said. He disavowed the need to leave. He was about seven, eight inches taller than me. I reiterated my request and kept poking him backwards until he was standing on the front stoop. Then he started talking really ugly and refused to go any further. Tunnel vision happened. I knew i had just one chance, the advantage only of of briefest surprise and nothing more. I Sensed that his face was exactly the length of my arm away from my shoulder, I curled my first up like my boyfriend had taught me, and almost before i knew it, i had roundhoused the guy. He went down and crumpled over — and when he struggled up, he ran stumbling away. The party continued apace. A day or two later, my neighbor told me the guy had had a gun.

    1. Wow. Scary. It is sort of a movie set piece but I respect it more in real life. Good on ya. and glad he didn’t use the gun.

      1. Thanks. It is amusing to look back on, given the dumpy, home-loving, Anthony Trollope-reading maiden aunt that I have become, rather too concerned with rounding out my set of salad forks and whether I should favor the Oxford comma.

        But the movie may yet have a sequel: One day, I shall bequeath my set of cast pig-iron knuckles to whichever of my nieces proves most worthy.

  11. When I was about 16, my YMCA swim team went to a swim meet in Dayton, Ohio. It was winter, snowy, and the roads were not in good condition. After the meet was over we piled into cars to head home to Toledo. I was in the front seat of a car with three other kids and the mother of one of them driving. Coming up I-75 she pulled out to pass another car. Just as we were passing, our car hit a patch of ice and slid right, into the other car. Bouncing off of him, we sailed back in the other direction, off the road, down into and across the median, and up right into oncoming traffic – with an eighteen wheeler heading straight for us.

    I can still see us going down and coming up, and the sight of those headlights. And I remember how, in that instant, time seemed to stand still for just a moment. It was like we were just sitting there watching him. Just sitting there. Sitting there. Sitting there. Then I screamed and time shuddered back into motion. The woman driving managed to hold onto the steering wheel so that we didn’t go into a spin, and she wrenched us back down into the median where we came to a stop, exhausted by ten seconds of driving.

  12. My first semi-serious band broke up for the reasons that many relatively unsuccessful bands eventually do — a combination of a slow accumulation of annoyance with one another and a gradual caving-in to societal/family pressure to take on greater professional responsibilities or pursue graduate education. Although the band had essentially been dead for six months at the time we finally decided we were done, we put on a farewell show, because the live shows had always been the best part of the band for us anyway. About halfway through the show, a group of friends gathered at the front of the stage during an instrumental break in one of the songs and egged me on to jump into the crowd, and, unbelievably, I got to crowdsurf while playing a guitar solo for about 30 seconds. One of the greatest moments of my life.

  13. I was in a crowd, on Remembrance Day 11/11/90. It was weeks before Operation Desert Storm.

    There was a whooshing sound, and a scream.

    A burning man ran across the road into the crowd across Whitehall from me. he had covered himself in petrol and set himself on fire.

    The man in front of me said in a Yorkshire accent ‘don’t look love, don’t look’ and held his hand in front of his wife’s eyes, whilst police used their coats to try to damp the flames. What was a human being shrunk into a black charred lump.

    Not sure which movie, but eyewitness to someone (presumably) burning to death. Maybe that scene at the beginning of ‘American Gangster’ where Denzel Washington sets the guy on fire in Harlem.

  14. Maybe the Humphrey Jennings classic ‘Fires were Started’?

    Tube (subway) train is standing for about an hour in the tunnel, packed and getting hotter.

    Guy in uniform comes through and mumbles ‘walk out through the front’.

    As we queue (1000 or so people on the train in front of us) there is the distinct smell of smoke.

    A woman says (in a strangled and voice on the edge of panic) ‘that’s smoke’.

    I say (loudly) ‘it’s not smoke, it’s engine oil’.

    A big thug booms out ‘that’s not bloody engine oil. It’s smoke’ and then (in a self satisfied tone) ‘I don’t work for bloody London Underground’.

