Movies: A Legalized Form of Recreational Drugs
Movies are a drug. We get addicted to them, they make us feel good, and oftentimes they're mind numbing. The difference being, movies aren't inherently bad. What's bad about them is under the surface, so most people don't even realize the affect it has on them. Often, movies distort life and make us see things that aren't true and desire things we can never have. This quote from Slavoj iek is a harsh, but good example, “Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn't give you what you desire-it tells you how to desire.” While this can be true, I don't believe the problem is always the movie. It's us too. We watch movies without a thought, for pure entertainment’s sake, because we want to have fun and let our minds veg. This is the dark side of media, one that, for a long time, I didn't want to believe was there.
Now, I've always been a huge fan of movies and television. When I first started college I was going to major in Film, but quickly learned that it was not the path for me. I was terrible at it. I'm just not technically minded enough to be a film editor or producer. However, I still loved everything else about film-things like film history, how cinematography is used, and writing for film. So long as it didn't require me understanding how a camera worked or how to use an edit suite, I still loved it. I ended up switching to Creative Writing, which was always my first love, but kept a Media minor. I took a few classes that dealt with writing for media and some media history classes, all of which were some of my favorite.
The problem I had was trying to marry my major and minor together. The college that I attended put their Creative Writing major under the Humanities division, which meant that things were handled a bit differently than at other schools. A lot of emphasis was put on classic literature and deconstructing it and understanding it. The professor that I had for a lot of those classes was kind of anti-media. Now, he was one of my favorite professors, and he certainly challenged me to think more critically, but it was hard having this extremely smart man argue that movies don't have many commendable values or that, in general, we're better off without them. Whether it was peers or professors in my major, people thought it was weird that I wanted to be a novelist and a screenwriter. To them, the two didn't go together; writing was an art that was thought provoking and deep, while media is just made for entertainment and has no redemptive qualities.
For the longest time, I didn't know how to respond to people, especially since I had fallen into the same trap as the rest of the world, believing that movies were pure entertainment and that it was okay to go into a movie without thinking about it. Many of you may think, well what's wrong with that? That's what movies are for? Well, as I came to learn in college, there are a lot of things wrong with that. Today when we see a movie, it's because our friends are seeing it, or because that actress/actor we love is going to be in it, or because all the advertising we've seen is enough to pull us in. Once we've watched it, that's it, the end. We move on to the next movie with our only thought being, whether or not we enjoyed it, or whether we think it was made well enough.
Despite all of this, we need to realize that movies are not just for entertainment. Whether we want to believe it or not, movies teach us. What we watch constantly has an effect on our lives. We may not notice it, but it does. It's called subliminal messaging, it passes under the radar and because most of us are not trained to notice it, or don't want to, we are affected by it without even realizing. Bad movies can teach us too, even a movie with flawed logic can teach us. It can either teach us in an inadequate way or, if we're paying attention and notice the flaws, it makes us think, which is a teaching tool in and of itself.
I'm not perfect when it comes to movie watching, I've certainly watched some fairly mindless movies and TV before, which isn't completely a bad thing. What's wrong is when we watch those things because we're purposefully to be mindless beings and think we're not be being affected. If you spend all your time watching nothing but crime dramas all the time, you will probably start to get a very pessimistic view of life or think that you understand crime in all it's complexity, which is never a good thing. If you watch romantic comedies all the time, you're going to get a very screwed up view of what love is like, and so on. Many people think that by actually paying attention to the movie while you're watching it and noticing things like the mise en scene and how it affects the movie, or paying attention to the underlying themes, will ruin the movie for them. Personally, I think it enhances the movie, and it's not like you have to deconstruct every single movie you watch. Not all movies require that; some are blatant with what they're trying to tell you. Sometimes it's okay to just watch a movie, so long as you realize the affect it can have on you.
Once you become more discerning, you'll be amazed by what you notice about movies. Sometimes it's upsetting. You might start to realize some of your favorite movies actually aren't all that great. It's kind of like when you go and watch a movie and then read the book afterward. The book ruins the movie for you because the book was so much better. I had this happen with the movie Timeline. I used to love that movie, then I read the book and realized how terrible the movie was. I can watch the movie again now, and I appreciate it for different reasons. I'm not sorry I read the book or that I realized the movies faults. It means I'm learning. It's really not that hard to be a more discerning movie watcher. It doesn't require taking a minor in media or a major. It requires keeping your brain working while watching a movie. If you want to do something that doesn't require thinking, take a nap, or go relax outside, just try not to always make it a movie. If your friend says, “I'm bored, and don't feel like thinking,” your response should not be, “let's stick in a movie.”
Here are some movies and TV shows that I've watched that get me thinking as I'm watching them.
Memento: This movie, among some of the others in this list, I watched in a deconstructing cinema class I took at school. It really gets you thinking about memory and, the idea that if you were to forget who you were, would you become a totally different person. By the end of the movie I had no idea what to believe.
Crash: This movie discusses present day racism. Something few people ever want to reflect on. This is an example of a movie that, while slightly flawed, will make you think and in a good way.
Shutter Island: It's been awhile since I saw this movie but the twist at the end is what made me think. Plus, it's one of those movies where you're trying to solve the mystery with the characters, which gets your brain working.
Doubt: This movie seriously made my brain hurt, I was thinking so much. Through the whole thing, you have no idea who to believe or who to trust. Nothing is black and white.
Twelve Monkeys: This movie was just weird, but Brad Pitt did a stellar job playing a crazy person in an insane aslyum, which is almost reason enough to watch. I've only seen this movie once and I just remember afterwards wondering, what just happened?
The Boondock Saints: A movie about brother vigilanties taking the law into their own hands. Talk about deep discussion and thought.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts: This is a documentary by Spike Lee on Hurricane Katrina. I'd like to say that all documentaries are good in depth films, but that's not true. This one however is very good.
The Walking Dead: I absolutely love this show. The depth of the characters in this show is amazing. The show really gets you to reflect on the characters actions as they make tough decisions, or do stupid things. You can also see the progression of the different characters and how their environment is shaping them.
Doctor Who: This is another show that I love. A lot of people think that shows or movies that aren't based in reality, can't be applied to our lives, but I don't believe that at all. Like J.K. Rowling said about her books, "Human nature is human nature, whether or not you can use a wand."
Sherlock: It's a show about Sherlock Holmes, what more is there to say. Everything about Sherlock has to do with seeing things for more than what they are. I love this version of Sherlock because, despite being brilliant, Sherlock is flawed. His only friend is Dr. Watson, who has his own flaws, but is a strong anchor for Sherlock. It's a great commentary on friendship.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Okay, I know this is a kid's cartoon, but it's an awesome kid's cartoon. Plus I wanted to show something that wasn't quite as serious but still has depth and values to it.
Justified: I haven't watched very many episodes of this, but I've found the ones I've watched very interesting. The main character is the main reason this show is on the list. He's a lawman who has his own way of dealing out justice, and has a troubled past he wants to stay away from. Intriguing? I think so.
In the end, it's not just about whether the movie was actually meant to be deep and thought provoking or not. It's also about what you got out of it personally and what you were able to learn. You can find deep meaning in a lot of movies; the problem is that we either don't pay attention to it or we just stick to the obvious layer and don't go any deeper. We leave any thinking we might have done in the theater, and then go on like nothing's changed. Also, we need to realize that everyone is going to get something different out of a film, and notice different things. Good conversation can come about when people talk about the films they've watched, whether you agree on them or not. I'd love to hear some of the movies or television shows you've watched that you found thought provoking. I'm always looking for something new to watch.