Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why I Love Movies: MennoMovieNerd

Michael is spending the afterlife in this theatre.
Must be the popcorn. 
Movies are central to my life.  On average, I participate in about two hours of movie-watching daily.  That’s more than seven hundred hours a year.  If I keep this pace up I might chalk up perhaps 35,000 hours in my adult life. Some would say that as a pastor, or a Christian, movies shouldn’t take such a large part of my existence.  I should spend that time in prayer, perhaps or Bible reading.  I don’t know, perhaps I should.  But I spend my life living with and working with people who deal with tragedy on an everyday basis, so I figure I’m deserved a break at times. 

I have a friend of mine who looks at my bookshelf every once in a while and aloud wonders at the large amount of fiction books, as if there is a problem with good Christians reading fiction.  Some people have the same idea about movies, as if they are a “waste of time” and unworthy of a productive life.  Well, I lead what I consider to be a pretty productive life, and movies play their part in that.  Below are some reasons why. 

I think that my wife might exchange the word “books” for my word “movies”.  And I think that any form of art might be able to take the place of movies in my life, if they were as integral.  So feel free to  put “music” “fiction” “poetry” “art” or whatever else connects to you in place of my focus on movies.   Just one other thing: I’ll be speaking specifically about watching DVDs at home, because I rarely get out to the theatre.

Tell your boyfriend goodbye!
Because I need a break from life
I’m a busy guy.  I know this because everyone tells me I am.  And I know this because after a day of working, I am exhausted, ready to collapse.  As an introvert, I need to take a break from people and their demands, just to recharge.  Watching a film allows me to be passive while my mind is active.  It allows me to interact with two-dimensional beings on my own terms.  I can decide if they will make me laugh or sad.  I can decide if I’ve had enough of them and just need a break for a moment.  I can turn down the volume if they are too loud, and freeze them if I need to use the restroom or get something to eat.  For a few moments, I’m in control of my surroundings. 

This may make me sound like a power-hungry control freak.  But it is because I feel so out of control for most of my life that I feel I need an arena in which I can control.  People think I am in charge of a lot, but actually I see a reality that is best for others, and strive to reach that reality.  I live most of my life trying to meet people’s needs and to meet their expectations.  When it’s just me and a movie, then I can meet my own needs for a bit, and these two dimensional beings act for my benefit.  This doesn’t mean they always do what I want, not at all.  And that’s part of the joyful surprise.

Kubrick, to what horror-filled place did you send me?
Because I want to expand my experiences
In 1983, before Christopher Walken was only playing scary guys, he starred in a B-grade sci-fi called Brainstorm.  The idea of the film was a technology was developed in which one can “videotape” experiences, tapping one’s experience in the mind and placing that full experience into another person’s brain.  Someone could learn piano this way, or experience a roller coaster or re-live someone else’s tragedy. 

To a lesser degree, this is what movies are like.  Saving Private Ryan, in the twenty minute D-Day scene, gave non-combatants a sense of what the constant danger of a battle means.   Ordet allows us a glimpse of what the disciples experienced of Jesus’ passion (more so than the over-brutal Passion of the Christ).  Amadeus helps us view Mozart’s music through one who truly loves and hates it.  At times movies give us an opportunity to empathize with those we might never want to, like The Godfather or Citizen Kane, but we obtain a new perspective on humanity as a whole by experiencing these lives.

A life with art expands our experiences to accomplish what we will never do ourselves.  Art can help us climb Everest, can walk us through Dante’s Inferno, can help us empathize with an evildoer and can give us a sense of being a saint.   Without art, we will be limited to just who we are, without being anyone else, which leaves us poorer human beings.

Because I need an outlet for my emotions
My job pretty much is that of a social worker.  I listen to stories of tragedy all day long and my task is to solve problems, erase difficulties, point toward solutions.  All too often I hear the worst of tales and there is nothing I can do… nothing anyone can do.  Yet it is my role to remain stoic, to be calm and not to worsen their own fate by causing it to be more dramatic than they can handle.  I am level-headed, looking for help.  I make sure they know I take their problems seriously, but I am a solver, not an emoter.  Meanwhile, I pack this tragedy into my heart, stuffing it with the hundreds, thousands of stories that I have heard.  They are all packed in there so tightly, that they are in danger of bursting out, often in frustration or anger.  Frustration that there is nothing to be done.  Anger because I feel overburdened with tragedy, not a single one of my making.

