The Torch: A Cinephile’s Truism — Film Conquers Reality6 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
Let’s test this line for its worth by assessing the ever-mysterious interrelationship that undeniably exists between the world as it is and our cinema’s image representation thereof. To do that, it doesn’t even have to be Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, or anything as straightforward on that scale and documentary.
Take Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” for instance, which succeeded in making film aficionados and the rest of the non-reading public become aware of our world’s dialectic inconclusiveness being not just a mere analytic proposition for philosophical debate, but pretty real.
If this is enough to prove anything, I would conclude that the conventional in storytelling needs to be overturned if it is to continue to affect us and move us to action; and that action might very well be the process of re-thinking, which is the starting point for all productivity. For now I don’t want to get back into a discussion of the validity of reality as such (which is the same as with love: one can never prove its existence); I’ve done that before. Equally, we have previously established for a fact that in all art there is a statement of either acceptance or resistance to the prevailing forces and conditions — and that statement, when shared with others, might initiate something.
For one, there is the obvious transgression of that imaginary line separating the fictional from the core of reality that we observe in stardom most prominently. It is a double-edged sword, by the way, for when recognition reaches the point of over-exposure for an actor or actress, their fate is pretty much sealed where their professional performance is concerned. You can no longer be convincing in your role if the viewer doesn’t buy into the part because it is always the “star” lending their face to some insubstantial character the audience will see and not the acting, which then becomes secondary and, eventually, implausibly fake.
Cinema is not (and should never be) just a matter of escapism (Hollywood is taking good care of that already), but in the best of cases it provides an opportunity for dialogue. It affects us personally, engages many people from all walks of life and different backgrounds socially, and in addition to this it participates in the political sphere, too, albeit in a different arena thereof. That is why film is not fully what it can be unless it aspires to more than just gestures. On the other hand, it is also not to be denied what Jim Jarmusch said earlier this year at Cannes when accepting the Carosse d’Or lifetime achievement award as an “homage to independence and pure cinematic genius”: We should never overestimate the importance of cinema — but we love it nonetheless.
Probably the most cogent indicator of film’s power to impact reality that we have today is the continued practice of censorship, unreasonable as it is. The very fact that the powers that be even bother to cut and censor your movies sufficiently testifies to the kind of influence on public views and agenda you wield as a filmmaker. And when rightfully insisting that you should use it with due responsibility is also to say that, yes, you should use it!
Whereby cinema affects the outer real world and leaves its mark is in the minds and hearts of those who watch. It inspires ideas, challenges preconceived or faulty opinions and incites us to form and reform our own views and concepts of who we are, what we want in life and where we positively see a future for mankind as a whole. And the unique way in which film achieves just that, is by not only giving us pictures, it doesn’t just stop at exposing us to their quick succession on screen, but even better, film brings about change by investing us with the power to gradually and of many sources generate our own, personal images of all the relevant things, places and people, including ourselves.
Image formation is a complex and, in many cases, fractured and only loosely connected process, which it is virtually impossible to angle and direct at will. But it happens all the time and we are all players in it. So it needs to be understood as best we can, then worked on according to the rules. Whatever these are, however obscure or even camouflaged these machinations may seem, they have their lasting effect, for example when we think of how film has the ability to project and disseminate a near definitive picture of a city as it is portrayed and eventually sinks into the collective mind and on record. And believe me, any tourism board in the world knows a tale to tell about the consequences this simple fact may (or may not) have.
But what I’m talking of here in fact goes much deeper than just advertisement and what effects that might have on people’s choices and behaviour. It is likewise not limited, film is, to triggering behaviourism of a certain type, as would be the case with some of the rather simplistic individuals of that illustrious fashion faction among movie goers. Product placement may work, but when it comes to exerting real influence, the picture is much more intricate. The many complex mechanisms at play in jointly building a communication record for the masses, a pool of references and corresponding “sense”, this whole public programming design involves a great deal of the subconscious as well, not least of all the part of its domain that we all share. Not that this process was completely understood yet, but we have to be sufficiently aware of its existence to acknowledge the way in which we are linked and interdependent, and to begin to fathom the extent of this truism.
One can probably best get an inkling of the aforementioned systematics when deliberating the profound meaningfulness of a saying such as “[…] this was just like a scene from a movie” or “[…] it could have come straight from a movie”! Just think of how deeply the filmic rendition and framing of life has shaped our perception already. Look at our city centres and how they keep on resembling some powerful cinema fiction more and more, almost, in some cases, seeming to persuade you into living your life the dislocated Wong-Kar-Wai-ish way… And this is not cosmetic but a slow and gradual shift, a movement not too unlike that continental drift, which has us re-evaluating the no longer fully separate areas of fantasy and intellect, the one increasingly permeating the boundary that exists between them (an artificial contraption to begin with) to pierce and transform the other.
Though solving may not always be easy or at all possible (like it is with that eternal riddle of life and death), sometimes dissolution is very much achievable and what appears like it is fixed for all time can eventually be overcome. Those of you who will venture to make films yourselves, and likewise us, going out and watching them, we should both of us believe in this unflinchingly: Change the world — whatever it takes, little by little.