Whenever a friend introduces me to a new acquaintance, it is inevitable for the words “This guy LOVES movies” to be uttered. I can’t be too surprised, as I go to the theater at least once a week and love to discuss everything movie-related – from the latest news to sharing about the last great film I saw. To me, film has always been more than a way to pass the time or to simply be entertained for a fleeting moment.
When I was young, I remember being so excited to receive the latest Disney release (or re-release) on VHS, watching it over and over until the tape wore out. In middle school, I became enraptured by the adventures of Indiana Jones, Marty McFly, and James Bond. It wasn’t until later in high school that I dove headfirst into learning about different directors, different periods and genres of film, and the inner-workings of Hollywood or the politics of the Academy. Now, I’m a college student who finds himself in the theater or at home, searching for any new “masterpiece” or “hidden gem.”
So, why do I love movies so much?
Perhaps the single defining pleasure of moviegoing is escaping from one’s responsibilities and the mundanity of everyday life into the creative and expansive worlds on the silver screen. Is there really anything better than curling up on a rainy day and watching your favorite movie? (The answer is no, and yes, I’m thinking of you book fans) Frankly, it’s not been a great year to switch on the news and it seems like wherever one turns, something sad or frustrating has happened. Some days I just want to ditch homework and travel with Frodo to Mordor or with Emmet through the inventive realms of LEGO. I’m sure most people would say that escapism is the primary reason for watching a movie, but it’s only one of many aspects to me.
To those that know me well, they would say that I am curious and constantly seeking to learn more. More times than I can count, I’ve watched a biopic, foreign film, or “oldie,” and felt compelled to go research and learn more. Far from being insular, films are a sort of cultural and historical “time capsule,” reflecting on the public sentiment and values of their time and providing a roadmap to the most significant events of the 20th Century. For example, it is not a coincidence that the Western genre (fundamentally, stories about a clear “good guy” succeeding over a clear “bad guy”) became popular in the United States around the time the Western World was dealing with fascism in Europe and later entrenched in a Cold War. Later, Taxi Driver and Easy Rider reflected the culture’s changing moods towards institutions and rebellion against authority.And in recent years, the film industry responded to 9/11 with stories of superheroes who could save entire populations, represent the greatest of our ideals, and inspire us to be our best selves.I love being able to study each film and director or actor in the greater context and to begin to see how entwined the study of the art form is with the past 100+ years.
We all joke about how devastated we will be after the next Pixar film tugs on our heartstrings and it has become a tired meme that every child has been scarred by viewing Bambi or The Lion King. However, it’s impressive that a series of moving images can invoke such an array of emotions. The anger at the injustice done to a beloved character. The feelings of inspiration that accompany the simple memory of “Oh Captain! My Captain!” and the image of an unorthodox English teacher standing on a desk. The shared laughter at a clever quip or comeback, elaborately set-up joke callback, slapstick pratfall, or (for whatever reason) weirdly shaped yellow Minions who can’t speak English. The compulsion to clap and cheer when the “good guy” overcomes all trials and difficulties to finally defeat the evilest of “bad guys”. To me, the ability to transmit the emotions of the filmmaker to a theater filled with eager viewers is a phenomenon that I will always be fascinated by.
Unlike most art forms, the filmmaker has incredible control over the viewer, using editing, blocking, and camera movements to point the viewer towards a film’s meaning and their intent. Using the score and acting, emotions can be elicited. There is no better art medium for directly conveying one’s desires, transmitting one’s emotions, and conversely, understanding others. Critics may say that this removes the speculative and personal nature important to other forms of art (for example, paintings), but I appreciate understanding what the filmmaker’s intent. We, as humans, are not much different from one another, and this medium of moving images is universally understood. For example, why do I love foreign films? It’s not for the sake of appearing hipster, but because they give me a window into a world and culture that I may never visit, may never experience, and would never begin to understand without a filmmaker expressing himself/herself. If the medium of film can allow a guy from Alabama to begin to understand the complex nature of life in Tehran (Asghar Farhadi’s films, look em up, they’re fantastic), let alone the vast backgrounds and diversities of just American filmmakers, well to me that is more than enough reason to love and cherish the art form.
In The Hero, a wonderfully acted film from earlier this year, Nick Offerman’s character says “Movies are other people’s dreams.” Films are communicative by nature, and they communicate the dreams of others: their loves, their fears, their aspirations, their frustrations, their joys, and their failures. Ultimately, I watch film for the subtle moments that, though often fleeting, offer the most telling glimpses into the human condition. I’m constantly looking for something new to learn and continuing to expand my view of the world. So, for whatever reasons you may choose to watch movies, I encourage you to push yourself past your comfort zone and dive deep. Watch that movie with subtitles. Watch that movie that may make you sad. Watch that movie that will challenge your beliefs. Watch that movie that all critics laud over. Watch that movie all critics pan. Watch that movie with a cast that looks nothing like yourself. Whatever you do, don’t simply take film at face value as mindless entertainment. And when you’re done watching, start conversations with others. You’ll be amazed how much you will learn about others via their response to film. Watching and loving film has greatly impacted my life, and for the better. I can only hope the same for you.