In all its old and new manifestations, movies are still vitally important.
Movies matter because they can provide compelling and creative artistic and entertainment experiences for audiences. Some movies are just fleeting entertainment but others are magnificent, wondrous, thought provoking works of art – from seven minute Warner Brothers cartoons to highly personal non-fiction films to dramatic features and musicals – and from all parts of the world. In the age of the laptop and mobile smartphone, ‘movies’ are everywhere but cinematic movies are still, at their best, extraordinary.
Movies have an extraordinary capacity to expand our reality, to deepen our moral sensibility, and to shape our self-understandings, sometimes by moving us closer to cultures, problems, and realities that are distant from those we know well. You can immerse yourself in the harsh realities of our world, in documentaries. Or you can escape into the world of Star Wars or Star Trek.
At one level, movies matter only as a source of entertainment, escapism and fun, and it is one of the most successful art forms for that purpose. One approaches an evening watching a movie with a sense, usually, of relaxation and anticipation. But if you are going to see Shakespeare, or the opera or ballet, then there is a conscious effort to engage the brain and concentrate hard. On the other hand, movies work so well because it takes us into its world with scarcely any effort on our part, and I find that pretty damn amazing.
But in a more profound sense, movies matter because, like other cultural products, it tells us something about ourselves and gives meaning to our lives. Even while mindlessly absorbed in a Hollywood entertainment, we are subtly and unconsciously washed with layers of idealistic aspirations and cultural values. We are given an understanding of good and evil, the redemption of past mistakes, the finding of love, the losing of love and the acknowledgement of our hidden desires and secret pain. Watching movies are simply a part of the discovery of the meaning of our lives.