Seeing a movie on television is enough to cure anybody of believing in movies.
At the height of drama–everything switches to a pleasant jingle and a lady making cheese sandwiches. A commercial for Kraft. And then right back to the man about to drink poison.
I’ve often wondered about this process. Why do we believe movies? We must suspend our seriousness again & again for an obvious out-of-movie experience?
Watching a film in a theater helps. Everybody arrives with an agreed-upon mentality. We’re going to watch this production and let it take us where it wants. The theater is dark and quiet, a fitting setting for the séance-like vulnerability that viewers need to believe in a film.
But seeing the same story years later on television — edited with a Veg-a-matic to make way for commercials — how do we still cue ourselves to believe?
The answer is as old as Greek drama: One day after seeing a play that received great applause, the ancient law-giver Solon was talking to an actor. Solon remarked, “If we allow ourselves to praise and honor make-believe like this, the next thing will be to find it creeping into our serious business”
Art shows possibilities. That is why we believe. What we are seeing in a movie is possible! It can creep into our serious business!
When we watch To Kill a Mockingbird, we know it is possible: for one person (like Atticus Finch) to stand up in his white community and oppose racism.
When we watch Scent of a Woman, we know it is possible for a Frank Slade despairing of one’s life to make a comeback.
When we watch Dr. Strangelove, we know it is possible to strip off the political nonsense about nuclear weapons keeping us safe and ridicule the whole set-up as a return to a Wild West mentality (complete with an Air Force major wearing a cowboy hat and riding a missile like a bronco-buster).
Thus, when we watch a movie, we support one purpose of art. Art does not merely chronicle possibilities (like teens from a ghetto school commandeering calculus in Stand and Deliver). Art does not merely record possibilities–but invents possibilities.
In 1949, William Faulker was award the Nobel Prize for literature. In his acceptance speech, he remarked that what gives human beings the saving presence amid all flora & fauna on our planet is not our opposable thumb or our intelligence; rather, our soul.
“The poet’s, the writer’s duty, is to write about these things (the potential of humans for doing good because of the soul). It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”