Telescopes and Transportation

What makes a movie great is not its message or philosophy, but its immediate human experience, and the texture of that experience.

When we go to most movies[…]we remain aware that we’re sitting in the theater watching a movie. But sometimes, a few times a year, we grow so absorbed in the experience of a movie that we literally forget ourselves.

It’s sort of an out-of-the-body experience, we seem to be sharing the identities and experiences of the characters in the movie. In other words, the movie seems to be happening to us. We’re not watching it, we’re living it.

– Roger Ebert, Film Critic

I like movies[…]full of characters that we could discuss like we might discuss members of our own family. I love movies that create a complete world that you could talk about[…]after you leave the theater. The great movies take us to worlds we’ve never been before.

– Gene Siskel, Film Critic

My favourite movies in 2013 could be called ‘star vehicles’. They were designed to make stars look good (like a fancy car). Their actors and actresses play versions of characters that made them (or would make them) popular in other films. I think such productions could also be called ‘telescope’ movies’, because like telescopes, they allow us to see stars at their biggest and brightest.

“What’s the difference between an actor and a movie star? An actor is somebody who pretends to be somebody else. A movie star is somebody who pretends that somebody else is them.”

Nicholas Meyer, director of “Time After Time”, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, and
“Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”.

Most of my favourite movies in 2014 are less about stars and more about feelings and ideas. Only two are “telescopes” for their stars. I want to call the others ‘transportation movies’. Instead of establishing or reinforcing my affection for a star, they drew my attention to physical and emotional spaces of characters and their lives. The stories of these people transported me to perspectives, situations, and worlds I will never enter and examine in my life.

[Movies] allow us to enter other minds[…]by seeing the world as another person sees it.

We all are born with a certain package[…]We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people.

And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.

It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears.

It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

Roger Ebert

The best-written movies I watched this year revolved around performances by people who weren’t familiar to me. Through passion, realism, and insight of writing and acting, they made me feel like everything happening to a character happened to me. I thought about characters instead of stars. I had sympathy and empathy for fictional people like I would for friends or family. Imaginary lives taught me so much about fears, dangers, choices, and possibilities that must be faced by humans in distress.

The best-paced movies were a series that transported me to film noir worlds. They were models of efficient and powerful storytelling, consistently suspenseful and never rushed, despite being under 80 minutes (with one even running only 60 minutes)! They illuminated the psychological motivations of cops and criminals. I watched heroic men who were so disciplined and committed to duty that they’d put aside all personal desires for the sake of justice. I saw the fear, resourcefulness, selfishness, and arrogance that motivates intelligent crooks to pull their enemies into dark, dangerous worlds.

Some European films have recently shown me the universality of certain human experiences. For example, adolescent growing pains. I keep thinking about a scene that brought back memories of my teenage angst. It shows teens alone in their rooms, obsessing over someone they barely know, surrounded by music that reflects their feelings in lyrics. I remember doing the same thing at 17 years old.

I will always love movies, but not always for the same reasons. This year, I appreciated how movies immersed me in identities, experiences, and worlds of characters who became like friends or family. I loved and cared about them. I could relate to them because we had similarities, while also learning from our differences.

Applying what I’ve learned from such characters and their experiences could help me become a better person. In 2013, I loved movies most for making me happier. This year, I loved them most for making me smarter. They gave me access to complicated and challenging lives. By visiting those lives, I’ve gained wisdom and memories that I’ll be grateful to have for the rest of mine.