The movies—sorting things out

It's important to cultivate spiritual perception in all that we do. And it's becoming increasingly clear that this need is no less significant as we consider the world of film—or any aspect of the arts and entertainment. How are we being influenced by the movies we see? Can we be benefited by them? To what extent can movies play an uplifting role in society? What responsibilities, if any, do filmgoers have? These are some of the issues we discussed recently with David Sterritt, film critic of The Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Sterritt is a film professor at Long Island University and has taught courses on film at Columbia University and City University of New York. He also served for several years on the New York Film Festival selection committee.

Would you say that film is a mirror of society, or does it often tend to magnify the worst elements of society and so contribute to our problems? Well, it magnifies the worst and also the best. It magnifies everything. Films, as the old Hollywood cliche goes, are "larger than life." They magnify the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful.

Looking at films and television, we can see what's wrong with our society. We see crime and the unthinking emotionalism of lust or violence or simply anger and fear. We see all these things mirrored in films, but we also see the good. We see the human aspiration to make things work out, to create harmony, to express love, to experience community. We're just so used to it that we don't notice it so much anymore. You know, people say that we get numbed to the bad. We look at so much violence that it doesn't look violent to us anymore—we just accept it. Well, we get numbed to the good, too. We're so used to the cliché happy ending—the riding off into the sunset, the lovers' embrace. And yet we aspire to this, because ultimately love and community are the things that really count. We need to be more alert to the good depicted on the screen, which points us to the real and enduring.

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Who is influencing whom?
August 30, 1993

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