A Note on the Passing Screen

My sunglasses have become a ubiquitous accessory. Lately I’ve wondered, do these “frames” also change the way I see the world? Of course they do.

Several weeks ago I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the IMAX theater. You go into the gigantic arena, and don a pair of glasses (for a while before the movie, I had two sets of glasses perched on my head) for the 3D effects, which include the previews and the first part of the feature. While the glasses were on, it was as if all the things I was watching were taking place inside the glasses. This made it seem more and more like real life; that what I was seeing was as real as the world I see through my sunglasses. It was as if I was there, and yet, obviously, I was not. When the Death Eaters descended and flew through London, my heart raced and my body experienced many of the same feelings garnered while on a roller coaster.  Example two: during a preview for Disney’s Under the Sea in 3D I found myself reaching out to touch seals and sea anemones that seemed  right in front of me.  Then at the end, when one sea creature surprisingly pounced on another, I and the entire audience jumped and gasped.  The feelings were real, because the eyes and the mind were deceived.  I never physically “left my seat,” yet in my mind I did, and the result was that my body reacted as well.

The line between real and not real grows increasingly blurry.  We are, and must, learn how to deal with these phenomena.  Witness how an online relationship is “safe” because we’re not physically interacting with the person.  It doesn’t seem as “real,”  yet the feelings, attachment, joy, and hurt are all very real.

The screen is a mediation.  It’s something that separates us from the experience, but lets the experience still take place.  So much of what we see is portioned off by screens.  The TV, the computer, the movie screen, the iPod, the windshield, the patio door, the sunglasses.  Through these we watch the world go by.  We encounter in some ways, we are separated in others.  We are untouched and unmoved my tangible things.  Or are we?  Not only is reality impossible to separate from fiction, but also from fictionalization, because a frame necessarily means that part of the world becomes limited in scope.  It precludes a cutting off, a way of seeing, a point of view.  Some of these mediations bring things into focus, some blur.  Some shade, some restrain; some are dirty, others clear.

In the second letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul used the phrase “now we see through the glass darkly” and said we can only know in part, but one day we we see clearly and know the whole.  I’ve read several writers recently who mention that God did not make Himself easy to understand on purpose.  It’s supposed to be blurry because we need to make an effort.  We need to consciously attempt to discern.

The same is true of any screen. Andre Bazin said that filmmakers and other artist try to re-create reality with art and experience (Total Cinema), and that cinema came closer than any other form. (What would Bazin said of IMAX 3d?  The mind reels!) However, even cinema could not truly duplicate life (hence Total Cinema is a Myth).  I think he was right.  Cinema can affect us in profound ways, by ideas, emotions, and even physical sensation.  But it cannot be life.  The machine, the camera, the thing that frames and necessitates a screen, is a medium.  It is something in between.  How can one feel the softness of rose petals with gloves on?

We view a movie, experiencing life from inside a bubble that both shields and confines.  That is not necessarily good or bad. What we need is discernment.  We must do more than feel, we must analyze.   We must do more than experience, we must understand.


About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
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2 Responses to A Note on the Passing Screen

  1. Asher says:

    We should also be careful to discern what is profitable to watch. Many of the images presented in modern cinema are quite grotesteque. There is a lot of imagery that I think is unhealthy for the soul. Just because a movie is produced does not make it worth watching. I’m still trying to glean my choices.

  2. indyted says:

    I am fascinated by people who prefer the virtual world to the real one. When I see a 3-D movie about corral reefs or the first person view from a hang glider, it makes me want to go and do those things myself, to have the real life experience. But for some, the 3-D is enough…or is “boring.” Possibly it is genetic or my upbringing, but I am happiest when i am outside, my bare feet in the dirt or the mud or the grass, all five senses being stimulated. I love the technology allows me to work effectively from remote locations so I can be outside and still be getting work done on via my computer and an internet connection. And I love having all that information at my figertips. I guess this comment has gone a little tangential, but, like you, I am seeing the good that new technology is bringing but am still wary that people will use it to shut themselves (and their brains) off from the world instead of using it to expand their universe.

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