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Movies have been a manifestation of the cultures from which they derive since their “invention.” Limiting the scope of this discussion to the current era, films have impacted society in a number of ways, from the cultural developments emanating from the Star Wars films (“May the force be with you”) to the contributions films have made to political debate across the nation. In the latter category, the eerily prescient 1979 film The China Syndrome launched a national debate regarding the safety of nuclear power plants, an issue that suddenly and dramatically rose to the fore with the March 16 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania – and accident that occurred 12 days following the film’s release. Oliver Stone’s 1991 depiction of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, JFK, reopened the debate regarding the possibility of a broad conspiracy behind that fateful act, and George Clooney’s 2005 dramatization of the careers of the late journalist Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy (Good Night, and Good Luck) served to remind viewers of the paranoia (and, in some cases, justifiable concerns) regarding communism that swept America during the 1950s. Films have a long history of reinvigorating debates and resurrecting memories of sometimes forgotten issues. Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama Saving Private Ryan helped to remind viewers of the enormous sacrifices made by those who fought in that terrible war, and helped establish the environment in which subsequent popular works celebrating and/or recognizing those deeds, for example, Tom Brokaw’s nonfiction book The Greatest Generation, were produced – a chain of events culminating in the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
All of these films impacted society and spurred dialogues regarding their topics. In a slightly different vein, certain films have impacted society through more entertaining if occasionally disturbing portraits. The release of The Exorcist in 1973 sparked widespread condemnations and numerous news stories regarding that religious-based horror film’s depiction of a young girl possessed by Satan, while Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) actually succeeded in making thousands of people think twice before stepping into the ocean (I recall well vacationing in San Diego that summer and enjoying the suddenly-booming sales of sharks’ teeth in stores while watching the trepidation with which many approached the surf). One of the more noteworthy examples of film impacting society and spurring dialogue was director Martin Scorcese’s adaptation of Nikos controversial scenes in which Jesus expresses doubts and imagines, in his final moments, himself engaged in activities not traditionally associated with depictions of the life of Jesus. If The Exorcist angered many observant Christians, The Last Temptation of Christ almost caused riots. Labeled “blasphemous” by many Catholics, there were numerous demonstrations outside theaters where the film was screened.
Film, more than most other forms of art, possesses the power to manipulate emotions and spur dialogue. Along with live theater, it is the only art form that, by its nature, can bring together the written word, human acting, and musical scores designed to underline the drama (or comedy) being presented. The number of films, most of them adaptations of popular novels, that have impacted society to greater or lesser degrees and precipitated conversations on a national level is beyond the scope of this essay. Many Americans are likely to “learn” their history more from film than from reading nonfiction books. Given the degree of “artistic license” that is usually involved in adapting books into films, that is a little discouraging, but it is the reality.
Movies are created with the intention to connect with its target audience. Characters are usually in one form or another supposed to be relatable. Otherwise, you don't feel for them or the things they're going through. Because the characters and situations are relatable, you connect them with your own life. In addition, this changes our expectations of the world around us, causing us to strive for movie perfection. We change our society to fit what these movies tell us is the perfect world, even though its usually unattainable
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