Movies reflect as well as create our deepest desires, fears, needs, and dreams. They connect with something deep within us that we might have not known was even there. The best films take place not on the screen, but within our imaginations.
I don’t think it’s accidental that Georges Méliès, one of the first men to ever make movies was by trade a magician. A kind of mystery and enchantment has always been associated with the illusion strips of celluloid can create. There’s something inherently magical about the simple act of projecting the film onto a blank screen, something unexplainably appealing about the way the screen is suddenly darkened and illuminated with vast and colorful possibilities and impossibilities.
Roger Ebert said, “We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls.” Films allow us to enter other worlds and other minds; for a brief time we are somewhere else, sometime else, seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
Not many of them are very good, and most don’t accomplish much more than to distract and entertain us for two hours, but every once in a while, we might see a film that successfully transports us to a different time, place, and personality, which is what I hope for every time I press play or buy a ticket. Most of the time I get disappointed, but for those two or so hours in the dark, I let myself hope.
I watch films differently, more knowingly, now, as a film student, than I did when I was eight, but they have never ceased to elicit wonder.
I don’t enjoy Casablanca any less because I understand why Rick Blaine is lit from below in the first half of the film. Knowing that Terry Malloy wasn’t supposed to pick up that white glove and put it on in On the Waterfront doesn’t make the scene any less perfect. Rashomon is made only more impressive to me because I know Kurosawa had to put ink in the water to better capture the rain on film. I don’t mind thinking of The Girl when I see Vickie in Raging Bull, Betsy in Taxi Driver, or that first freeze frame of Ginger in Casino. I was actually happy knowing how personal The 400 Blows was to Truffaut even before the opening credits, when I saw it was dedicated to Bazin.
Understanding a film doesn’t necessarily mean it will be harder for it to enchant or enthrall. I think movies might be the only magic trick that still manages to besot and enrapture us even when we know exactly how it’s done.