    Turned out when we fought our way to the surface (they were holding the exit doors at the top of the station partly closed to prevent people crowding back in) we’d been caught in a Tube fire. And that over 130 people had died at that same station (Bethnal Green) in 1941 on the rumour (untrue) of an air raid, which had caused a mass pani

  15. John Boorman’s memoire of being a child in suburban London during WW2: ‘Hope and Glory’.

    My father in 1944 stood on the Hammersmith Line bridge at the back of Paddington Railway Station.

    A buzz bomb (German V1 bomb) flew over, engine pulsing (they are only dangerous when the engine *stops* and the cruise missile goes into its final dive).

    The whole station went into a mass panic. Except my dad, who as a teenager, stood and watched it fly on to wreak havoc somewhere in North West London.

  16. I am not sure which movie but this was cinematic.

    Having been struck by a car whilst crossing the road, my father flew 30′ and never regained consciousness.

    But the ambulance took him, dying, to the hospital and my mother arrived, summoned by the police from home. She stood by him, and the chaplain said a prayer, and at the last ‘Amen’ his heart stopped.

    I believe he knew his time had come, but he waited until his wife and child were by him, and the Anglican prayer for the dying had been read, before letting go.

    Write that in a movie it would seem hoary and old fashioned. But he was an old fashioned kind of guy, that generation that lived through the Blitz. His father survived a Bolshevik prison during the Russian Civil War.

    We’ll not see their like again.

  17. One final story from my father.

    He was on the beach one day as a child, playing with his younger sister, my aunt.

    A German ME109 fighter plane came over and emptied its guns onto the holidayers.

    He pushed his sister under a swimming raft and probably saved their lives. The plane went on to shoot up a bus on a country lane and kill a top deck passenger.

  18. My movie moment was:
    Biking home from work as a teen in Berkeley / Oakland, got nearly run off the road by a car of thugs yelling racial epithets. Me being a brash teen, stuck my tongue out at them. (bad choice me)
    Then they decide to actually hunt me down. Ahead on Sacramento street they get out of the car and try to grab me off my bike, but I swerve away, biking like a madman. Further ahead I think I have lost them, turn left on 51st. But they catch up and try again. I spot a protective soul on a porch, leap off my bike and run to the safety, only being hit one or two times. Oddly they are all wearing fancy clothes.

    This slightly burly, middle aged black man tells them to basically shove off. (good choice me).
    The thugs then proceed to trash my bike, and me being the brash stupid soul go out to protect it. (very bad choice me.)
    Thankfully I was wearing my bike helmet, because I have no memory of how many other times I was hit after that.
    I remember the cops showing up very soon, as they were a block away investigating some other murder. My memory is seeing cops pointing (guns? rifles?) at well dressed black men in the gutter.

    Later on I learn that the thugs were returning home from the funeral of a drug lord (Felix Mitchell) who was knifed in prison.

    in the movie version, I probably would have been dead. Depends on the genre of the movie.

    1. I am glad you lived.

      Probably not many of them lived long enough to realize what idiots they had been.

  19. In my case, it was not so much a movie and more a live documentary. As a 13-year old living in Berlin in 1989, I got to see this in person.

  20. I was staying at Andre’s house. He’s asleep, and wears earplugs so the phone won’t wake him, so I answer it. It’s a wrong number, and the person being called is noone Andre knows… but _I_ know him. I tell the caller “You have the wrong number, and the wrong city — call Palo Alto, not San Francisco.” My best guess is that the phone company corrected “Edray Goins” to “Andre Burgoyne”. Lucky thing I was there!

    I was at a college dance when some slam-dancing anthem I can no longer remember came on. Quite out of character for each of us, my friend and I wordlessly created our own 2-person mosh pit, slamming one another, flipping into the air, no quarter given. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the crowd melting away, staring in admiration, and applauding.

  21. July ’01 – Midnight, with HBB, on first date, sitting on rounded rocks at bottom of gorge, sprayed with soft mist of babbling creek, under brilliant starry skies. I murmur Rilke; she whispers Dante while nibbling my earlobe.

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