“And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love: these are what we stay alive for” – Dead Poets Society (1989)
When I first watched Dead Poets Society close to a decade ago, I didn’t think much of the above line. But only now, after endless rewatches and being stuck in a pandemic for more than a year, do I realize how true Robin Williams’s dialogue was.
Art is what sustains us, filmmaking being the most complex and powerful art of them all. An art that has been buried in the commercialisation and mass production of films and box office records. An art form that combines all arts, the visual, the auditive and the literal. A medium that has become an everlasting fixture of pop culture, academic study, and creative pursuit in the contemporary world.
The first movie I ever watched at the movie theatre was Chandramukhi. Yes, laugh all you want, my 4-year-old self still had Rajnikanth’s “laka laka laka” ringing in her ears for the next 5 days. No thanks to my parents for choosing such an unhinged movie for my first theatre experience. But moving on, just yesterday, I needed an emotional release. So I ended up watching Chungking Express, a beautiful story which the Hong Kong movie portrayed so well, that I cried myself to sleep after finishing it. Somewhere between Chandramukhi and Chungking Express, an admiration for the world of cinema developed, although a penchant for horror flicks never did.
When it comes to the art of story-telling and entertainment, nothing unifies us as much as film. Every aspect of cinema from the writing, to the direction, performances and even critique requires something unique to being human: the ability to have experiences and imaginations and pour them into what we love. To know cinema is to know the world, and how we as humans interact with the world. In the movie theatre we laugh, cry, sing and cheer together, it brings us on a journey as a collective community.
Ah, the movie theatre! Just another experience dear to me that the pandemic has taken away. From buying overpriced popcorn and fries, sitting through the annoying ‘No Smoking’ advertisements, getting annoyed at people’s bright cellphones flashing in the big dark room, praying that the crying baby 3 rows behind would just stop, and finally, the whole room going silent when the lights go out and the opening scene starts playing. I miss it. Yes, all of it. The mass intimacy and communal screams and laughter can never ever be replicated.
Humans have, for centuries, always been mesmerized by storytelling. And no one has found a better way to tell stories that reach all strata of societies than via movies. In its essence, films are visual novels that immerse us in a world unlike a book ever could. And just like books we use these visual novels to tell stories to the world. Some of my favourite books even, such as Gone Girl and Pride and Prejudice have been turned into films; films that I rewatch endlessly.
You see, movies are the perfect form of escapism. For a good two hours, you are transported to another world, another dimension. And for those 120 minutes, give or take, you can be anyone you want and anywhere you want. It’s not every day that you find yourself listening to the conversations of two strangers who met on a train (Before Sunrise), be caught up in a heist to rob a casino (Ocean’s Eleven), or watch a woman fake her own murder to get back at her unfaithful husband (Gone Girl).
Whether you’re looking for easy entertainment or the next Best Picture competitor at The Oscars, cinema is not a throwaway experience. It’s something that sticks with you and expands your horizons. Sometimes, it can give us hope that even if everything is scripted, wonderful things really do happen. Now and then, it can simply turn your horrible day into an okay-ish one. This is why you have comfort movies, movies that regardless of ratings or box office collections, bring you joy every time you watch them.
We watch movies to escape from reality. And the emotions we feel when captivated by a movie is exactly why we come back for more. Despite our differences, they are the common link to humanity, in all of us. They help us appreciate what we already have by romanticizing and glamorizing the most mundane and insignificant things; things we take for granted.
Once you get past the Netflix trending page, you will see that there is a limitless reservoir of great art and entertainment available to you. While Cinema sure cannot cure cancer or solve any other life-threatening problem, it sure can help you get through tough times or simply offer a different take on the world.
And while this wasn’t quite literally a letter like you were expecting, I would still like to sign off fittingly.
A girl who needs to watch a movie a day to function, who cries at romcoms, and who will probably go watch a movie right after finishing this sentence.
P.S: Friends call me a walking IMDB page, so if you ever need a movie recommendation you know whose Instagram DMs to hit up.