Why the Movies Matter

I meant to write a different essay for today. I imagine I’ll eventually sit down to write “The Marvel Universe Has a Romance Problem” but I just don’t have the heart for it today. It seems inappropriate, regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the election.

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So I decided to write today about the importance of arts and culture. I don’t have the words, but this quote from Roger Ebert, featured in the documentary Life Itself:

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

 

It’s one of my favorite things about art, literature, music, and especially film. Watch enough films and it may feel as though you have lived many lifetimes. And it is easy to dismiss films that try to do this for being “showy Oscar bait,” but when it works, it is powerful.

I doubt I will ever leave my child to look for a new home for our species, but I am moved to tears each time I watch Interstellar. I will never know what it is like to live as a woman, or African American, or any number of things, but films made with those perspectives are key to gaining a sliver of understanding. They are able to break through our self-imposed echo chamber. This is why it is so important to see films that we aren’t always “in the mood for” or seem to challenge our thinking.

These emotional connections are so vitally important to living in our world, regardless of whatever policies or values you hold, this understanding is a key to being human. It’s not about becoming more liberal, but looking beyond one’s self and one’s own place in the world.

Culture is also vitally important. Culture shapes our politics, it shapes what is important to us. It’s not a means to an end, but an unending conversation with ourselves. So I will continue to see films and write about them, and urge you to see the ones that have meaning, whether they be the newest pop entertainment or a challenging indie. Movies you aren’t sure you like, or may offer a new vantage point on life. Because it matters.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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