How Movies Transcend Time
We have all been there. Staring into the depths of the screen as if we are stargazing into a night sky, awaiting the strike of an incoming comet. The all-defining moment that will clear any doubt and convince us of having chosen the right film to be immersed in. I am talking about the act of freeing ourselves at the mercy of the director’s shot. Entering a world that was tailored to be indulged in like a hot chocolate on a frosty day. Inhibiting the interference of our surroundings in exchange for experiencing another world first-hand.
Welcome to motion picture.
Since the birth of film, it has formed an ever-continuing path to understanding the art of photography. Aside from visual storytelling and compelling characters, it has embarked on a mission to promote aspects of the human condition. In other words, it translates what we call life to the speakers of emotion. A way of perceiving it through the eyes of someone interested in the bits and bobs of our foundation. Where we came from, where we are, and where we are headed with a one way ticket to existence. It is no surprise that filmmakers are in awe of their own work, as quoted by iconic film director and screenwriter, Francis Ford Coppola:
“I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.”
Yes, the majority of people will point out film’s potential to drift their attention from their tangled thoughts and busy lives. They, much like the audiences served by film over the years, will admit how easy it is to be swept by the surrealism of a gripping image so intensely that you can barely feel yourself blink. At least that was the opinion held by cinema frequenters throughout the history of events, ranging from the First World War to the first Landing on the Moon.
People, being the curious creatures they are, are bound to seek entertainment; whether it be to distract themselves from a bustling war or to move closer to a possibility of discovering something that was once ruled as the unknown. But, in all honestly, would simple entertainment suffice to explain the decision to devote one’s time to the length of a film in its entirety? Especially now, living in the golden age of entertainment. Is the desire to find a few minutes of joy in a scene, really, all there is behind a person’s intention to watch a movie?
Choice and Expectation
What if there was a deeper reasoning behind all this? What if we, unconsciously, pick and choose movies based on the two-line descriptions that will set the tone of what is to come? A hint of the story we wish to encounter and attend as if were a part of it. Playing a role in the life being portrayed in front of us, yet taking place, mentally and physically, years, decades or perhaps centuries before or ahead of us. So, in essence, movies are projectors of a time we choose to have access to whenever and wherever we please. And when I say whenever, I mean it quite in the literal sense.
Luis Lumière, part of the founding brothers of cinema, has himself commented on the exquisite presence of film, highlighting the way in which it has no borders to time:
“The cinema is an invention without future.”
At the time of his statement, Lumière had been on the verge of giving up on film’s potential. Why would anyone be interested in a selection of moving images, when they have life to experience right before their very eyes?
Looking at the quote more than a century later, what can be inferred from it is that no matter how developed the ways to enjoy a film may be, the underlying purpose behind it remains as it has been since its creation. The absorption of a world we can only step into through its doorway. And, given the immeasurable amount of films today, we are ever-presented with endless doorways that line up and await our sudden stroll. A stroll past the corridor of time. Lumière, unbeknownst to him then, would become one of the pioneers of a form of time travel lacking the requirement to leave one’s couch.
Intertwining Past, Present and Future
Inevitably, film has the ability to transport us through time. I mean, just the prolonged sight of footage that has been recorded years ago will instill within us the feeling of being surrounded by everything associated with that time period. The people. The buildings. The choice of apparel. Even the food. All joining the dots to drawing a society of the screenwriter’s choice; whether they drew inspiration from being surrounded by it or wanting to be surrounded by it through their craft.
So then, what happens when the time depicted in a film’s plot does not match the time of its creation?
When showcasing a world that is either behind or ahead in time of its circulation, one is sure to find that it has the power to handle time in a way that it is merged into a collection of an interesting paradox. This paradox is further experienced by each passing generation. A prominent example of the crossing of time is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which incorporated a futuristic mission filled with not-too-distant promises. This film, while observed by a viewer at its time of release as a spectacle of the future, is observed by the contemporary watcher as nothing but present reality. Yet both viewers, despite containing a gap in the time of watching it, can be said to have experienced the present moment as just that, the present.
Similarly, Sophie’s Choice (1982) which was set in the aftermath of the Second World War is regarded as, not only the current audience, but the audience at its time of release, as an event to be dismissed as the past. Yet, no matter how far of an angle we choose to view it from, it manages to place us in the likes of a viewer who would have experienced the war and its consequences just as vividly as the film’s main character, Sophie. Our time dedicated to its watching is the time we decide to spend experiencing history as current reality — reminding ourselves that it was once indeed, a reality.
This, to me, indicates the magic of motion picture to deliver us pieces of a meal that does not have an expiry date. Rather, an aftertaste of the thrilling act of cracking the code. Of freezing time.
And there you have it. The mysterious developments of out-of-reach feelings that spark us when stumbling upon the film we consider to be our gate to salvation. A new possibility that exceeds the frames of our lives in order to experience other ones.
Perhaps it is a good thing to rely on mystery, without surrendering to the exact reason we perceive it to be so. Perhaps movies are meant to inspire us with a world closely within our grasp. Otherwise, how else would we unlock a portal to travel through time at the command of the screen? Keep this in mind the next time you delve in the wondrous journey of choosing which film to watch.