Academic Writing

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Looking Backwards

I've noticed something about this season’s crop of high level, artistic, intellectual movies.  Many of them seem to be about the movies themselves or are simply nostalgic for the past and longing for a different era. 

Take a look at this:
The Muppets:  A movie whose success relies significantly on the nostalgia of long time fans revisiting a well-loved franchise from their youth.
Hugo: When the movies were, quite literally, magical.  Where movies are direct connections to our past.
My Week with Marilyn: A romantic time where movie stars were elusive and untouchable and where Hollywood was mysterious and sexy.
The Artist: About a time where the movies were still new and the medium was still developing.
J. Edgar is largely about looking back at our history to better understand our present.
Even The Descendants, while not about movies per se is about appreciating what you have before it’s gone. 

So what does this all mean? Why this insistence on looking backwards?  Is this what Americans are yearning for or is it what Hollywood thinks audiences are looking for?  Also interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be one front runner leading the pack.  Every year there seems to be a film which is a shoo-in for at least some of the top awards.  One film which captures the hearts of audiences and which people root for.  This year’s film pool doesn’t seem to have that.  Martin Scorsese’s Hugo might have some of that, but a lot of people are considering a children’s film even though it has begun to win some of the industry's top awards.

I propose that these movies all look to our past to help us, and implore us, to learn from it. We live in a world focused on the future: How do we fix things now?  Where are we going from here?  When will our current social and economic state improve?  How do we secure our future?  In all of these conversations there does not seem to be much of a concern for how we got here and how to possibly avoid history repeating itself.  These films teach us the importance of learning from and appreciating out history and from where we come.

Additionally, in these unsteady times, looking backwards can offer comfort and a feeling of security for a time gone by.  For two hours in a darkened theater we can be swept away by the flickering images on screen and be totally immersed in a time where things were better, or a time where the movies can make things seem better.  This is nothing new for Hollywood films which have traditionally offered respite for audiences in tough times.  Those times always seem better in retrospect because we know that we survived them.  Perhaps looking backwards gives us hope and confidence that we'll be able to once again emerge victorious. 
There is a danger in that, however.  We must not rest on our laurels allow this fantasy of assuming everything will be OK this time just because they worked out last time to make us complacent.  Things worked out because of the hard work and dedication of those who made an effort to enact change.  We also must remember that our history might seem so great back then because we looked at it through rose colored glasses and through images which look good on the big screen. 

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