In an era where our collective attention span seems to be waning, movies still provide a powerful, emotional outlet.
My recent experience at the Toronto International Film Festival got me thinking about film and entertainment in our current age, specifically about how they affect emotions of the audience.
Having attended the event twice before, I knew the drill. I carefully selected six eclectic film experiences - from Natalie Portman’s stunning directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness to the zany, Tarantino-esque Australian film The Dressmaker.
Just being on the streets when TIFF is going on is an experience in itself – crowded with press and industry professionals carrying their official TIFF totes, while fans crowd in front of the theatres waiting for the next great celebrity.
Then there are people like me, the movie-goer, somewhere in-between the celeb-obsessed, screaming fan and the ambitious insiders. This vantage point offers a unique perspective – that of the anonymous observer, experiencing the film itself as well as catching glimpses into the inside operations of the film industry.
As a millennial, I feel like I’m in even more of a unique position because I am able to observe how entertainment has evolved.
Catharsis in a New Era
A recurring motif in Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness is the origin of words. One of my personal favourite words is “catharsis.” Not just for its sounds and syllables, but for its etymology and meaning. Originating in Greek dramas, it means to purge or cleanse, specifically within the context of emotions. Dramas use it as a way for audiences to fully experience an emotion through performance, allowing them to release that emotion in a safe environment.
This still holds true for film. When you’re watching something it allows you to experience it physically and psychologically. However, much has changed since the height of Greek drama or even the Golden Age of film. As millennials, we find ourselves in a new era. An era of fast entertainment, where we can binge-watch a whole TV season in days. Where we can scroll through Facebook, watching fast, short GIFs, or Instagram, taking in dozens of photos and videos in seconds. Entertainment is only a click away.
But what does that mean for our collective experience? For myself, I used to love movies, but now I find even two hours is too long for my attention span, opting for shorter television episodes that will make me laugh in an easy 22 to 44 minutes. In a generation where entertainment is instant we seem less likely to be affected by what we’re viewing.
To Feel or Not to Feel
One film in particular stands out for me as an example of this current millennial experience. The film Equals has all the trappings to be the next young adult fantasy hit. Starring two fantasy veterans, Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, with a futuristic setting and science fiction plot in which feelings have purposely been purged from the human make-up, two people start to feel and fall in love.
But the movie will not be the next big hit, because it’s slow and intimate. When Dustin O’Halloran’s perfectly crafted music builds and pounds in your ears, giving you that twinge of danger and fear, it’s not because something’s about to be blown up, but because the two characters touch for the first time. The film asks you to feel, as the characters start to feel. Watching the film is a reminder that to truly feel and to be affected by experiences is what makes our human experience so incredibly beautiful.
As I waited in line at TIFF to see A Tale of Love and Darkness, I was bored and disengaged, but by the time the credits rolled I was crying so much I was still mopping my eyes when the lights came on. I found it deeply moving. Clearly, I had experienced some sort of catharsis. I was hit with the ability of cinema to elucidate and educate, to truly make us feel and maybe in the process even change us in some small way. For millennials in our cultural age, the trick is to balance the many forms of entertainment we have, so we can enjoy the advancements of quick entertainment, but also, on occasion, be moved.