With the amount of time we spend watching films, it really begs the question: why? Apparently people are busier now than ever before, yet we all still find the time to sit down and watch a movie.
Words: Ali Mulaga, Subeditor: Lauren Burgess
“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”
― Ingmar Bergman
Filmmaking as an art
Other than occupying yourself for a few hours, why do we feel the need to watch films? What is the point of film? There are many answers to this, but it all can be boiled to down to art and escapism. Film is an artform, and there is as much of a point to The Usual Suspects artistically as there is to Starry Night. Their specific meanings are, of course, as varied as their content, both with the aim of making their viewers think something or feel anything and limit the impressive amounts of apathy people seems to possess. With film being an inclusive experience, as the third party we are able to hear and see what all the characters can hear and see. We become so attached to the characters that their lives become our own, but with the added bonus that none of it actually matters to anyone ‘real’ personally.
The role of film in society- escapism
Everyone’s got a problem, but so long as it isn’t your problem it’s entertainment. The type of films we want to watch say a lot about us as individuals, and the ones we, as a society, cherish says a lot about our culture. For instance, western societies play into happy endings more often than not, while Russian cinema tends to end tragically, as it suits their respective societies and the individual’s expectionta. We want something to make us forget our own trials, while still being realistic. Even fantasy and science fiction are relatable on some level. At any given moment in any movie theater there’s a new action movie or romance. I guess it could be said that we’re obsessed with burning things to the ground and not being alone.The same way older American films often reflect the paranoia and fear dominating the culture at the time, maybe the plethora of romance movies are responsible for our Tinder-driven society.
Alain de Botton in a ‘School of Life’ video explains art’s role in life by saying that “Sometimes a whole society falls in love with a certain style in art because it’s trying to re-balance itself” and with film being one of the more prominent artforms along with music and photography it ought to be more than something you just see. There’s something very wrong with the way we watch films now.
Just look at the way we go to the cinema. Before it starts, you’re bombarded with advertisements, when you leave, you’re bombarded with advertisements. The industry is telling us, “don’t think about the film you’ve just watched, think about all these other films you could be watching.”
Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
How to watch better films
But it’s not just the viewers: there’s a problem on both sides of filmmaking. The number of ‘just killing time’ films is far greater than the number of ‘enriching’ films. The cult-like worship of intricate films shows that viewers are willing to pay attention if given something worth paying attention to. But attention is a hard thing to garner nowadays as it’s less about the story than it is the actors. When has Channing Tatum ever played a character that wasn’t Channing Tatum as ‘a cop’ or Channing Tatum: male stripper? It’s harder to make people genuinely care about the story these days as they prefer to watch a film that doesn’t require any thought. It’s not that they don’t have time, which is the common excuse, it’s more that it’s already been seen before, and once is enough.
Psychological thrillers, for one, require a lot of attention. With comedies, just wait for the punch line; for romance, the epic kiss; and mystery, the big reveal. The way psychological thrillers tend to work is subtle, and rather than laughs or cries, the emotion they try to draw out is usually along the lines of discomfort, disbelief, and the almost physical need to make sense of the tale being told.
The reason films like Inception and Pulp Fiction stay in viewers’ minds long after the movie is over, has a lot to do with the story. Not to spoil anything for anyone, but movies like that don’t have a satisfying end. And even more frustrating is that their makers always give the same ambivalent answer: it is, and it isn’t. Because the meaning isn’t explicitly given, people are forced to look for it themselves. What was in the suitcase? Was it all a dream? Does it even matter?
It’s unfortunate that so many people can spend so much time making a film just to have people watch it just for the sake of watching it, but not give it any further thought. The things people spend time on shape them as individuals, and together it shapes society. If cinema is to be a prominent form of art for this period in time, we should treat it as such. The next time you sit down to watch something, give it a little thought. Let it take up residence in the back of your mind, analyze what you understand and meditate on what you don’t. Maybe you won’t get far, but we’ll all get somewhere.