This weekend, I traveled back into the depths of the grade school movie vault, though not entirely on purpose. For a class, I watched the original “Cinderella” cartoon, which I had not seen for probably a decade. When I sat down to eat dinner one night, “High School Musical” was playing on TV, and when I visited the childhood home of my roommate in Chicago, we unearthed a DVD copy of “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” and couldn’t resist.

While watching these movies, the plots were familiar, as was the overly emotive dialogue and highly stylized sets. But what stood out to me most were the objects that surrounded these films’ constructions. The beads strung up on one of the mouse helpers’ tails in “Cinderella” nearly jumped out of the screen and rolled across my own kitchen floor, so memorable to me they seemed completely separate from the plot of stepsisters and fairy godmothers. While watching “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” my roommate Caroline pointed out every item of Lizzie’s very 2000s wardrobe, moments before they would appear on screen. “In the next scene she’s going to wear the blue hair clip.” “Wait for it, they’re almost to the shot of her spinning in the red shoes.” And when these objects did come up in the film, I could see them in the world of the movie just as easily as I could imagine them lying at the bottom of my cluttered closet at home.

In a class last semester, while talking about memoir and the detail of description, my teacher told us that half the memories we hold as true are actually the stuff of our dreams. When we speak or think of the past, we do not pull ideas from a memory storage bank but instead reconstruct what must have happened from details we have held on to. In another class about film history and theory, I learned that some early fictional films were imagined as one of the closest things we have to dreams, and the film industry was sometimes called the “dream factory.”

If we think about this connection between movies and dreams, and between dreams and memories, it’s difficult to find a line of separation between our own experiences and the events we watch play out on screen. With enough distance, everything falls into our memory as real, and our own lives begin to bounce and blend with those of the characters. Of course, this is difficult to do with things like events or locations. I know I haven’t sung on stage at the Roman Colosseum at age 14 to a crowd of my shocked and awed classmates and snubbed Italy’s most famous young pop star (although I really, really wish this had happened.) But, looking at a blue hair clip on screen and looking at one in the bathroom cabinet my sister and I have stuffed with an inordinate amount of Claire’s merchandise over the years is harder to differentiate.

I know this seems trivial: who cares where that hair clip came from, and who cares why it shocks me when it comes up in a movie? But what’s weird about all of this is the way it shocked a room full of girls who had grown up in different cities, going to different schools and living completely separate lives. In a basement in Chicago, we were watching a pretty stupid, but nonetheless amazing movie and we all simultaneously went silent, realizing that something we had remembered as real was not ours. It had only lived on screen. In some section of our pasts, we had mixed in elements of some same stuff, and we had experienced that thing together from miles apart.

So what happens if we take Lizzie McGuire’s blue, flowery hairclip and switch that out with something bigger, like a car, or maybe a house, or even a city. With wide reaching movies like this one, there is a generation of kids, eyes wide on the screen, coming to know these things as ideal, and integrating objects they’ve never even touched into a wide collective memory. There’s something strong in that, something hard to nail down and understand but pervasive nonetheless. There’s an understanding that strings our bumping, opposing consciousnesses together, and a place where our movies fade into reality. 

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