It’s that time of year again… cinema awards season is in full swing. The Critics Choice Awards have just concluded and the Oscars are right around the corner. Like many people, I am very passionate about film. From seeing my first movie at the theaters when I was three (it was Jurassic Park, by the way), to watching Sharknado just last week; I have always been memorized by motion pictures. Although I enjoy a wide variety of genres, my favorite films are the ones that invite the audience to think and feel in new ways.
While looking at the nominees for this year’s Oscar awards, I started to think about the ways cinema engages the audience in a rhetorical conversation. Every movie attempts to stimulate an emotional response in it’s viewers. The best movies however, use language and imagery to enhance a focused discussion on important social issues or philosophical ideas. One of my favorite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, uses science fiction and creative camera work in an effort to answer the age-old question “is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?”
In the movie, the central character undergoes a procedure to have the memories of his ex-girlfriend removed from his mind. He is partially inspired to have the procedure done after he learns that his ex had the memories of their relationship removed. Halfway through the procedure he realizes that, although the memories are painful, they are still an important part of his life. By remembering his past, he is able to learn from the failed relationship and grow as a person. At the movies climax, the main character is reunited with his ex, both of whom do not remember one another, and they start dating again.
The director and actors use a variety of techniques to encourage the audience to engage the movie on a deeper level than merely a cinematic experience. One way they do this is by not ending the movie on a definitive note. Because the movie does not directly show what happens to the couple once they are reunited, the audience is free to use their imagination and ponder the outcome of the characters. The movie never provides provides any definitive statements about love. Although some of the characters deliver powerful monologues about romance, other characters contradict them with their own insights. The end result is a movie that works very much like a rhetorical argument. The audience is presented with two sides of an idea, each supported by a variety of emotionally charged scenes and dialogue. The discussion formed by the movie provides viewers with the emotional, ethical, and logical parts of rhetoric, while also maintaining a certain level of ambiguity to allow the conversation to remain open after multiple viewings.
Not every movie provides the audience with thought provoking discussions about moral or philosophical issues. As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, I recently viewed a movie called Sharknado. The movie was hilariously awful, but it did not provide any intellectual stimulation. It is doubtful that I will ever watch the movie again, because one viewing provided all the information the movie had to offer; which was admittedly very little, and all of it was purely for entertainment purposes. The key to any successful movie and rhetorical discussion, is carefully structured ideas that are explored from multiple angles. This allows for the audience to return time and time again to the content, and leave with the type of satisfaction typical of intelligent discussion.