I love to watch movies, and I had started, but never got around to developing, a separate blog dedicated to movies. But, I want to make this a recurring theme on this blog; since movies and cultural exegesis are two great topics that go hand in hand (thanks Mark for the idea!). This first post is about the world-creating power of a movie.
What is a movie?
Most people, when going to their local cinema, when popping in a disc, or when streaming a motion picture on their mobile, rarely, if ever, ask themselves or one another this question: What is a movie? A movie is a movie is a movie.
For most, a motion picture is just plain entertainment.
But a movie is much more than visual stimulation. [Click here for a similar perspective] A movie, among other things, is a cultural event. Its an audiovisual text which communicates a message, however lofty or mundane, through the creation of a narrative world. Its a world which draws in the viewer as an emotive, evaluative, and cognitive participant. Through this participation, we respond and react to the plot and the characters, as well as to the emotions, values, and worldview of the authors of the movie.
(Keep in mind, movies have multiple authors–screenwriters, directors, actors, etc–anyone who adds content, either verbal, visual or audible, that interprets what reality is being portrayed by the movie, from frame to frame, scene to scene, and everything in between.)
Movies create a world, which is an interpretation of reality, an alternative reality. As such, they function like myths, in the anthropological sense. Like myths, then, movies are worldview-creating engines. They don’t have single worldview (see comment about multiple authors above), nor are they a worldview themselves; rather, movies are like RNA molecules. They take chunks of worldview DNA and merge them with the existing thoughts, feelings, and values of the viewer. The better the movie, the more persuasive the narrative, the more effect the movie has upon the viewer. Thus, the narrative world created by the movie has the power to affect a person’s worldview–for better or worse.
A movie, then, is a powerful cultural weapon. When wielded wisely, and virtuously (in the Aristotelian sense), such a weapon duels with unhealthy worldview themes and strikes at their root, replacing them with narratives of peace, hope, and love. But when wielded recklessly, capitalistically, gratuitously, wantonly, they become weapons of mass destruction, obliterating and decimating people’s consciences and dragging them toward the pit of destruction. (Note, however, that since the worlds creating by movies are not comprehensive, ie. stories are short, and character development limited, the effect of a single narrative is not as much as other types of narrative worlds.)
Watching a movie, then, requires that the viewer learns to approach every movie with a critical eye. Their own worldview is in the balance. Will it be pruned, and beautified, or will it be defecated upon, and moved closer towards destruction?
However, since a movie is also a form of art, the creation of the narrative world requires skill and a keen eye for beauty. Unfortunately (and yet also fortunately), many movies evidence the lack of one or both of these qualities. In a future post, I would like to discuss the art behind a film, but most of my posts will be about specific films, or on books about filmwatching.