I’m often asked why I love films so much. I usually find this a strange question as the majority of people I’ve come across love great movies. But I suppose the question people really mean to ask is, why are you so unquestionably obsessed with films? (I can only assume they are being polite with their actual choice of words).
It’s a question that can have multiple answers. My gut reaction would be to put on a classic film; a film like Casablanca where story, music, performance and execution come together in perfect harmony to provide an experience of heightened reality and emotion and say “that’s why”. But that’s not really succinct enough (given that it would take two hours) and relies too much on Humphrey Bogart rather than my own powers of explanation.
So I thought about it over the weekend and came up with what I think best explains my reasons for putting film above all other things in life.
The answer is ‘stories’.
Stories are all that matter in the world. Our entire social structure is based on story telling. I don’t just mean memorable things we have seen but things we have actually done and achieved ourselves. Our stories put us wherever we currently sit on the social class ladder and give us grander status or lower reckoning.
If I started a company from nothing and sold it for hundreds of millions then that story has made me rich, well thought of, respected etc. But if I have robbed a pensioner and spent time in jail then my story has made me ill regarded by society.
Of course you realise that by “story” I mean life. Our life is a story, which is why we try to fill it with so many thrills, spills, romances, tragedies and successes. None of us want a boring story; we want ours to be the best. We want to be able to look back at the end of our life and say that our story mattered; we made a difference to people’s lives and we felt fulfilled by our own experiences.
In films I find the best stories; stories that are impossible and exciting, or crushingly realistic and heart-breaking. Through film I can show you a story that will confirm your beliefs or persuade you that you are wrong. There are stories that will incite anger, uprising or tell of social inequality, and there are stories that show you how to accept life’s difficulties and enjoy the small things that really matter.
You may say that I am wasting my time with these stories as they are not mine. But I would disagree with you. The level of empathy and engagement I put forth into every film I watch means that afterwards I carry those stories with me as if they were my own. Perhaps this means I have some kind of escapist fantasy mind-set that refuses to acknowledge the banality of my real world existence? But I choose to believe the opposite. That in fact I dare to dream so big and wish for so much, that it is only in the places inhabited by actors and scripts that I get to see the reality I wish for myself and my family/friends.
I believe that each story I see becomes part of my own story. That I am enriched over and over again with every new film I watch and that I learn more about myself and the world from films than I ever do from going to work or the supermarket.
It is from stories that we find out what we really believe in, what we are scared of, what is important to us and also what we wish to be but might never become.
If I were to travel the world for the next two years (and if anyone is offering to pony up the dough then yes I would love to) I would have the time of my life. But after it was over it would become just a memory; a story of a time when all was good, that I would recount passionately to any willing audience, or would use to amplify my misery during bad times when I wished for better. But all the while it would be a story; no longer my life’s reality but an image in my head with an accompanying narrative.*
That’s not me saying that real life experiences are pointless, because I’m not. I’m just pointing out that at the end of the day, whatever we do simply becomes a story that we tell/remember.
In films we are given new stories; ones that we may never have heard or been part of in our own lives or ones that we are inspired to make a reality (at least on an emotional level).
Whilst I admit that it’s not exactly feasible to go around telling storylines from films as if they were our own memories, it is simply the participation in somebody else’s great story that presents the possibility to have our own lives enriched, whilst giving us another measure by which to compare ourselves.
Not all films carry a weighty moral. I get that. Some films are just throwaway pieces of fluff without meaning or a story of any kind. But even in the cheesiest of flicks there is usually some kind of take home message. Whether that’s the importance of friendship, family, being a real hero, recognising important things, knowing right from wrong, knowing when to act or when not to, there will always be something to take on board and influence our own stories.
So yes I love stories. I love my own and I love other people’s. Importantly I love that at any given time I can find a story that will help me to become something more. Or I can watch something I’ve never seen and learn something that gives my story new meaning.
Their stories are my story.
I love films!
*I recognise that the importance of the physical experience lends itself to the argument that what we learn from trying new things means they will always be far more than “just a story”. But outwardly and set against the backdrop of the normal lives we inhabit the story element of an experience becomes the overriding reality of its aftermath. In extreme cases e.g. a religious epiphany or becoming victim to a horrific crime the experience will of course be wholly life altering.