movie night

Last night I watched Night of the Living Dead for the first time, or at least, first time all the way through that I remember (I am awful at remembering movies… but I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen it before, even though it’s so iconic). It made me think about the purposes of movies, and the ways we represent characters. It struck me how often in modern movies, the psychological component is really dropped. Characters do things – band together and make plans, if they’re facing zombies; get killed, one after another without a real sense of disruption or psychological pain on the part of survivors, if they’re in any kind of horror movie – the survivors are just scared, but of getting killed themselves, not of dealing with living in the world, or of accepting what’s just happened to their friends.

This seems to extend to so many kinds of movies, though. I guess we can find the psychology there, because it’s made by human beings (eg, This review of American Gangster mentions the “irrational honesty” of the ‘good cop’ as an interesting character trait, but presumably the director was just thinking it was a simple “good guy”) but it seems so often to be dressed up to tell a story about who we would think we would be if we had no experience – who we’re supposed to be. But what is that based on? How do we know what we’re supposed to be? From watching other movies? We could say it’s because we’re so far into the layers of pop culture (I mean pop culture that references previous instantiations of itself) that we see ourselves more from the outside than ever before, and perform according to how we imagine a person in a movie should, so our movie characters act more like they know they’re being watched – like rational creatures concerned with how they’re playing to an audience.

That’s probably not really fair to movie makers – presumably there have been psychologically packed movies at all times, and then ones that just don’t give much thought to it, and it is probably more a question of which movies last than anything – but I still feel like the “greatness” of current movies is in ideas, or technology, or humor, or the director’s comment-on-society, rather than the straight experience of characters interacting and making choices and responding to their lives and their actions. (The movies that do that well are always considered “small” movies, and of a particular genre, rather than simply any type of good movie having this as an aspect of its strength.)

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