I know of a mental health organization where each social worker is required to see a therapist monthly, to process the stories they obtain from their clients.  That’s a great idea, but not everyone can afford this, or have employers who can afford this.  My therapy is film.  Occasionally, the right time and the right film meet and I am able to release my pent-up emotions.  I wept watching Wendy and Lucy, tears streamed down my fact at Joyeux Noel, and I openly sobbed at the musical of Les Miserables.  I didn’t used to cry at films, but now I look for the opportunity.  Life for many is tragic, and we all need an opportunity to let it go.

Of course, some ideas are better to never have heard...
Because I want to learn new ideas
Along with expanding my experiential horizon, movies can help me do what I most enjoy: explore new concepts.  I am a concept junkie.  I love seeing things from a new perspective, opening up doors in my brain that I have never explored before.  Books like Thinking Fast and Slow are like a whole bundle of Christmas presents, each chapter exploring a new, shiny bauble for me to play with and examine. 

Even so, certain films open up my mind to ideas never realized.  The Mission (1986) introduced pacifism and fighting for justice from a Christian perspective to me.  The idea of mercy as being the foundation of the universe is explored by Tree of Life.  The idea of growth through discipline and adversity is explored by Groundhog Day.  Many of my favorite films not only give me compelling characters and entertain me, but also create new thoughts, which I can use later in my life.

Jack and I are feelin' good
Because I need an emotional uplift
I am of a melancholic nature.  I’m more comfortable with the sad story than the happy one.  I expect life to be unhappy, and thus far life hasn’t disappointed me.  But I can get to an emotional state in which I am no longer able to play well with others.  I can be moody, withdrawn or sullen.  It used to be when I got in that kind of mood, I would bask in depressing music and wallow in my dark mood. 

This doesn’t work so well for a marriage, I found.  My wife never understood my dark moods, and my children just simply ignored them, running over them roughshod.  As my responsibilities grew, I found that I wasn’t allowed the luxury of melancholia.  So I sought an out, and movies and television provided me an opportunity.

If I need a cheerful (but sarcastic) disposition, then I can watch a couple episodes of Gilmore Girls and I laugh myself into a better mood.  If I need a burst of energy, I can watch Die Hard or a Star Wars film.  If I need to be productive and fast-paced, an episode or two of West Wing does the trick.  Film provides a mood changer, providing both a setting and characters for me to conform to.

There's a limit to how deep I want my experiences to go
Because I want to learn about modern cultures most powerful art form
The world is a complex place.  It always was, and always will be.  Art gives us an opportunity to explore the vastness of the world and of the universe, both in its reality and its possibilities.  The worst of art only tells us what we already know, enforcing our preconceptions.  The best of art opens up old worlds that we never knew existed, and new minds that sees the world in a way we could never perceive without art. 

Film is not the newest art form but, along with novels, it is the deepest experience.   When watching Gravity, we might experience floating in space.  When watching Rabbit Proof Fence, we not only learn about a period of history we might not know about, but from a perspective that we would never read about outside of fiction.  Through film we can be surrounded by a world, step into it and observe it, feel it and know what it means to be a character in that world. 

Someday perhaps a virtual reality might give us that kind of experience.  But right now, in this era, it is the time of movies.  In a matter of an hour and a half, we can live a life we have never dreamed of in an area of the world we may have never thought of before.  Yes, often we are simply riding the rails inside of a couple artists’ minds, but when we have a remarkable artist, isn’t it worth it? 

Because of movies, I find that I am a richer, more complex person.  I am more stable and (if I don’t keep talking about movies all the time) more interesting.  Movies take the ins and outs of my everyday experience and allows me to see the sparkle in the humdrum, the significance of the mundane.  I laugh at what others do not see and understand the sorrow that no one sees.

That’s what’s so great about film. 

1 comment:

  1. One of the things I appreciated from my seminary experience was the class titled "Theology, Film and Culture". "Reading" movies as an exercise on exegeting culture was an eye-opening experience... and then, additionally, "reading" movies where you can pull out the little bits of "general revelation" that may be found in them... like the INCREDIBLY redemptive rated-R movie, Gran Torino...

    Glad to know that there's another MennoMovieNerd out there.... :-)