For many individuals, going to the movies for the first time can be a pivotal experience. For some, the experience may spark a passion that truly galvanizes their imagination. In the context of Owen Michael Johnson’s REEL LOVE, we experience the power that cinema can instill in a person, particularly in a young child.

REEL LOVE traverses the story of a young boy throughout three phases of his life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Now, as he lives through these phases, there is a sole narrator that accompanies the boy every step of the way. That narrator happens to be none other than cinema itself.

Thus, in each act of REEL LOVE, Johnson presents an incredibly touching narrative that depicts the trials and tribulations that come with growing up in addition to the passions that keep one grounded and excited to take risks for what they love.

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REEL LOVE page 1. Image courtesy of Unbound.

The Opening Crawl

The first act of REEL LOVE, entitled “Projections,” follows the aforementioned young boy as he discovers his love for film. In regard to the portrayal of film throughout this work, Johnson does so with immense reverence and authenticity. He presents this boy’s first cinematic experience as though it is a dream, one that emerges from darkness.

Thus, the boy’s first experience is a little intimidating as the movie’s booming sounds and grand visuals actually instill fear rather than excitement. Despite this frightful first experience, the narrator reassures the boy that, “beginnings are always difficult.” The narrator reaffirms that love does not come as fast as people may believe. Rather, people learn to love.

So, that is exactly what the boy does. He learns how to love film.

After going to see a showing of STAR WARS, the boy’s passion for film is ignited. In this sequence, Johnson perfectly captures the emotions associated with the moment in which the lights go down before a film starts. Those emotions can range from anticipation to excitement to anxiety.

Johnson captures them all in a series of only a few panels.

Therefore, it is so nostalgic and powerful to see that moment experienced by a child. From that moment on, the boy is never the same.

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REEL LOVE page 38. Image courtesy of Unbound.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

REEL LOVE’s second act, “Concessions,” brings on the hardships. The boy, as he experiences adolescence, finds himself lost as he struggles to share his passions with others. Thus, he distances himself from the films that shaped him as he descends into loneliness. Ultimately, he’s afraid that he will not be remembered.

However, the third act, “Admissions,” recalibrates the boy. As an adult, he becomes a professor of film. At one point in his career, he comes to realize that he spent so much of his life, particularly throughout the second act, chasing dreams of becoming a prolific filmmaker. This ironically distanced him from his beloved films. So, in the midst of that chase, he forgot why he was pursuing those dreams in the first place.

As a result, the boy realizes in adulthood that he was happiest sitting in the movie theater he would attend as a kid experiencing a movie for the first time. The boy never needed to be a filmmaker to love film. He simply needed to experience film as he did as a child.

Thus, the conclusion of REEL LOVE features the boy, now an adult, becoming the owner of his beloved childhood movie theater. He encounters a young girl who is attending her first theatrical experience. She is intimidated by the grandeur of it all, but the boy reminds her that though she is anxious, she is not alone.

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REEL LOVE page 106. Image courtesy of Unbound.

The Fade to Black

Part of the process of growing up is discovering the things that make us feel alive. In the context of REEL LOVE, film encompasses the passions of our main character. It serves as the narrator of this story, the one who remains loyal to the boy despite his trials and tribulations.

Thus, this is a story that enlightens the human experience. It makes us aware of the power of our existence and the power of our respective imaginations.

Interestingly, our own imaginations actually play a dynamic role throughout the comic. The art in REEL LOVE can be jarring at times due to the commotion many panels maintain to depict the volatility of the boy’s imagination. However, the monochromatic palette allows us to fill in the story’s blanks. Through that, Johnson implores us to use our own imagination. He wants us to contribute to this story as it is a coming of age tale anyone can relate to.

So, ultimately, REEL LOVE is a story about the magic of cinema. Films comprise the power to make us laugh, cry, and feel inspired. They follow us throughout our lives as we recall the nostalgia of the movies that shaped us as a child and ponder the movies that make us think as an adult.

Therefore, REEL LOVE is truly a beautiful and authentic love story that captures the journey of the human experience in addition to the way cinema enlivens us all.

REEL LOVE by Owen Michael Johnson
Plot
Characterization
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Summary
Simply, REEL LOVE is an inspiring tale that seamlessly intertwines nostalgia, tragedy, and hope into a narrative that anyone can genuinely identify with.
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