Movies have been on my mind lately, much more than normal. Those who know me might laugh, because it seems I always have at least one movie quote or recommendation readily available for any given situation. This is not because I have traded away the living of life for staring at a screen. Rather, movies have always helped me interpret my surroundings and my relationships. I will admit, sometimes they have gotten in the way, messing with my perceptions of people and places so that I must eventually be broken of false realities. However, I have found them an invaluable part of life on earth. And lately, they are everywhere – and in everywhere – I look.
In addition to seeing several movies lately, as well as engaging in a few conversations with new friends about our favorite films, I am reading Walker Percy’s wonderfully strange and existential novel, The Moviegoer, a novel that is as much an argument for the power of movies in our lives as it is a defining novel of the 1960′s South. There is much I relate to in the life of Percy’s main character, Binx Bolling, especially as he undertakes his “search,” an existential quest to find meaning behind definitions, value of life behind fickleness, these societal traditions that capture people behind veils of order, class, and repetition of lifestyle.
I can see I have undertaken my own search of sorts, and indeed every time I step into a movie theater – be it for a comedy, a drama, a mindless summer action flick, or even a horror film – there is something inside me somewhere that is hoping to receive from these characters, this plot, these themes, a kernel of wisdom, some small something that will help me more efficiently interpret the big Something. This is why I love going to movies by myself more often then with friends. I have the freedom to focus on the film without any distraction, stoically drinking in the problems, interactions, and resolutions, and afterward free to let the story nest in my mind, to let it attempt to build a bridge of understanding somewhere inside. If it is unsuccessful in doing this (and I often know quite soon if it will succeed or not), I expel it, seeking to replace it with the next film. This is how I determine a bad film from a good film.
I believe God can reveal himself to us through film, and not just through the Narnia movies, or those poor excuses for films made by Cloud Ten or Kirk Cameron. Like music and books, I believe movies are not simply a medium of entertainment. I believe they are (or, at least, they can be) an interpretation of our times. We can learn a lot about our country and our world from the films we are making and the films we are shelling out ten dollars a pop to watch. Maybe cinematic turds like Transformers or the Scary Movie franchise will not succeed in building bridges to the Something in our minds, but we cannot deny that, for some people, they deliver an experience worth their time. We can learn a lot from moviegoers themselves. What are they searching for? Mere entertainment? A particular emotional experience: fear, adrenaline, sorrow, remorse, self-righteousness? A place to make-out?
The other night, in the middle of a crowded theater noisily viewing Shyamalan’s latest offering, The Happening, two men got into a fist-fight. Yes, an actual Mama-said-knock-you-out fist-fight. A friend who was sitting close to the action claimed it was because one of them was cracking wise about the film (which was, in the vernacular of this post, “unsuccessful”) and the other did not take too kindly to it. After all, that kind of thing is reserved for sardonic robots and guys held captive in space. Nevertheless, as soon as the angry verbal exchange escalated into actual fisticuffs, about half the theater stood up, not in panic, but in salivating interest at seeing some real action. Was this distraction the mark of how little the film had engaged us up to this point? Or was it because these days in movies theaters, tensions are higher than people realize.
Despite not enjoying that particular film, in light of how much stock I place in movie-going, I have to side with the latter.