Tensions too high at the movies

There’s a lot to ponder in any given day’s headlines.

Oddly, a day at the movies yields much the same.

Aren’t theaters supposed to be venues of escape from the harsh circumstances of life? Movies like “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” provide that needed sojourn in the imagination, but these films are needles in today’s haystack. Standard cinematic fare offers a lot of dysfunction with the occasional light dish of normal human life. You know — the old plot paradigm of rising action, climax, and resolution. You can barely find that outside the Hallmark Channel anymore.

That paradigm maps out storytelling from antiquity to recent times. Mythologist and social commentator William Henry echoes Joseph Campbell in claiming that every story is an aspect of “the hero’s journey” — the tale of a character’s adventure through trials and encounters with evil. There ensues a crisis, a dark night of the soul, and finally, some sort of resolution that transforms the hero and those around him or her.

Such was the Harry Potter saga — evil beings trying to thwart the ingenuity of Harry and his friends, with his friends upholding the hero through doubt and despair. Most of us know how it all resolved, with the changed worlds, both the hidden magical world and the visible “Muggle” world, restored to safety, the price of which was a loss of innocence. The viewer can’t help but feel hope that safety and magic in some form can prevail in this world.

But mostly we’re watching a rolling tide of primal fear. If we look past the sanitized view of our world delivered by broadcast infotainment, we see that the world is still on fire. You have to wonder if it has ever not been so. With the constant chatter of Trump tweets and The Wall and now a tenuous Russia scandal acting as a sort of invisibility cloak, it’s hard to see our leaders as agents of mass destruction in the Middle East. Not just since January, as some embittered voters claim, but for years. For too many people around the world, bombs and explosions are real life.

Is it any wonder Hollywood’s movie machine cranks out so many skimpy plots that mirror the tragedies lived by others who are “not us”? And sometimes, a more rounded story comes along to reveal the dystopic perils that increasingly are us.

Here’s the prototype: a kidnapper/terrorist/evil alien/serial killer/shadow government is threatening everyone from Jason Bourne to all of humanity. The would-be survivors of these evil machinations must suffer through car chases, shootings, traps and tricks, and above all — explosions.

The 20 minutes of previews preceding “Guardians of the Galaxy” illustrate this cinematic terror. In the new “Transformers” movie, robots blow things up. In the retrospective “Detroit 1967,” people get shot and buildings blow up. “The Mummy” has been remade with more explosions. A maritime Private Ryan — “Dunkirk” — offers a wealth of explosions. Wonder Woman blows up enemies across valley and hilltop and “Thor Ragnorak” sprinkles subtle humor throughout its explosive plot. In the dystopic “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” bionic parts deliver numerous explosions, wedding the pervasive cinematic assumptions that things must blow up and that anything robotic is good.

After 20 minutes of constant fear and tension, Baby Groot finally comes to the rescue.

We can’t sanitize the horrors across the globe by calling them entertainment.

And we ought to consider whether dystopic films show us the ethical risks of “progress.” What was the 1999 movie “Bicentennial Man” but an expression of the transhumanist impulse to take artificial intelligence to tragic extremes? Recent news items tell us that “Pepper” the robot can carry on a conversation. More eerie still is the convincing android created by Japan’s Hiroshi Ishiguro. Is anyone else wary of machines that are too smart for our own good?

The latest tech news heralds the creation of an artificial womb, and we are supposed to celebrate the medical possibilities of this development. Flash back to the Matrix movies, which in the name of fiction foretold this modern nightmare.

Entertainment should offer an antidote to constant fear, and better yet, a human story.

Jimmy Stewart, take me away.

Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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