One night during dinner, a friend and I got into a discussion about the significance of art and creativity in our lives. My friend, a talented painter and visual manager, started telling me about her recent experience at a Picasso exhibit. Seeing his paintings in person had filled her with this overwhelming sense of joy and inspiration. Her sentiments reminded me of how I feel after watching certain movies- renewed and motivated, all my past mistakes are irrelevant and I have the freedom to be whoever I want to be.
And this is something that only seems to happen when I watch movies. When I’m feeling down, words like “Tomorrow is a new day” and that “Every second is an opportunity” are meaningless. But after movies? That’s another story.
For me, movie-watching has always been a selfish, individual experience. It is difficult for me to appreciate a film for its technical aspects alone; films become important to me because they are relevant to the larger context of my life. For each of my favorite films, I can give a list of the lessons that film has taught me, how it has further connected me with someone I love or admire, how that film’s characters reflect traits I’d like to find in myself, and how their struggles have provided insight into my own difficulties.
I also collect images from movies to form a basis for making decisions. I decided to pursue photography only after seeing how the lens brought shy Peter Parker closer to his first love. The image from Harriet the Spy of Harriet scribbling furiously in her notebook while her friends beg her to play her reminds me to maintain my own sense of identity and direction, and to not feel obligated to follow others. While I really don’t plan on having children at this point, part of me wants to be embrace pregnancy with pig-tails and yellow sundresses like Rosemary Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby.
And this isn’t just me being odd. I was comforted to learn that some professional physicians and scholars have recognized the potential for films to aid in psychological development. Zur Institute, an online education center for psychologists/therapists/social workers, offers a course titled “Positive Psychology and the Movies: Transformational Effects of Movies through Positive Cinema Therapy.” Positive Cinema Therapy is premised on the belief that film characters often act as embodiments of commonly desired personality traits; thus through modality, films can have a strong impact in the therapeutic process.
Georgia State University professor Greg M. Smith has written and contributed to works on the connection between film and emotion, including Film Structure and the Emotion System and Passionate Views: Film, Cognition and Emotion. According to Smith, “In the modern world’s emotional landscape, the movie theater occupies a central place: it is one of the predominant spaces where many societies gather to express and experience emotion. The cinema offers complex and varied experiences; for most people, however it is a place to feel something.”Smith digs deeper into the topic by exploring how socialcultural experiences shape varying emotional responses.
This piece marks the beginning of a series throughout which I will provide an in-depth analysis on some of my favorite movies through an emotional lens.I will explain the relevance of these movies and their characters to my own silly life, and connect various technical aspects of each film to these emotions. It is my hope that will be able to point out some of the value lying within some of these films, and the opportunities they hold for personal growth and reflection.
Since I am also interested in the responses others have to movies, please share your thoughts in the comment section. I hope that together we can create a space to talk about our feelings in relation to the source of interest that brought us together in the first place, and reflect on the extent of art’s significance on society and its ability to enact change.