Why Films Can Make You a Better Person

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I’ve spent my life fascinated by film. As a kid, my dad and I watched movies almost every day. This became a part of my education in a way because, whether he meant to or not, he was teaching me about film history. My dad always preferred action movies, which I of course watched with him, but as I got older I began to branch out. We started throwing some new genres into the movie night mix and I realized that my fascination was not just in the fact pace and explosions of action, but the heart-wrenching pain of drama, the belly-laughs of comedy and the slice of life pieces found in the indie realm.

My embrace of this newfound film freedom only got more intense as I entered college. I let my love for film take me away and started integrating some film analysis courses into my English degree. And so I fell in love with film noir, foreign fare and many of the classic Films (yes, capital F) that as a movie buff you are “supposed to” love, or at least watch.

I didn’t expect much to happen as a result of these classes or films beyond buffing up my analytical skills, but in retrospect it is plain as day. As the films I watched began to change, so did the way I watched them and even the way I saw the world.

As I look around now, I see those images and those characters reflected in the world around me. I have met the intense and powerful (but ultimately sad) man who stalks through Xanadu in Citizen Kane. I’ve met Jimmy Stewart’s “simple country lawyer” from Anatomy of a Murder. I’ve known more than one version of Melissa McCarthy’s struggling, single mom in St. Vincent. I wouldn’t recognize these versions of humanity had they not been laid plain to me through film.

Now that’s not to say we should use film to generalize or pretend we know someone else’s experience, but it does create a nice springboard for compassion and understanding. We all lead deep and complex inner lives, shaped through our lived experience. Film shows us millions of versions of lived experience. It helps us understand that no two people can think or act the same way.

Watching movies remains one of my favorite things in the world. It’s how I entertain myself. It helps me decompress and it is why Netflix will continue to make $10 a month off of me until the end of time. The difference now is that I’ll watch anything, even if I’ve never heard of it, even if it looks bizarre and especially when it’s on a whim. This impulse has led me to some of my favorite movies of all time. It’s something people don’t do enough.

We’re taught implicitly in college that productivity should be our goal. And if I had a dollar for every time I heard that watching or studying film was not a productive use of my time, I wouldn’t need to take out student loans.

But film is productive. It has reshaped my world. If we stepped out of our usual wheelhouse just a bit more, I think we would see more of that. Do yourself a favor tonight. Finish up whatever you have to do, sit down and watch a movie—something you’ve never seen, something you might never have watched otherwise.

Take a chance on something new and expand your mind. If you watch closely enough, you might be surprised at what you find.

Kelly is a senior at the University of Florida majoring in English and Anthropology. She is highly prone to feminist rants and has an unhealthy obsession with books.

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