Shortly after I passed my sister the Brussels sprouts and gave myself a hearty helping of mashed potatoes, the conversation between my mother and father transitioned into that of more serious stock. Turning to my brother, while chomping into a turkey breast, we engaged in our own conversation and it progressed to a familiar place—a place it often ended up—movies. Quoting lines, giving our best impressions, and laughing were the gateways into such discussions. As the conversation progressed, my brother and I would shift into an analytical gear and speak about what this movie or that scene said about the world in general. Smiling and relishing in a moment of intellectual freedom, between biscuits and sips of water, made the dinner table an open forum for ideas big, small, and inconsequential.
Most times, my father would not take notice of such discourse. But this time he did. In accusatory fashion, with an air of contempt, he asked why my brother and I put so much stock into movies, things that do not matter. We spent so much time talking and debating over something so trivial when we could be investing energy and emotional vigor in a subject of more pertinence in the real world. These things did not matter. These things were a momentary distraction from the actual ongoings in our world.
My brother fired back. Films were part of the real world. Crafted by people—artists. They are not some independent entity, separate from the rest of the world. They live within the world and are sometimes a concise, thoughtful, and intellectually stimulating way to commentate on the status of the world and its events. To ignore them is to ignore art, culture, and the relation these things have to shaping our world.
My brother usually was not the type to speak so angrily and passionately unless pushed to do so. In this instance, all at the table knew a nerve had been struck.
This small moment in my own life is emblematic of a larger current in society that trivializes the notion of film and movies. Looking solely at blockbusters and campy action adventures, one might wonder if the analytic nature of these films is of any considerable substance. For those to whom films are dear, like my brother and I, this appears self-evident. But this is not the popular opinion. People who frequent the is theater once or twice a year might not see films in the same way, and have a diminished view of the mediums overall importance.
Film offers a concise commentary one life in general as it is directly influenced by the world in which it is produced. The content is always, in some part, reflective of a reality in society or a part of a larger social framework. Apart from the content of a film itself, the production, technology, and digital capabilities of the film are a reflection of the society that created it. In this way, it sometimes becomes more real, more true, and more believable than the real world itself. There is purpose, direction, and stylistic choices that cement themselves as a fossil on a film reel—a remnant of a world as it was in a single moment.
The French New Wave director Francois Truffaut once said, “I have always prefered the reflection of the life to life itself.”
This is precisely what film does. It reflects a part of the world more succinctly and clearly than the real world otherwise does. Much like the Platonic idea of forms, film captures a shadow of the unintelligible reality that the world is. The shadow we see is real, but a part—, a simplified image of a greater idea.
Film is not reality. Film is a shadow of reality—a fleeting image of a moment that has already past. Film is something that was real, but might not be any longer.
Another French New Wave director, Jean Luc-Godard, says it best,
“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.”
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