“Look at a movie that a lot of people love and you’ll find something profound no matter how silly the film may seem.” – Life Itself (2014)
Watching me and dad discussing the film Vertigo, my mom chuckled. “The trait that you inherit the most from your dad is probably his love for films.” It may not be a compliment, but she’s right. My utter enchantment with the silver screen has been ingrained in me from a very young age.
As a kid, holidays meant trips to Speedy at the neighborhood mall, where I wandered through the aisles, debating with my siblings over which titles to pick for the night. The Rocky trilogy and action films starring Bruce Lee were dad’s favourites, which I religiously re-watched again and again with him before developing my own preference (read: discovered young Leonardo DiCaprio).
Being a kid with a vivid imagination, cinema was almost a paradise. As soon as the light from the projector spilled onto the giant screen in a darkened theater, I was floored. The outstanding talents on screen fascinate me. It was exhilarating to finally see how a story unravels after weeks of anticipation building up from cool movie posters on highway billboards and movie trailers during TV commercial breaks.
I remembered getting chills down my spine from the Batman and Joker interrogation scene in The Dark Knight; the harsh lighting, the claustrophobic echoing of their voices, the horrible feeling of helplessness as the situation encapsulates. In that darkened theater, 12-year-old me knew. There’s no looking back. Pandora’s box has been unlocked. I found my own personal oasis in the form of cinema.
As years passed by, watching films becomes a form of escapism. Nothing speaks euphoria like immersing myself in the world of Hogwarts through a Harry Potter movie marathon after a long day of draining Pendidikan Moral and Sejarah classes. Dead Poets Society made me wonder how different our society might be if we had more devoted teachers who encourage individuality and the importance of thinking outside the box in our lives.
Sure, films are far from flawless. Film studios are investing colossal amounts every year in A-list-star-driven movies with formulaic concepts – a phenomenon dubbed the “blockbuster trap”. Don’t get me wrong; blockbusters are fun and entertaining. But can films be more than entertainment?
This brings us to the question: What is the purpose of films?
A short and simple question with a multitude of answers, all correct. It depends on so many things, but for me, films are always about personal response. Does it resonate? Does it cause something to happen within you? Is it something that appeals to the intellect? It can be as basic as pure, blissful entertainment to deep, soul-stirring ruminations. Great films are often simple, yet move and stir their audiences through delicate storytelling, profound messages, and relatable characters.
The first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, the late Roger Ebert, said it best:
“We are all born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We are going to be that person until we die. But if we remain only that person, we will never grow; we will never change; things will never get better.
The purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.
When I watch a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, a different time and a different belief.
This is a liberalizing influence on me. Films let us understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. Great films enlarge us. They civilize us. They make us more decent people.”
Films can inspire change. Sometimes with a bit of luck, I stumble upon films with influence that transcends decades. These films offer unique perspectives which, ultimately, make their audiences feel different when they walk outside onto the street and see daylight. To me, this is movie magic at its best.
What started as cinematic escapism for me became so much more as I discovered exceptional writers, directors, cinematographers, and actors. To all the films which touched my heart and the characters who made me understand myself better, thank you. It has been spectacular.