Why We Deserve Films That Offer An Escape From Reality

Lady Bird
Lady Bird A24

Last week, I penned a polemic against pop culture and the dangers of escapism in the face of reality—just because our entertainment condones "the spoils of arrested development," we shouldn’t resign ourselves to it. I remain devoted to that position, just as fervidly, but I thought it might be interesting to elucidate the merits of fiction as a sort of provisional method of coping with a loathsome reality. That’s what 2017 was in movies. The blockbusters clung to irreverence and the indie films kept their scope small. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that throwback escapism and human stories are in vogue at the same time.

If you’re like me, with the exception of maybe Get Out, you’ll find that your favorite films of this year fell into either two camps. Films like Baby Driver, John Wick: Chapter 2 or Coco appealed to your inner child through excess, adventure and wonder. Then there are pictures like The Florida Project, Menashe, or Lady Bird that revelled in all things human and quotidian. Both are welcome distractions from the pervasive unease that occupies us day to day. Distractions can be extremely beneficial as long as you evaluate them for what they are. Entertainment should never be the source for a happy state of mind but it can absolutely be a provisional salve for a sad one.

Whenever a case is made for the importance of literature and film (of all kinds), my first read through of George Macdonald’s "Lilith" always springs to mind as an allusion to the “right kind of escapism.” It's a decided reprieve from my reality that wasn’t founded in unhealthy literary identification, or conflation of the medium, but more akin the kind of reverie one might gain from a good meal or a quiet walk in a park.

On a day that I was made more aware of the relentlessly dismal nature of being, I happened upon Lilith, which had been kindly gifted to me by a close friend, and found the powerful clarification it provided to be comparable to what many credit theology for allocating. Despite it’s core being influenced and charged by Macdonald’s Christian Universalist values, a sentiment I do not share in the slightest with the brilliant author, "Lilith" is as close an example of a perfect work of fiction as I’ve ever come across. Its masterful sense of world building snatches you away from the confines of reality, while its profound truths regarding redemption and mortality assure that you'll return with a refined comprehension of it.

This is fiction’s place in a secular world, from Great Expectations to Through The Looking Glass, to Star Wars. Saying nothing of the advantageous effects reading fiction novels has on grounded cognition and other faculties of the brain, literature and cinema are our most effective and healthy simulators, giving us insight to a wide range of experiences and customs. It allows us to abandon ourselves, not only for the benefit of eluding the harshness of life, but also for the pursuit of perspective and empathy. Like a good friend, it endows us the ability to summon our disregarded notions and feelings, and in the best cases help us better understand ourselves.

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