A few nights ago, I re-watched the immensely unique and criminally underrated Richard Linklater film “Waking Life.” It’s the first all-digital movie layered with computer animation, and it is about a young man who’s trapped in a dream within a dream. There’s a scene where the main character, played by Wiley Wiggins (also featured in Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused”), is sitting in a theater house watching a movie within the movie. The two men onscreen discuss how every moment in life is a holy moment, since life is God personified and reflected, and this is why movies are so popular, even the terrible ones, because we’re watching images of God.
This reminded me of a thought I once had about why I love movies so much. I’m an extremely nostalgic person, and if you think about it, films are pieces of our past. Every major movie you ever see, even when it’s branded a “new release,” is at least months old. Most of the time, they’re a few years old, and sometimes, they’re several decades old. This is evident when we watch an old, black-and-white movie, and while it’s deemed a “classic,” we can become distracted from the dialogue and plot by the vintage clothing, old hairstyles, or anachronistic language. At the time, when these movies were first released, those characteristics were seen as secondary or not even noticed at all by the general public. After all, everyone spoke with colloquialisms and wore outdated clothing. While it may have been in style or “hip” back then, it’s seen as laughable now.
In other words, when’s the last time you saw Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford fight off the bad guys on the silver screen wearing bellbottoms? To paraphrase the monologue of one comedienne, whose name escapes me, unless you’re watching a period piece, you would never hear Cameron Diaz scold her cheating lover as he sneaks back home with the following verbal assault: “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Johnny Come Lately! I suppose you were out and about painting the town red with the good ol’ boys, you ne’er do well!”
When we watch movies, we’re watching ourselves from the past–a piece of history encapsulated in a two-hour storyline. Often, after viewing the latest Hollywood offering at the local theater house, we may feel anxious to hear more news about the star of the film and find ourselves surprised or even disappointed when we realize that the actor or actress has long since moved on from that particular role–sometimes months or even years before it even debuts. We may see this celebrity on television or in a recent magazine photograph and be shocked that he or she has lost a little hair, gained a few more pounds, or grew some facial wrinkles.
Although celebrities don’t normally let themselves go like this (they can’t afford to–their livelihood depends mostly on their physical attractiveness), it’s simply a constant reminder that every single piece of filmed entertainment we consume is a record of the past–the way we were, or, if set in the future, the way we hoped to be someday. And again, this would explain my obsession, healthy or not, with cinema. It’s a convenient avenue for me to gaze into the window of the past.