Escape to Paradise: Come To Your Local AMC

by Tori Adams

People have always ogled at film’s unique ability to transport us to another world. I remember sitting in one of my college film classes and watching in awe as Francis Ford Coppola flew me, first class but of course, from the grimy streets of New York to the fields of Italy during The Godfather. Not all films are as transcendent as Coppola’s, but it’s hard to deny that for the two hours you hit the theater or cozy up into bed with your Netflix partner, you cease to exist as yourself.

Perhaps that’s why during the era of the Great Depression families would scrap together what little money they had and head over to their local theater. At the time, MGM experienced a golden age with dramatic movies like Gone with the Wind andThe Wizard of Oz. Even though many families had barely any money, a few hours of escape from the economic and social disorder was worth the cost. 

It seems the same could be said about contemporary consumers. Since Trump’s election in the latter half of 2016, citizens have increasingly turned to movies as a way to escape their reality. Attendance hasn’t necessarily spiked—it has become harder to fill seats due to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. Rather, it’s content that has truly been affected. The top grossing films at the box office have become increasingly removed from reality.

In 2017 the top ten domestic films included: the animated family film Despicable Me 3, the action packed Star Wars: The Last Jedi and a long list of superhero flicks including Justice League, Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man Homecoming. So far this year, we have seen the highest returns on the animated film Incredibles 2, the horror story A Quiet Place, another Star Wars spin off, the paleontological action flick, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and, you guessed it, more superhero films. 

Sure, some of these films have plotlines that draw on aspects of reality. I have to give credit for the way Black Panther touched on race and urban plight and the way Incredibles 2 challenged gendered parenting roles. But overall, most contain fantastical stories that don’t have much of a moral implication for our real lives. But, nonetheless, they continue to provide an abundant amount of pleasure for many viewers. 

This begs the question: what price do we pay, other than our movie tickets, when we derive pleasure from a form of escapism? There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking pleasure through a momentary escape. No one should subject themselves to a 24/7 cycle of depressing Trump-centric news. But I think it’s important to remember Nicolas Chamfort’s warning: “Pleasure may come from illusion, but happiness can come only from reality.” 

Our society has trained us to see pleasure and happiness as interchangeable feelings. If we aren’t indulging in the latest upscale eatery, stylish look or chart topping single we become distraught. But the rush of pleasure is momentary. Happiness is far less fragile, but it’s harder to seek when our reality is so dark and dismal. So instead, we continue to hedonistically seek pleasure. We ensconce ourselves in the trials and tribulations of heroes and secret agents and forget about the fragmented world we inhabit. Marvel Madness has us more concerned with the issues between Captain America and Iron Man than the threat of nuclear warfare between Trump and Kim Jong-un. If we want to alter the state of our union, and create authentic joy in our own lives, we must reconsider our consumption choices. 

Next time you want to escape, I urge you to consider a movie like Arrival. The sci-fi film is centered around a premise that is unlike anything we have experienced on Earth, and yet the story appeals to themes that are relevant and humanistic. The story draws on the importance of global cooperation and interpersonal understanding and empathy. At a time when people are angry and nations are at odds, this seems like a much more fitting escape. 

But no matter how we choose to escape every once in a while, be it action, drama, comedy, romance, animation, horror or sci-fi, we must be ready to face reality. Like Dorothy, we must return to Kansas after we take a pleasurable stroll around Oz.

Written By: Tori Adams