catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 3 :: 2011.02.11 — 2011.02.24


Crying out

Although I regularly enjoy both books and movies, I am hopelessly biased in favor of books. Nothing could make this clearer to me than my latest trip to the movie theatre with my family. We went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 3-D. As an avid C.S. Lewis fan, I try to approach these movies with a generous mind. I know they will not be like the books, and I have reconciled myself to that fact.

As we settled into our cushy rockers and adjusted the 3-D glasses perched on our noses, I relaxed, anticipating an entertaining movie. The first 30 minutes I truly did enjoy. The costuming and staging was lush, the scenery beautiful, the acting poignant. As images continued to leap off the screen, however, I felt tension building up in my body and a strange resentment building up with it.

Typically, movies inundate your sense with image and sound. Adding a third dimension to the visuals made me unconsciously defensive: how dare this movie try to invade my personal space with floaty bits of mist, sword blades and sharp elements of shrapnel? The movie moved along at a breakneck pace, dragging the viewer along with it, and replaced several of Lewis’ subtle artistic nuances with cheap (technically expensive) film tricks.  As I looked forward to the end of the film, I felt like a rodeo rider flung from his horse with one foot caught in the stirrup, being dragged around the arena and feeling every dirt clot and divot in the ground along the way.

I have a headache as I am writing this. It would be unfair to say that no book is guilty of the crime that I have described above, or that all movies are guilty of the same crime. But certainly, it is far easier for the book reader to keep his own mind than the movie viewer, and there may even be some hard science for that. Lacking a hard science background, I will offer my own opinion.

A good book has a good sense of timing. You can pick it up and put it down, you can mull over what you have read and even re-read a passage that you may have missed the first time. With movies, well, there is start, stop, pause and rewind, but not in the theatre and they are rarely employed elsewhere. The only time a book has ever given me a headache is when I tried to read it, and read it fast (studying for exams, anyone?). Art shouldn’t give us a headache. We have enough headaches as it is.

Good books engage all the senses. They appeal to the sense of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing, all mediated through the imagination. Good movies are capable of this as well, but are by nature highly visual and auditory, neglecting and perhaps de-emphasizing the importance of these other senses (an example of a wonderfully sensory film: Jane Campion’s Bright Star). Storytelling must be sensory in order to place the reader/viewer in the story; gently tweaking the senses instead of battering them with images and sound may increase readers’/viewers’ awareness of the world around them instead of the usual desensitization. Indeed, even if movies do not engage all the senses, they should leave more to imagination if they want to draw their viewers into the story instead of making them passive observers.

And this is where the line is drawn: why do we watch movies? To fire the imagination? To relax? To pass the time? To escape reality? None of these are bad reasons. But to spend all our available time relaxing, passing time and escaping reality without ever firing the imagination is not a good thing. Imagination is really the most important point. While books exercise the imagination by requiring the reader to take the author’s words and transform them into sights, sounds, tastes, touches and scents, many movies present the viewer with an image that says, “This is it. All of it.” Imagination can’t hold up against that statement unless it is otherwise supported. And we need imagination. Imagination is what brings us books and movies in the first place, and imagination should give birth to more imagination.

So, whether you prefer books or movies, do not settle for being a passive observer. Let the art and music and movies and books and all the things you take in awaken your mind, your questions, your imagination. Let it make you aware of the world around you. It is crying out. 

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