This past week I made my brother, Douglas, watch Network for the very first time. A film which, if you’ve never seen, is about a famed news anchor and journalist who has a mental breakdown on air and becomes a televangelist who is allowed to spew his truth about this universe just because he magically got ratings. While watching this movie I had a bit of an awakening of sorts, though not to the same degree of Howard Beale.
I watched closely as my brother’s disdain for the film grew and later on he said nothing other than, “it’s just a bunch of monologues.” If it’s one thing he’s not wrong.
I saw this movie for the first time more than five years ago I believe, and it spoke to me. It talked to me about what I saw in the world around me, a world where the television news was supposedly informing us of what was going on around us but at the same time trapping us. It frightened us to see the crime and decay of our surroundings and we would buy better locks for our doors and pay extra for guard services and always clutch our wallets tightly as shady looking individuals walked by us on the street. As Howard Beale raved on television about that same world I sat there in amazement and said yes. This is what I hate about the world. It’s not so much the crime and violence but the world’s response to it all. We have police and courts, but we don’t trust them — and for good reason. So instead we ignore the real solutions to the problem and pretend that we should live our lives around this hellish surroundings. Creating bad solutions, which involved saying “don’t go there” or “don’t leave the house” because home is supposedly safe. This film helped me realize, even though it’s barely it’s intention, that those solutions were wrong and I should instead live a life which denies fear and embraces everything else (not to say I do much with this revelation anyways, but at least I’ve got the first step to a big puzzle out there in the world I guess).
However, watching the film again I saw a lot more of what this film really was about and I guess I sort of agree with my brother. It’s just a series of really well written and well delivered monologues that barely manages to make much. However, the most important ingredient in this whole argument is that all of these monologues focus, for the most part, about speaking to a specific truth about this world that some may have not realized. Whether it be that television is an illusion and that we should embrace reality, or that money rules the world more than we think it does, it’s all about these truths. The problem with that is that whether you believe in these “truths” wholeheartedly or not if you’ve heard these arguments before, as anyone over the age of twenty-five (I hope) would have then you don’t really have much to chew on in this film, which leaves you wanting.
Last year with Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s directorial debut film, Don Jon, I asked a lot of the same questions of it. The film discussed the idea of fixations on fantasies and how they can ruin our realities. Through the protagonist’s obsession with pornographic films and the sexuality displayed in them he lost the real human connection that we all desire for in romantic relationships. And it’s not so much about being in love or getting off really good (yes that’s bad English, deal with it), but really about sharing a moment with a person as opposed to wanting to replicate that scene you saw last night will scrolling down RedTube thinking that’s hot.
There’s a time and place in our lives for fantasies. Whether it be about the knight slaying the dragon, Serpico bringing down police corruption or getting that really good lay; but it’s most damaging when you hope it can replace reality.
As we sit there seeing all the pieces of the puzzle of a film come together to make a “good” film we’re just sort of watching someone else come to a conclusion that we figured out before. We see him suffering all the things he needs to so that he can now know for certain that selfish sex isn’t the best thing in the world and it makes for a rough experience.
I’ve had many a discussion with people where I’ve had to correct their facts and watch them figure out things. Or disagree with them about how the world is and whether I or them are “right” at the end of the conversation there’s a sort of boring nature to having them come over to your side. You as the “winning” party has learnt little to nothing and all you’ve done is witness their transformation. We don’t have to engage or influence, we just watch someone go through these steps that we can look at and ask why everyone hasn’t already done yet.
Just like in Network when we indulge in the ravings, or confessions as he puts it, of Howard Beale we need something more than an acting stage to get something from it.
Let me not say that Network and Don Jon are not interesting films with other great things to them, but at the same time their core seems anti to people who’ve considered those issues before and “figured it all out” for the heck of it.
What’s your thoughts on films that play with your perception of the world?