January 31, 2023
Truth in the movies, like truth in fiction, is not about facts portrayed, but about revelations of value, significance and meaning. Movies depict themes, roles, dilemmas and struggles that we recognize in very personal terms and can identify with. Though not real in fact, they are real in relating back to us experiences, present issues, and life themes in dramatic fashion.
They reflect back to us realities we ourselves have experienced—loss, grief, unrequited love, longing, regret, guilt, joy, the elation of falling in love, kindness, courage. They also portray hard choices that at times we must make, paths not taken, and events that require that we must somehow step up. The best movies call us out of ourselves into a bigger picture where we can be more deeply and finely human. Movies play with mythic themes which are felt to be somehow existentially significant and necessary. The hero and the quest are perhaps the most prominent in our culture.
Truth in the movies is a matter of value, significance and meaning in dealing with issues and choices that define our humanity. Movies like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “All is Quiet on the Western Front,” “High Noon,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” and movie series like “Star Wars” are portrayals of values, significance and meaning put to the test. They inspire. They provoke thought. They easily, naturally come to mind when seeking examples of honor, sacrifice, courage, loyalty, heroism – of struggles well fought. They can also illustrate examples of when we are not at our finest.
Comedic movies serve as the funhouse mirror of truth. As our house of cards comically tumbles about us, as our best laid plans go awry, as our best intentions are ruined by our ineptitude, we come to see that how we valued things, what we thought was meaningful and significant was somehow distorted, mistaken, misplaced. What could be construed as tragedy is turned on its head and made funny.
Comedy reveals the humor inherent in taking ourselves too seriously; depicts how absurdity and catastrophe lurk just beneath the surface of self-importance and willfulness. Yet as we sit in the ashes of our own making, there is hope in the coming day. It is important to laugh with others and at ourselves as our foibles, silly misconceptions, unskilled and awkwardly comic attempts at doing good are revealed, even though sometimes our best intentions just don’t work out. Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” is a good example of this storytelling device.
Truth in movies is revealed through lenses of value, significance and meaning rather than in fact or ideology. Good movies, like the ones mentioned above or others you may think of, call us back to our common humanity with its hopes and possibilities. They remind us why our common humanity is important. They stretch the imagination to include more of what makes us human and how this is shared and amplified.
At the movies we can briefly walk in another’s shoes, and perhaps open our hearts just a little. For me, the truth and value in a movie is in the goodness it can inspire, the possibilities and commonalities it reveals and the imagination it promotes. The rest is entertainment or escapism.
“What I’m excited about right now” features one library employee at a time writing about their current favorites in books, magazines, music, TV series, movies, games or other materials or activities that inform or entertain. This blog also appears in the MPL monthly email newsletter.