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My sister’s screen triumph: family movie night

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She must have planned it for days. The striking of the deal was a case study in diplomacy.

There are three computer screens in our house and two regularly-used TV sets. Many nights, my family are alone together behind our separate devices, reading and watching what suits our individual tastes. Our favourites in film, television, journalism and music remain strictly personal.

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I'm grateful for this when the singing competition show The Voice comes on. I retreat to a quieter spot and boot up my laptop to find something with fewer Top 40 covers.

There are four of us at home these days: my Facebook-obsessed mom, Tweet-happy sister, dad who is only now laughing at the jokes you forwarded 10 years ago, and me, who blogs about them all behind their backs.

Given this atomized state of affairs, you can see why I was surprised when, on a recent Sunday night, my little sister ventured to get us all to sit down to a movie together. At first I stared in shock, my face lit up by the glow of my computer. I logged on to Twitter. Was it broken, giving her nothing to do? Did a Sophia Bush tweet (actress on One Tree Hill, duh) put her up to it?

Twitter was okay, but was she? Family movie night. It seemed as impossible a challenge as getting the world to agree on how to tackle climate change.

Did she realize the risk? One wrong move could have sent us all running for cover behind our individual devices for who knows how long? Days? Weeks? Years? There was nothing I could do. Trying to stop her now could result just as badly. So I sat back and prepared for the worst.

She approached carefully, slowly. First, each party was consulted and their concerns solemnly considered.

My dad lobbied his position in typical fashion, insisting he would be happy with whatever everyone else agreed on. But his body itself does not allow him to lie about his approval or disapproval of our choices: His film rating system, as he reminds us each time a movie goes on, is "two lids up" or "two lids down." A film either fails or succeeds before his eyes (one lid up being a biologically improbable rating). His exact tastes, never articulated in words, can only be guessed, making him a particularly volatile voting member of our family model United Nations.

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After Dad defers the decision, negotiations centre on the three of us left. Mom and I form a bloc, registering our shared preference for a drama with a historical setting. Pride and Prejudice was my pick. My nineties baby sister's disapproval was visible. She nearly derailed her careful progress by tempting our discussion to descend into bickering. (The world "boring" formed on her lips but mysteriously no sound emerged.) She brushed the muted sound wave out of the air with her hand and quickly regained her poise, calmly asserting her own – rogue – position. She would prefer a horror movie. Texas Chainsaw Massacre to finish off the weekend, anyone?

No one bit.

Yet all was not lost. To our own disbelief, we had now heard each party's position and still no fires had broken out. But time was running out. Negotiations had run late. Fatigue was setting in. The clock approached 8 p.m. Dad's eyes drooped with premonitions of his rating before a film was even selected. We stood at an impasse. Clear about our differences, the test remained whether we could triumph over them.

Suddenly, with a surprise concession from a party not known for giving an inch of ground, the logjam was broken. (People around the world hoped for a breakthrough like this, which they never got, during the last round of UN climate talks.)

"There's this movie I started watching in religion class about World War II…," my sister offered. Aha! She had conceded to watching something historical rather than curling up alone in her room to depictions of chainsaw gore. And she'd admitted to being a little interested in history, to boot.

She knew it was an offer we couldn't refuse; each bloc was satisfied.

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We didn't know what we were in for. The film she suggested was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Without revealing the plot, I'll say that it's a heart-wrenching exploration of what happens when childhood innocence wanders across the line between "us" and "them" in Second World War Germany.

Dad gave it two lids up and I'm certain there were tears in a few other sets of open eyes.

Our achievement was nothing compared to the task of tackling climate change. But you have to start somewhere, right? My family had a shared experience in the age of individualized media consumption.

Not that we can blame the technology necessarily. If, like my parents, I had grown up at a time when the whole family gathered around the one TV set to watch Hockey Night in Canada, I would probably have exited to read a book.

Perhaps spending meaningful time together just takes deliberate effort, regardless of what gadgets you do or do not have.

I don't think my sister is interested in a career in international diplomacy, but if she can orchestrate a family movie night at our house, she's got to have at least a shot at that climate change thing.

Brett Throop lives in Cobourg, Ont.

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