Film is a medium that transports. We turn off the lights, surrender to story, to sights, to sounds, to human emotion out of context with our own. This is powerful stuff.
The better a story is told, the more we value how its essence stays with us, even in a distraction-filled world, thereby opening our consciousness to the impact of a story’s elements. And stories were never better told than they are today, with the ongoing refinement to storytelling that is film. Within its glow we surrender ourselves. We tune out the world around us. Tonal shaping of light titillates our mind, strategically blending image, sound, and narrative to land with maximum result.
What began as natural instinct has been heightened through years of study and practice.
Since the time of the caveman, stories have entranced us. They are part of the human condition. They bring lessons from the past or from outside of our sphere of experience. In so doing, they broaden our perspectives, delivering essential knowledge that, then as now, brings insight to help better understand a larger world.
In those far ancient times, stories contributed to survival. Sitting around the campfire, the story of a great hunt, delivered powerfully through emotion and detail, would share knowledge important to the gathering of food. Stories of a battle between tribes shared knowledge of danger and survival, essential to preparedness. Stories of exotic, faraway lands excited the dreamer, leading to exploration and the cross-pollination of cultures.
Today, stories can relax the mind, providing much-needed escape. There is little room for the troubles of the day when your mind is lost within a great story. We are told by practitioners of mindfulness that to reach new thoughts we must relax our conscious minds in order to break through to the power of new insight. But how is this to be accomplished? Surrendering to the power of stories is a most productive path. Many among us have experienced a breakthrough after allowing troubles to ebb through time in a theater.
Sometimes the value of a particular film is simply as a vehicle of escape. Hollywood knows that we humans crave escape from the heaviness of our daily lives, and much of their industry today serves this one goal. Escapism. Relevant in content? Not so much, but valuable just the same.
But what could be the most important benefit of film is the promotion of empathy. Films bring us into worlds not our own and lead us through journeys of humanity. Through the best of cinema we are allowed to gain a deep perspective into the lives of others as well as into our own life.
This can be important for reasons personal as well as global. Encountering truth in a film that allows us to better understand ourselves helps us to feel centered and more in touch. Through such moments, we find comfort in a better understanding of our own small world.
But there is also a more important possibility. Through film, we can come to know a larger world, with elements so different from our own.
By way of example, it is difficult to understand the awful living conditions immigrants face in their home countries and why they would do anything possible to leave when we have been born and raised in a country with plentiful opportunities. But an immigrant’s story well told, one that allows us to feel the pain that launches a family to flight, can open our eyes to their world. When we can intimately know an immigrant through a story well told...experiencing with them the pain of hunger, the loss of family to the terrors of intolerance, or the rigors of a journey towards an uncertain future, empathy has a chance to grow.
Yes, of all of the power that can reside in film, perhaps the most important is the empathy that awaits when we walk among those different from us. When we allow the tragedies of others to overtake callous defensiveness, for a moment we become other than ourselves, and the world can be better for it. And the best of film provides just such a path.