Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Power of Film

I often talk about the power of film. I’m convinced that movies are the most unique form of all media. There is something remarkably different about the effectiveness and impact of a movie compared to television shows, video games, web content or any other type of electronic image. In fact, film transcends all other forms of media. That means they have a unique place and influence in our society. It’s through films that we can express our wants, fears, hurts and desires. Cinema has a unique ability to shape public perception while educating and enlightening our society. There is no question that movies have changed our perceptions and influenced and impacted the very fabric of culture and our nation. Movies challenge us individually to consider our lifestyle choices as well as the pathway we are currently pursuing.

So why do movies have this unique ability than other media forms? What makes them different? Why are they more capable of communicating powerful messages? Here are five concepts that separate film from all other media experiences.

1 The cinematic experience. There is something very different and profound about entering a dark theater. It is perhaps the last place that we truly shut out the outside world. Where else do drop off of the planet for two hours. No cell phones, beepers or electronic media devices allowed. Think of it, when most of us go on vacation, we check our e-mails. Movies at the theatrical level have our total, undivided attention. If we are spending ten bucks, most of us want to get our money’s worth. We are not in control of the cinematic experience. We cannot hit pause or rewind. We are totally immersed in both sound and image. There is nothing like the big screen because it creates an experience more real in some ways than life itself.

2 Movies are about something. A few years ago, I heard an industry insider say that movies are about something or at least the good ones are. He is absolutely right. Films are not like television shows or web-based content because they are typically anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes in length. In other words, you have to have something of importance to drive two hours of content. Plot will not get it done. Movies require a theme. The characters must need something in order for movies to work on an emotional and psychological level. Movies work best with big ideas such as justice, forgiveness, redemption, freedom, social change, philosophy, or political change. Movies work on a big canvas so they require something important to say in order to hold our attention and interest. Why do films such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane or the Wizard of Oz hold up after all of these years? Because they were all about something. In the case of the Wizard of Oz, it was about finding your way back home and also the thing you seek the most, you always had it within your possession. Those are universal themes that are just as relevant today as they were at the time these movies were produced.

3 The group experience. Where else do we gather with total strangers to share an experience such as viewing a film? We laugh together, cry together and are frightened together. There is something powerful about a group experience. It validates the importance of the message that a film expresses, and most often we see films with friends and family. It always invites a discussion. Afterwards, we may go out to dinner or for coffee, and we often ask each other, “How did the movie impact you. What did you think about this character or that particular scene? Did you understand what the movie was about?” What other forms of media can you think about where we have this kind of profound discussion and dialogue.

4 The journey. Movies most often are about the human condition. What makes us human? Films have the capability of taking us on this journey as we seek answers. We can relate to this because at some level we are all on our own personal journey trying to make sense of the world we live in. All films are part of some journey. It’s expressed through what writers call the “character’s arc”. Films can transcend both space and time. In fact, we can see a character’s entire lifespan in a film. It’s through this process we can see how characters change, whether they are moving toward the truth or away from the truth. We can witness a conflict of values as characters wrestle with their inner demons to move from vice to virtue. Movies are the only form of media that has the ability to present this type of character arc and development. Through this process, we can see our lives played out in the characters portrayed on the big screen.

5 The suspension of reality. When does a movie stop being fiction and take on the form of reality? If the filmmakers have done their job well, there is a point at which the audience crosses a threshold where they start to believe what they see in a movie is reality. It’s no longer a film but a reflection of the real world. I’m convinced that film is the only form of media that can do this convincingly. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when a movie has the ability to transport us to a different time, age, world, or even a different universe. Can you think of a film that has done that for you? When the experience became so real that you forgot you were watching a movie. When this happens, truth can be communicated on a very deep, personal level. You care very deeply about the characters, their fates and their causes. You can imagine how God can use this experience in our lives to reflect His glory and truth.

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