Do movies help us?
I recently had to choose between working in the world of entertainment and in the world of education. In the end, it was a tough decision but I determined that, although movies were a dearly loved hobby, I was put on Earth to help people, and movies didn’t give me a way to do it.
To understand how difficult of a decision this was, you need to know how much I love movies. I’m the girl who controls the family Netflix Queue in order to maximize the number of DVDs watched in the two-week window every year when I come home. I’m the girl who always watches the feature length documentaries on the making of the film, who watches a movie and then watches it all over again with the director’s commentary and doesn’t get bored. Who cherishes IMDb and devours a film’s trivia, mistakes, and connections after every viewing experience. I’m the one who consults the American Film Institute’s Top 100 and 10 Top 10 lists and then makes up my own lists so that I can be as cinematically cultured as possible. And I’m the one who considers Sporcle an accurate test of the breadth of one’s movie knowledge.
So when I chose to leave my job in TV it sucked, but I knew it was the right choice because what I was doing in TV wasn’t helping people. Or so I thought.
What is helping people, really? Is there only one way? Working in the world of education is incredibly courageous and worthwhile, but educating somebody at school is not the only way to get through to them. Sometimes it’s not a way to get through to them at all. What about the guy who has no friends at school, who only feels understood when he gets to come home and watch his friends on the screen? Or the girl whose life sometimes overwhelms her so much that the only way she can deal with it all is through 90 minutes of escape? Or the kid who can’t express emotions, understand history, care about perseverance, whatever you want, until a movie shows them how.
What about me?
Few things excite me more than the possibility of finding the next movie that will honestly move me, of discovering a new world in which anything is possible. Some days what I need more than anything is familiarity, comfort, and control, like the feeling I get from watching a movie so many times that each viewing becomes a reunion with an old friend. And then there are the moments when what I truly need is hope, or love, or friendship, or magic, and my needs are simply greater than what real life has to offer. And these things don’t only happen to me.
Movies are nothing more than society’s most current way to do what humankind has been doing since the very beginning: telling stories. Stories teach us about morals and history and human experience and other places in this great big world that we might never get to see. They allow us to connect with others and to express ourselves. We can use stories to talk about little things, but we can also use them to talk about things that really, truly matter. And don’t tell me you didn’t get a better education about the Holocaust from seeing Schindler’s List than you did from reading about it in a textbook.
Movies are a symbol of human expression, human connection, and human coping with survival. They showcase our best and our worst. They can connect millions of people, and at the same time send a million different messages. And, I concede, for some people they don’t send much of a message at all. But to me they send a big one. For me they help me to see the joys and even cherish the tough parts of being human.
I would say that’s a help.