A.O. Scott in the NYT: What I Learned About Democracy from the Movies

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This Batman (Christian Bale) is motivated by duty and grievance equally in “The Dark Knight” (2006). Photo from IMDb.

Reprinted from The New York Times by A.O. Scott on May 13, 2021.

“In the past few years I’ve found myself questioning my assumptions and doubting what I thought I knew about my country,” writes A.O. Scott in The New York Times. “What if the good guys don’t always win? What if people can’t find a way to get along in spite of their differences? What if the flawed heroes were really the villains all along? What if the arc of the universe bends toward chaos? I wonder sometimes why I ever believed otherwise. Maybe because I’ve seen too many movies, or maybe I misunderstood what I saw.

“Like many Americans, I had a movie education that was idiosyncratic, haphazard and intensive. I learned at least as much about American life from what I saw in multiplexes and revival houses, on late-night television and on VHS and DVD as I did from my teachers or parents. Moviegoing isn’t really a civic duty, but it can feel like a ritual of citizenship. You may know that what you’re watching isn’t real — historians and journalists are always eager to point out inaccuracies, omissions and outright fabrications in the Hollywood version — but you also might believe that, on some level, it’s true. That’s how mythology works: not as blatant propaganda, but as a set of stories that shape our perceptions of what’s fair, good and natural.

“The only way to see clearly is to look again, even into a warped mirror. What follows isn’t a history so much as a key to the national mythology, a guide to the civic imagination through moving-picture images. It’s inevitably both subjective and collective, since movies, though we consume them alone, are something we have in common. Maybe the only things. …

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NY Times 5/13

About Jeffrey Burman 797 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at jeffrey.s.burman.57@gmail.com.

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