Many people feel guilty when they take time to rest and relax, and watch a movie. To these people, the thought of watching a highly recommended movie seems appealing until they sit down to do it. At that point arises a nebulous anxiety that prevents their enjoyment of the film. The source of the anxiety is thoughts of their own laziness, moral failure (e.g. “’Good’ people don’t seek pleasure”), wasting precious time, and the opportunity cost of watching the movie when one could be doing something more productive.
I have not watched many movies in my life, and this anxiety is why. To some people it’s made me a dull conversationalist and difficult to relate to others in everyday conversation. (Consequently, one of my goals is now to watch MORE movies.) My sister, on the other hand, is highly intelligent but watches all kinds of movies.
How can we as intellectuals and type-A’s bring the joy back into watching movies? It’s an activity we will inevitably find ourselves doing as a part of social relationships with friends, family and coworkers. Can we even make intellectual sense of the time we spend watching schlock, or slapstick, or even superhero movies? Read on.
This week’s journal topic: Movies
There is no right or wrong way to enjoy movies. However, as the introduction suggests, the intellectual or type-A personality is the kind of person who has trouble enjoying movies, and so we’ll focus on reframing the activity as an opportunity to engage in critical thinking and introspection. For a critical thinker, a movie is not mere entertainment.
Identification with a protagonist…
Can you find yourself identifying with a lead or villain? Movies let us step outside ourselves and step into a world of possibility.
Experience of freedom & strength: By identifying with a powerful virtuous protagonist, we gain an emotional experience of they type of freedom that is possible, but we do not have. In following the protagonists’ story, we imagine ourselves upholding virtues such as courage, independence, and justice. We become able to step away from self-imposed and social limitations. It’s not escapism, which is an attempt to distract oneself from unpleasant emotions or situations of everyday life, but instead a practice of the not-yet-realized hero within each of us.
Desire for personal transformation: Maslow tells us that every human being has self-realization as the highest goal. When we watch a movie we can forget about security, health, and relationship worries, and “skip straight to the good stuff” of human life – the transformation and transcendence we crave. Engaging with movies is an “experiment of a being-able-to-be differently.”
Strengthening the imagination: Einstein famously stated that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” The imagination is a cognitive capacity on par with, for example, perception, attention, and reasoning, and it needs strengthening, too. Movies, the more fantastic the better, stretch our imaginations.
Strengthening belief: In philosophy we define a belief as a “disposition to act.” In other words, beliefs are the source of human action, and being motivated requires holding beliefs. Some of us – the skeptics and pessimists – have trouble believing what we need to believe in order to stay motivated. Movies help us practice belief, hope, and faith.
Criticism: Everyone’s a critic. There’s no prerequisite for having an opinion about a movie, other than having watched the movie. Value your own evaluative abilities. Dare to have an opinion!
Don’t think you have to “do nothing” while you’re watching a movie. Watching movies is a fantastic opportunity for introspection and yields important cognitive and psychological benefits.
Opportunity for Philosophical Critique
If you’re interested enough, every movie can yield philosophical fodder. Although I won’t go into details, I’d like to suggest that every movie is an occasion to ask the following questions:
- What is this movie saying about the society and culture in which it was created? Could this movie have been made twenty years ago? Will it still be relevant twenty years from now?
- Is there a political and social message? Who in society does the protagonist represent? What is his struggle and is it a metaphor for some real, current political danger?
- What existential human problems are being overcome? Is there a message about the importance or meaning of a human life? What moral (if any) does the movie idealize?
Asking questions about an activity can help make it seem more worthwhile. Instead of being mere simple entertainment, every movie we watch – even a superhero movie – teaches us something about life, society, history, politics, and relationships.
- What genres of movies are you drawn to? Why do you think you like this genre?
- What genres of movies do you avoid? Why do you think you dislike this genre?
- Do you favor movies with protagonists who are similar to you, and in what way? (Or why not?)
- Have you felt personally transformed (or hopeful for transformation) after watching a movie? Name the movie and describe the experience.
- Have movies taught you any positive life lessons, any lessons about finding meaning, or lessons about what it means to be human? What are they?
- What do you do when you disagree with someone else about out a movie? Do you avoid conflict or boldly state your opinion?
- Can you name any “timeless” movies? What is it that makes a movie “timeless”? Is it the theme, characters, social message, political message, human message, or artistic worth, or something else?
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Give yourself time to think and re-think. By doing so, you evolve your own thought processes! The journal is meant to help you develop a daily practice of positive self-reflection.
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