What? A message in a Hollywood film?

11 11 2009

Yes!  Every film – classic, new, comedy, drama, foreign, animation, documentary – expresses a perspective or the worldview of the maker.  It is not merely art but also a message.  Consider the following quote from James Cameron, the Academy Award winning director of Titanic, on what’s behind the upcoming movie Avatar:

At Comic Con 2009, Cameron told attendees that he wanted to make “something that has this spoonful of sugar of all the action and the adventure and all that, which thrills me anyway as a fan, but also wanting to do something that has a conscience, that maybe in the enjoying of it makes you think a little bit about the way you interact with nature and your fellow man.” He added that “the Na’vi represent something that is our higher selves, or our aspirational selves, what we would like to think we are,” and “the humans in the film, even though there are some good ones salted in, represent what we know to be the parts of ourselves that are trashing our world and maybe condemning ourselves to a grim future.”

The message in a film, however, is not always obvious – or even intentional.  Some of us may remember the film Close Encounters of The Third Kind?  If not, you are probably too young!  No worries.  Here’s what Steven Spielberg discovered about the heart of the film during an interview, as told by film critic Jeffrey Overstreet in his book Through A Screen Darkly:

As Steven Spielberg continued to speak with James Lipton on In the Actor’s Studio, addressing a live audience of film students, he spoke more about his childhood.  He had grown up quite happy, until his parents divorced and his world split in two.  In one world, his mother was a concert pianist.  In the other, his father was a pioneering computer scientist.

Lipton, keeping this in mind, smiled and observed that the culminating moments of Close Encounters were clearly a manifestation of Spielberg’s dreams.  “How do the scientists communicate with the spaceship?  Through music made on their computers.”

I gasped.  I’d never thought about that.  Was the movie really about Spielberg’s longing for his parents’ reunion?  Spielberg nodded, smiling, and then I saw emotion well up inside of him – that moment of realization art can provide even decades later to the person who crafted it.

“You know,” the filmmaker said, astonished, “I would love to say that it was all conscious and that I planned that – but honestly, I had no idea.  Until this moment!”

Somehow, the audience understood the gravity of what had just taken place.  Laughing, they applauded for joy.  “Thank you so much for that observation,” Spielberg added later.  “Thank you so much.  I had no idea that’s what I was trying to get at.  I had no idea.  Thank you.”

So, was the longing for Close Encounters of The Third Kind really a longing for a world beyond this world or simply a longing for his home – for this broken life to make sense?

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