Claire King


Just like a movie

Posted on: November 3rd, 2012 by Claire - 4 Comments

Something that struck me this week, watching the response to the disastrous weather in the USA, was how the phrase “Just like a movie” was used again and again.

It’s the same reaction we heard from witnesses of 9-11. “It was like something out of a disaster film”. I understand how that feels – I watched those events unfold on a TV on another continent, but I also felt it hard to grasp that this was news footage and not fantasy.

There is human suffering – natural and man-made –  happening all over the world, right now. There is genocide in Sri Lanka and Syria, there are devastating floods in Thailand and Pakistan, there are earthquakes and famines and civil wars. But these terrible events are not set in landscapes that we have seen in Hollywood films. So they don’t look like the movies. And I wonder if we find them harder to understand, in some way, because of that? Because it’s a story we haven’t heard?

Pakistan floods: Families stilll lack shelter, three months on

Storytelling is so important to human beings. We tell each other scenarios – real or imagined – and show characters who suffer, but who overcome adversity in the end. And our brains absorb these stories almost as though we have lived the experience itself. We learn, without having had to suffer.

Stories are told in many ways, in written fiction, in art and on film. We project our fears and hopes into these stories. And although, thinking of the disasters I mentioned above, Hollywood hasn’t always got it covered, you don’t have to look far to find written stories about these kinds of events. The best selling book in the world chronicles them all.

Do we feel comfort that something we experience is so terrible that it is just like in a movie or in a book? Perhaps. Because the day we are confronted with something that we have not yet been able to imagine will be a terrible day indeed.

4 Responses

  1. martha says:

    Ohhh, do you think? I was talking to hubby the other night, saying how many stories aren’t covered by books… I suppose you could read it both ways (if you’ll pardon the pun). We were watching a program about the holocaust and in particular the assassinations of Jews in mass trenches. There was footage and then, as if the footage wasn’t far too awful already, they interviewed a man who had shot hundreds of Jewish men, women and children. He gave no explanation, he smiled readily, and if he felt any remorse, it wasn’t apparent. The interviewer then asked, ‘How could you shoot a child, standing in front of you?’ and the man replied something along the lines of, ‘You just pull the trigger and they fall over, that’s just how it was.’
    I don’t know many people who can imagine shooting a child for no reason other than racist propaganda (whether or not people would is a different matter, but most of us who were lucky enough to be brought up in peaceful parts of Europe certainly struggle to imagine it)… but when we hear these stories, from people who did the unimaginable, I think we expect them to have undergone some sort of journey, a mental rearrangement including remorse, regret, anger, guilt… or… something? Surely? And this is one of the areas where books (and movies) fall short: what happens when what is, is? When there’s no movement? No “story” other than a happening… when we can’t imagine the lack of narrative?
    Those stories are all around us. The commercial story-brokers will have us believe that there is a beginning, middle and end to every story but commercial fiction is much more geared towards a “satisfactory” ending than real life, where very often things end before the story is resolved. That’s why we write, isn’t it? To escape the unimaginable all around us?

  2. claire says:

    That’s really interesting, The stories of genocide, disease, flooding, famine I was thinking of are in the bible of course. How they are up for interpretation these days is a question in itself, but the stories are there. And they are told to young children even before they are made aware of modern world suffering.

    You mention the man who murdered all those people. When I wrote the post I was thinking of the stories of those who suffer, rather than those who cause suffering. I guess because that’s the usual angle of fiction – the protagonist as the person or people who overcome trials to emerge changed and, yes, usually with a satisfactory resolution.

    Of course you’re right, not everything has a satisfactory resolution in real life. Perhaps by imagining one, we can give ourselves hope?

    • martha says:

      Ah yes… see, my brain has been tainted by WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. In the old stories (whether those told in the Bible, or by Aesop etc) there’s often such a strong moral thread that I always felt the authors were trying to make sense of things. The same codes are often transposed into modern fiction. Maybe it’s like you said, fishing for hope.

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