Watching a movie is like dreaming while you’re awake. Just like sleeping, the body is in a relaxed state; the mind is clear and receptive. It doesn’t work that way when you go to a play. When watching live theater, one is sitting upright in the seat, concentrating on the stage and listening intensely. Not so at the movies where you allow yourself to relax completely (you slump down in the seat, let your mind go blank and carry you into and through the story—just like in a dream).
Of all recreational pastimes, there’s no question that the movies come the closest to that dream experience. Listening to music is wonderful; it can be relaxing or stimulating depending on the music being listened to but it is not a dreamlike event. Watching television is a passive activity; it requires almost nothing of its audience except for attendance and the ability to use a remote control. But, while watching a movie is being in a dreamlike state, sitting in front of the TV is more like being put into a trance.
The movies enable people to do things they might ordinarily never have the chance to do, it allows people to go places they might never otherwise get to and to experience things that are totally out of their everyday lives. Reading books used to fill that function for most people but in the past century or so it is the movies more than books which now provide the adventure and escape from the humdrum for the average person.
‘I can be Fred Astaire or Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart anytime I want to be…’
Watching a beautifully produced motion picture on a large screen in a darkened movie house is a personal experience unlike any other—except for one’s own dreams while asleep. The big difference is, in the movie theater environment you are sharing that personal dream with other people, the members of the audience. Sit in that darkened theater and watch “Gone with the Wind” and you, as a woman, can be Scarlet O’Hara for almost four hours, right along with every other woman in that theater. Every young man is living the life of Luke Skywalker for a couple of hours when viewing “Star Wars.” The movie experience is a shared dream experience.
I can be Fred Astaire or Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart anytime I want to be, depending on which movie I choose to watch. As Errol Flynn I can out-duel Basil Rathbone, as Bing Crosby I can croon with Grace Kelly in my arms, as William Powell I can drink martinis all day and night and never get a hangover, as John Wayne I can win the West and as Gregory Peck I can be intelligently sincere in every single thing I do.
Each succeeding generation has their equivalent movie heroes in which they can live their vicarious lives. I guess for many young movie-goers today it would be Johnny Depp or Sarah Jessica Parker. Millions of teenagers lose themselves as quirky pirates and self-assured young women in those darkened movie houses. It’s too bad most movies today don’t have the variety of genres that they had years ago. No westerns, no musicals and (with the exception of the occasional Jane Austin rehash) no period pictures. Traveling back to another time in history was a great escape.
Movies are different from what they were back in the classic days of “The Golden Age” in the ‘30s and ‘40s. They’re very different from what they were even 20 years ago. There’s no question that they will differ still in the future. No matter how movies change in the years to come, there will always be the basics in place for escapism, a way for people to have experiences which take them totally out of their ordinary lives for a time. The human mind seems to require a modicum of fantasy every so often to counterbalance the realities of the world.
Whether it’s romantic comedy, wise guy gangsters, science fiction, superheroes, animated frogs or puppet-toon animals, there will always be something to lose yourself in. Dreaming while awake. Everyone needs to get away, even if it’s only for a couple of hours or so.