Hollywood is the movie capital of the world. The American public has assured the film industry of that distinction by their weekly treks to the movie theater, and their purchase and rental of videos and DVDs. Nowhere in the world do people watch more movies than in America. It is estimated that the average American views one movie a week, whereas in Europe, the frequency is about once a month.
Americans work hard and play hard, and one reason they attend movies is for entertainment. The other reason Americans like to attend movies is that the stories on the screen illuminate truths about life on earth. They tell the truth about a fictional situation, or in some cases, the truth about our shared history, parts of history that are not taught in elementary school or even in high school (Dances with Wolves). We no longer sit around the campfire telling our healing stories and cautionary tales, and movies now serve that purpose.
In some cases, the movies reflect a certain period of distant or recent history (Troy or Pearl Harbor). Other films depict what the world would be like given new circumstances (The Postman). Thus the movies not only fulfill a yearning Americans have to understand and to be understood, but also serve to challenge us to think of what could be and about whats important to us.
Movies serve as a reminder that we are not the only ones who have difficulties with relationships (Unfaithful), who have dysfunctional families (Hannah and her Sisters), or who experience career challenges (Working Girl). We are not alone in our struggles and a good film can even help someone going through a similar situation have a corrective emotional experience, a catharsis, typically achieved during psychotherapy, but which can also be achieved through participation in the arts.
Granted, not every film is what I would consider art. Some people like to feel the fear in their stomachs when the roller coaster flips upside down, a feeling they also get while sitting in a darkened theatre watching the stalker approach an unsuspecting teenage girl with the intent to chop her to pieces. I dont consider these films (Halloween) art, but they keep being made, so someone must be watching them.
Hollywood films are shown in colleges and in treatment centers as they depict people with mental illness and substance abuse. A Beautiful Mind helps aspiring psychotherapists really understand the workings of schizophrenia in a way a textbook cannot explain, and future students will no doubt use The Aviator to learn about obsessive-compulsive disorder. The struggle to overcome substance abuse is depicted in such films as When a Man Loves A Woman and 28 Days. And the hopelessness an alcoholic may finally succumb to is shown in Leaving Las Vegas.
When I go to see a film, I expect some new insight to come out of it, which can happen even in a comedy or an animated feature. Shrek shows the folly of placing importance on appearances, for example, and even Pocahontas, with its rewritten history has the message that the land is alive, even the rocks and the streams are deserving of care.
Recently there has been an emphasis on superhero and martial arts movies. Americans like watching stories where the main character, as in Spider Man, questions if he can fulfill his purpose in life-are his powers more a gift or a curse for him? Few among us are martial arts experts, yet again we enjoy these movies of skill and courage, and these movies bring to Americans the philosophy of the East, with exposure to other ways of thinking besides our own. The movies help Americans become aware of other cultures (Hotel Rwanda), and help us to not forget the tough lessons of the past (Schindlers List). And they can project us into the future when earth will not be the only home available to us (Star Trek).
So when you watch an American made movie, remember that its more than just entertainment.
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