Escapism vs. informative filmmaking

[Written by Ellen Magee]

[Image by Adriana Iuliano]

Watching a film is often an experience akin to invading the fantastical imagination of a stranger—that is, by the creative environment we enter, or the feelings invoked in us, or the fanciful characters whose lives we feel a part of. It is often thought that watching films is a method of escapism and a distraction from real life; a time to switch off and to fully immerse oneself in this fanciful world, far from any daily woes of our often bleak in comparison lives. This fantasy of cinematic experience is apparent particularly in films that depict imaginary utopian worlds, such as science fiction films, and superhero movies, to name a few. Indeed, the highest grossing films from 2018 are abundant in their fantasy worlds, not least The Incredibles 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Black Panther, and Ant Man and The Wasp. However, there are other films that—whilst still encompassing this cinematic experience—enforce important information on their audiences, such as Netflix’s 2018 hit Roma, which teaches its audience about the workings of a housekeeper in Mexico City, and BlacKkKlansman (2018), Spike Lee’s retelling of a true story about an African American cop infiltrating the KKK in 1970s America.

The list of highest grossing movies in film history can tell us quite a lot about the kind of creative worlds that audiences seek. From Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937) and E.T (1982) to Jurassic Park (1993), it’s clear that these films invoke a sense of an absurd alternative to everyday life – a world of romance, of fairytales, of creatures both mystical and extra-terrestrial, of worlds which require saving or destroying, or princes and princesses making their way to each other. Especially considering Marvel’s Cinematic Universe’s multitude of successful films this year, we can determine that even in 2018 audiences crave a universe to engross themselves in, a universe full of good and bad, of concisely laid out plans and a definitive sense of what is right and wrong.

Many films clearly exist in order to inform audiences about important moments in history not least throughout history such as Schindler’s List (1993), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and Lincoln (2012). Similar to these, many films also contain a very important political message for its audiences, such as Selma (2014) which depicts Dr Martin Luther King’s epic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, Milk (2008) portraying Harvey Milk’s activism for LGBT rights in 1977, and Hunger (2008) which tells the story of the hunger strikers led by Bobby Sands in Northern Ireland in 1981. More recent politically important films include Jordan Peele’s self-proclaimed documentary Get Out (2017), which informs audiences of the terrors of racism and prejudice through the metaphor of exaggerated horror, or Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake  which teaches its audiences of the poverty experienced everyday throughout Britain.

The contention between films which are escapist—allowing us distraction from our everyday lives— and those which deliver a strong political message is perhaps more harmonious than conflicting, as great films often contain both elements of the fantastical and can still contain important information to engage audiences with more difficult stories. Aforementioned films such as Get Out certainly fall into this category, being both overwhelmingly entertaining but still depicting the racism which is rife in America today. Other such films include The Florida Project—an excellent 2017 hit from Sean Baker—is told through a child’s perspective and contains elements of magic, which is complemented by the wide camera angles and vibrant colours creating a sense of a Disney-like world. What makes the experience of watching films so wonderful is the feeling of taking a break out of our busy lives, but whilst still learning something new about the world around us at the same time.

[Image Description: An abstracted figure seen from the back, formed of geometric shapes ranging from pink to red, brown, blue and purple, against a background of abstract rounded shapes in black and white.]

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