As millions of people see movies as a way of escaping reality, Abby Conroy lets us know that movies go way beyond letting us ‘switch off’.

Do films enable us to escape, or to connect? When we are watching a film, is our aim really to ‘switch off’ from reality and to suspend ourselves momentarily in a place somewhere between our lives and the lives we watch on screen? Or is it an effort made by us as human beings to delve deeper within ourselves and connect with fellow people in the world?

While the knee-jerk reaction may be to say that film is a form of escapism, that we use it to leave behind our own real lives and be transported to different times and places for a while, this surely cannot be the case. Even in the moments when we are utterly immersed in a film, and feel totally alienated from our own realities, somewhere beneath this absence of mind, lies a place where deeper connections are being formed. Connections to our own emotions, to the lives of the characters we invest ourselves in, and to the deeper human consciousness on a whole.

“Empathy is a key characteristic of humanity, and it is explored boundlessly through film.”

Empathy is a key characteristic of humanity, and it is explored boundlessly through film. We cheer on the underdog, we resent the villain. We feel this way because we see ourselves in them. We project ourselves onto the screen and gain comfort knowing that we are not alone in our emotions, our struggles and our triumphs; even if they are only fictitious characters that we share these experiences with.

There is a film for every kind of mood. For happy occasions we want comedies or parodies, or when you’ve had a messy break-up, you go for rom-coms and ‘chick-flicks’. We choose what genre of film to watch based on our own emotions in the moment, choosing whether to laugh or cry. While the stories on the screen may distract us from our own lives for a short while, they aid us in coming to terms with our innermost desires and fears. We long for movies to evoke powerful feelings from within, and if they don’t, they become known as bad films and generate very little interest.

“Every aspect of film, from the writing, to the producing, the performing, the viewing and later the analysis of a movie requires something that is unique to being human”

While with some genres, such as romance, comedy and drama, it may be obvious how we can see some elements of our own lives in them, this is not the case for more obscure (and perhaps the more critically acclaimed) genres of sci-fi and fantasy. These genres may present less realistic worlds to us, ones that may only present themselves to us otherwise in our wildest dreams. Think of the big ones: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, the Marvel superheroes. How can we empathize with this? How do we connect to real life through these fantasy lands? Is it through the fantastical characters that share our human emotions, or does it come down to the common desire that each of us may share: to be the heroes of our own stories? It is these universal favourites that appear to generate a steadier and more connected fan-base too. They enable like-minded people to come together and share with one another their deepest fears and strongest desires, without even the need for a discussion. All this is done through people simultaneously feeling the same things in their hearts, if only for the length of a film.

Every aspect of film, from the writing, to the producing, the performing, the viewing and later the analysis of a movie requires something that is unique to being human: the ability to have experiences and to allow our imaginations to bring us on a journey as a collective community. Film, in all of its forms, encourages the creation of deeper interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. In the cinema theatre, we sit down together, we laugh together, cry together, sing together, shriek together and jump together. Here, in this safe space, we are reminded that we are never really alone, and that we are as connected to each other as we will ever be – suspended somewhere between here and there, while learning to understand one another a little bit more every moment.