ESSAY: Need Some Therapy? Choose Film.
I recently read an article in a magazine that an American psychotherapist named Dr Gary Solomon wrote about the therapeutic properties of film. This article got me thinking about cinema. As the arts and culture contributor for The Street Gypsies I regularly write reviews on film. I in fact make an average of one hundred and sixty trips to the cinema every year and have done for the past thirteen years. So I can say with confidence I really do love film. But my love for film began as a young child who found movies an escape into something exotic and exciting. I was hooked from early on and I realised almost instantaneously that my attachment to film was in fact an emotional one.
When I generally speak to people about their tastes in film they usually reply ‘action’. Now these people are not adrenaline junkies they just want a sense of escapism, to forget their usual lives for 90 minutes and be entertained. This would also correlate on the fact that even though we have been hit really badly by the recession and arts suffering a great deal because of it cinema sales are still rising very steadily and this is due to the fact that it is a distraction from the gloom of a difficult financial climate.
But our need for escapism has also made us more open to other cultures. Ten years ago foreign films were a rare thing to watch at your local cinema, yet now it is normal to see films in French, Iranian, Spanish etc. When I was in college, taking my friends to see Almodovar’s Bad Education was traumatic for them not only because of the content but the fact that they were reading subtitles. Those same friends now tell me how emotional La Vie En Rose was for them.
But in terms of therapy what can be helpful in cinema? In life as a participant in the chaos of things taking a step back and being an observer to a character you can associate to can make you understand things better (the entire series of Sex and the City has a massive impact of women empathising with its characters is a lazy example). It can allow us to understand the difficulties of the lives of others that we wouldn’t otherwise know; such as those living in conflict, in difficult times and ages.
But it helps us in the here and now. Laughter is scientifically proven to help relieve stress, which is why comedies are usually the biggest grossing films along those with action. This also includes the worst genre of all, romantic comedies. But dramas also do well; the potential for a tear can inspire you and make you feel stronger as a person by the time you leave that dark screen.
Me personally, I was always hungering for films that would open my eyes, bring me emotion when I need that little bit of a push to cry or when I needed to laugh till my chest hurt because I was having a crap time. And there are always films I go back to not only because I love them but because it reminds me of a time of my life that I associate with it. Whether it’s In The Mood For Love when I had my first twinge of a broken heart, or Lost In Translation when I felt lost in the expectations of my future or Anchorman just because nothing has ever made me laugh so hard. With every film I watch, the countless films I’ve watched I’ve wanted to engage with them in some way. I love cinema because it’s a form of art and all art should create a response whether its repulsion or inspiration. Without responses what is the purpose of it? To be entertained is an emotional reaction.
We can harbour our experiences and associate them with films and vice versa. Our growing interest in cinema is a positive one. So why not go see something funny when you’re sad? Why not watch The Goonies or E.T. because it reminds you of being young. Why not watch It’s A Wonderful Life at Christmas and cry because not all tears are bad are they?
So break free from a bad day and watch something, anything in a dark room filled with complete strangers that will share a laugh with your laugh. Film is incredible. And yes, therapeutic so go get some relief.