Reality Check: The Truthfulness of Movies

Over the last several years I have found myself increasingly interested in movies. This interest has led me to reflect on what it is I like about films and how they impact the way I see the world (if they do at all).

Watching movies is by no means a formulaic experience, as I find myself engaging movies in a variety of different ways, particularly depending on the genre of the film. For example, certain films are primarily there to entertain, working as a sort of escape from the realities of everyday life, where I catch a glimpse into the often unrealistic, but nonetheless enjoyable experiences of various characters (i.e. Dumb & Dumber).

At other times movies encourage an artistic appreciation, as even while a little off track from the mainstream films, the level of creativity they display demands recognition. Or even other times, I find myself interested in films as a form of cultural engagement, especially if ‘everybody’s seeing it,’ ensuring I won’t be left out of the next conversation on the latest films.

More recently, however, I have found myself engaging films in a different manner, a way that applies to most movie genres if you ask me. I am calling this type of movie watching the ‘reality check’ approach. What I mean by this is that I think all movies give a window into some aspect of the human experience (good ones at least). While often over-exaggerated in portrayal, I find that at certain points in a good movie, I find myself in agreement, saying, “Yup, that’s the way the world is.”

This form of movie watching struck me most recently when I saw the highly acclaimed film, There Will Be Blood (not recommended for the faint of heart). Daniel Plainview is the main character, acted brilliantly by Daniel Day-Lewis, who is driven by an overwhelming desire for success in the oil boom of the early 20th century, a success to be achieved at all costs. At one point in the film, in a rare moment of vulnerable self-reflection, Daniel comments on how it is his pent-up hate for everyone around him that ‘protects’ him from weakness, allowing him the strength to literally succeed over and above everyone else. I was struck by the truthfulness of his statement, exposing the loneliness that accompanies, or even is required, for power-hungry individuals to achieve success. In this moment of honest vulnerability, Daniel reveals a sobering truth of the human experience. As I watched this scene, then, I encountered a ‘reality check,’ a glimpse into the truthfulness of our world. To the creators and actors of There Will Be Blood, I am grateful.

As a Christian, the idea of recognizing truthfulness in the stories being told around us, through film in this case, witnesses to the formative nature that truthful story-telling has in our lives. As we Christians claim the biblical narrative as the story that forms us, the smaller stories we encounter in our cultural experience compliment the story-forming nature of our faith. Therefore, anytime I am offered a ‘reality check’ through film, I take it as an opportunity to be impacted by the truthfulness that I hope will continue to form me as a person and the world I live in.


Darren said...

Dave ... I really liked your post this week, partly because I have also become obsessed with movies in the last few years - okay, you didn't say you were obsessed, but anyways ... I think you really put a finger on it when you pointed out how good filmmaking provides a window into humanity or the world as it is. Sometimes it is a glimpse into what we wish the world was like or an ugly reminder of what it is like and wish that it wasn't. It's truly art however it accomplishes that.
I haven't seen "There will be Blood" yet, but now I want to even more.

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