Monday, July 7, 2008

Movies Have Meaning in Our Lives

One of the most common complaints I get about my film reviews is that I give too many negative reviews. To some readers it seems like I don't like anything. It is true, most of my reviews are negative, and I don't recommend most movies. In my estimation, most cinema is a terrific pile of steaming dung and I advise you to avoid it. I've had more than one reader tell me that I read too much into movies or that I need to relax and just enjoy them more. This kind of dismissive thinking couldn't be more wrong. The last thing a person should do is stop thinking about the kind of muck they're cramming into their minds via their eyes.

Escaping from our everyday lives is a natural human reaction. Often this escape is done through the medium of film. We sit down in front of a flickering screen and have the light and sound of film fill our heads and the curses of our daily lives melt away, at least for ninety minutes. Every time we partake in this seemingly mundane task we are actually allowing ourselves to be hypnotized to a certain extent. Have you ever gotten “lost” in a movie? The characters are so rich and meaningful, the plot so surprising and original that you lose track of time and sense of yourself? Have you ever been swept away to another land and delved deep in the struggles of an on screen hero? Our seemingly harmless escape from reality is actually a form of hypnotism. Merriam-Webster defines hypnosis as:

A trancelike state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject

Instead of looking at film as a means of entertainment, look at it for what it actually is – a mode of communication. The images on the screen are something more than simple flashing pictures, they blend together to give the illusion of movement. These pictures are composed and edited to make a statement, to say something to be interpreted by you, the audience. The filmmaker intentionally molds the images and sequence of images in a film to massage your subconscious in the way he wants. When you watch a movie you’re not a passive lump of meat in front of a screen. You are a vibrant, active soul experiencing a part of your life reacting to the filmmaker’s work as he plays with your emotions. This is why when the villain kills a person we loathe them and when the hero kills someone we cheer them on. A gifted director knows how to use film to influence the thoughts of their audience.

Steven Spielberg made millions give a second thought about heading into deep waters with his film Jaws. The influence of Spielberg’s classic film was so strong even people who found themselves in fresh water lakes began to question what lurked under the surface. Hitchcock, to this day, still has some unnerved when they are taking a shower thanks to the murder scene in Psycho. A gifted director knows how to use film to ignite emotions and influence the thoughts of their audience. There are many filmmakers who want to take the power of people’s reaction to film to change the way you think about a myriad of subjects. They would love to explain the world to you. Each time you watch a film you give them an opportunity to alter how you think. While this sounds threatening it is important to remember that not all filmmakers are out to do harm and many provide uplifting and moral tales. But what about those who are looking to do harm? What about those who wish to influence people away from traditional lines of thought and lead them towards dead-end thinking?

For the reactionaries in the audience, I am not saying that someone who watchings a torture porn movie like Saw or Hostel is going to immediately turn into a raging murderer. In most cases, seeing a single film will not deeply injure someone. It is the steady diet that changes people. It feeds into their own personal flaws that led them to the low content in the first place and often inflames that part of their personality. Much like most people don't become alcoholic from a single sip but rather a developed behavior of getting drunk.

Films can and do change us. They stick with us whether we want them to or not. Today, pay attention, how many times do you or those around you quote or refer to films? The entertainment industry has been allowed to seep into every aspect of our culture and controls more of our daily life than most people are comfortable admitting to. It is this inherent power in films that should make us throw away the dismissive attitude that "its just a movie". When I recommend or trash a movie, its more than just because a film did or didn't entertain. Heck, if its only about entertainment then some screensavers would be Oscar worthy. As an audience, we need to consider what is being said, what message is being imparted by the film and just as important, what is its effect on the culture at large?

There are so many people complaining about the lousy movies being pushed by Hollywood. All they make are remakes, sequels or rehashed crap from 1970's television shows. Hollywood makes bad product because we're willing to buy bad product. If we come to understand the real potency of film and its impact on our lives, we will demand the medium be used with the respect it deserves. If we turn away from the muck and call for the producers to make quality, they will. If you look at your culture and are ashamed, its up to you to change it. Its not the filmmaker's fault, it's ours.

Originally published on Good News Film Reviews

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