Questions of Escape

A friend told me that the world is going to hell which sounds like a big inconvenience. He also said that in spite of this inconvenience, it’s like the powers-that-be keep giving us superhero movies to keep us distracted; but then again, he said, we keep buying tickets to them so maybe we like to be distracted, especially in these increasingly uncertain times.

It got me wondering whether all films are naturally, inherently escapist by definition.

I admit there’s a spectrum, a seemingly big difference between a documentary and an action movie, but then again to say any film is escapist suggests one person’s life and experiences are somehow more real and genuine than those of another; and more specifically, that someone watching a film, no matter the film, is having a less genuine experience than someone, say, working their nine to five.

Is there any real science in determining something like that? Is listening to a story strictly an act of removing ourselves from our own day-to-day experience, or is the act itself ultimately not escapist, since it’s technically part of our day?

The more important question may be whether it’s escapist to be enjoying the company of friends, or good music or taking a nice evening stroll and not worrying about our problems. Is it only a problem when we do more of the former at the expense of the latter, when we do more of what we want to do at the expense of what probably needs doing?

Is seeing a film or reading a book really a means of getting away from our own lives, or is it a more subtle manner in which to view our lives through the experiences of other people, regardless of whether or not that experience is fictional?

Are not the same or similar psychological forces at work when we’re hearing a friend, family member or acquaintance relate a situation happening in their own lives? How much of the act is pure voyeurism on the part of the audience, and how much is a deeper attempt by the audience to better understand itself?

A saw a film today, oh boy! 1917.

by J.L. Quinby

1917 is a story about two British soldiers in World War I sent by their commanding general to warn another battalion, currently preparing an assault on German forces, that they are walking into a trap and playing right into the hands of the enemy. One of the two soldiers has a brother in that battalion and thus a personal stake in warning them of the impending danger.

The film is directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), whose work I’ve increasingly admired since Road to Perdition–including two of the more recent Bond films starring Daniel Craig. Skyfall is actually my personal favorite in the whole series.

Anyway with 1917, Mendes reaches a new peak. Right from its opening scene, the film never lets go. This is no doubt aided by the one shot/one take method it employs, which involves shooting a scene in one shot, and thus one take, requiring the film’s cast and crew to be on-time and on-mark, fully synchronized as in a stage production. Personally, I love this style of shooting and I’m glad to see it being used more over the past few years. You might recall seeing it in Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman and The Revenant.

Much like those films, 1917 reminds us why it’s important to still see films in theaters; which, safe to say, is something slowly getting forgotten as we move further along into the digital streaming age and films become more accessible than ever before.

These feats of technical visual wizardry can only be truly appreciated in a theater, where audiences can better absorb stunning photography, vast landscapes and cutting-edge camerawork on a big screen, and perhaps better grasp the scope of what goes into staging such a large-scale production.

Seeing a film like this in a theater is a shared experience, one that allows us to get swept up in a visceral symphony of sight and sound, and thus–for a couple hours, at least–to forget the notion that we are total strangers from each other; which in the opinion of this humble filmgoer, is the real illusion.

Anyway to that point, I was reminded of the tremendous brutality, valor and sacrifice that form the fundamental components of war. Specifically, as is typically the case with the great war films or any effective telling of history, 1917 reminded me of my connection to those who have come before, and how much of our current world and thus our lives are shaped by history.

1917 is an a emotional, cathartic experience that honors, as much as any film is capable, the bravery of soldiers who fought for something bigger than themselves. Far from being mere escapism, it brought me closer to our world and history.

Issue #1