Continuing with our series on the reason we watch films, the third article in a six-part series by Dan Brendsel considers the idea of a changed perspective.
To see through the eyes of others cultivates empathy and sympathy. Films allow us to temporarily be immersed in the lives and cultures of the characters and so gain a new perspective on an old topic.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
This idea of seeing through the eyes of others has a to do with seeing with new eyes, but with a slightly different focus. We can see through the eyes of others in order to help us grow into a fuller understanding of reality. But we can also see through the eyes of others in order to cultivate deeper appreciation, and indeed sympathy, for their plight and path.
(See this article on how studying the plays of William Shakespeare aids to affect the sympathies of students in the same way film does)
Entering the world of Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea, seeing bleakness and regret through his eyes, gives me greater sympathy for those who have made devastating mistakes in their lives that they can never undo. It helps me to better grieve with them, to better imagine the great, inescapable guilt and sadness that must follow them everywhere, to develop patience in walking with them in their darkness, to have some small sense of their plight (however imprecise and inadequate).
The movie Magnolia reveals the human sorrow and despair and experience of abuse and desertion from his father that helped form Frank Mackey into the chauvinist that he was. We are better prepared, in some small way, to “love the sinner and hate the sin,” to have understanding and even compassion for how he has ended up, even as we rightly recoil from his arrogance and objectification of women. Furthermore, in Frank’s shoes at the movie’s end, as he is at his dying father’s bedside and with trembling and spitting and tears alternately voices his hatred of his father and his yearning that his father not die, we begin to feel in our bones how hard it is to forgive.
The experience may be one means of cultivating a greater patience and sympathy and wisdom in counseling others who find it hard to forgive their debtors. Or, it may be a tool used in the Spirit’s gentle hands to press us toward extending forgiveness where we ourselves are unwilling.
On a much brighter note, a film like Beauty and the Beast portrays the full-orbed joy of one who has received the great goodness of restoration, of loving and being loved, of celebration. Perhaps we may even find ourselves rejoicing with Beast by movie’s end. The movie gets us practiced in “rejoicing with those who rejoice,” which I have found is often harder than “weeping with those who weep.”
One of the reasons it’s harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep may be that it’s easier with the latter to think of ourselves in heroic and self-congratulatory ways than it is with the former; the one who rejoices at another’s joys is the one who is humble and not after the demonstration of his or her worth.
In any case, films afford me the opportunity to cultivate greater sympathy for others. They can equip me to love. This is simply one way to heed the Lord who calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. In order to love others as we love ourselves, we need to imagine ourselves in their shoes and consider what kind of love we might need in that situation. Films are one powerful way (among many) of helping us to better imagine ourselves in others’ shoes.
As with every essay in this series, I am adding a disclaimer that the films mentioned in this article are not necessarily a recommendation. Please decide for yourself if it is worth watching by researching them using websites such as IMDB.com, pluggedin.com and commonsensemedia.com
Share with us how a film has changed your perspective on a social, environmental or theological issue in the comment section below.