Real Human Beings* Disappear From The Movies

The other night I was watching a movie called Skyline.  I don’t want to spend my precious time and energy explaining the plot of this perversion of a movie.  OK, it’s about aliens taking over the world.  How original.

At minute 9:01 (I looked at the time on the DVD player), after enduring the “actors” in the film try to pretend to be human beings, I said and I quote, “I can’t wait until the aliens kill these motherf******s.”

I spent the next hour and twenty minutes rolling my eyes, spacing out, and then cheering when all the main characters were finally dead.

Do I seem heartless?  I’m really not because the characters in Skyline did not resemble anything close to human beings.  If the writers/directors wanted me to like and root for Jarrod (bletch) and Terry (gross) and Lainey (doesn’t change her expression), they should have written them as real people.

Having characters who resemble real people in movies is very much out of fashion.  Aliens?  Yes.  Superheroes?  Yes.  Animated Characters?  Yes.  Characters I can relate to?  Hells no.

It’s a shame though because there is nothing more fascinating than real people.  Unfortunately, the hardest thing to do is write dialogue and find actors who can be real and relatable.  If it was easy, there wouldn’t be so many bad movies, right?

(By the way, the producers of Skyline would have made a slightly better movie if they had cast the best actors they could find to say their horrible dialogue, not the prettiest ones.)

I love the movies that get it right.  I love being moved by and experiencing real emotion — laughing, crying, even feeling disgust. Right now, I’m avoiding listening to music because it makes me feel too much, but I watch movies because I want to feel as much as possible.  I never worry about being overwhelmed by emotions because it is so rare to feel anything during a movie these days.

Characters like Jesse and Celine are so rare

My favorite movies are Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.  It’s just two people, Jesse and Celine, walking and talking.  Or, being real human beings and doing human stuff.  No special effects, no meet-cutes, no fancy and distracting camera techniques — just good writing and acting.  They are amongst the few movies I can watch over and over again and still be moved at every viewing.

Fewer movies like Before Sunrise/Sunset and the third movie in the trilogy, Before Midnight, (you know, movies for smart adults) are being made because

…the (movie production) industry has turned its back on (unassuming dramas)…Really big returns will be earned only by really big films (and because of this) the major studios have geared their operations around them…What’s likeliest to get (produced) is a bland imitation of a previous mass-audience success.  It will necessarily be aimed at the lowest common denominator and probably favor action over dialogue to ease its passage into overseas markets.(1)

Hmmm…sounds like something I watched recently.  So, it’s money over meaning.  Now the meaningful, thoughtful stuff is found on TV, on shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, and The Wire.  (I highly recommend all five seasons of The Wire.)

Maybe Hollywood movies are just reflecting what’s happening in the larger culture.  It’s hard to be a human being in this techno-consumerist age, so no wonder it’s hard to find real human beings in mass-produced “art.”

In an article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Franzen mentions Walter Benjamin, author of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, who believed that “the increasing technologization of life could bring real social benefits, but that it would come at the cost of a flattening of life.”  The increasing technologization of movies has come at the cost of the flattening of stories and actors.  More time and money is spent on computer generated imagery than on ensuring the behavior and dialogue of the characters is at least believable and at most memorable.

To write or create believable, well-drawn characters, the writer or director has to be able see and be in touch with their humanity. It reminds me of the story Daniel Pink tells in his book A Whole New Mind about learning to draw.  His instructor tells him to draw a self-portrait and Pink draws a cartoonish impression of himself.  His instructor then tells him to draw what’s actually there instead of what he thinks is there.

Movies today are filled with cartoonish impressions of people instead of what’s really there.

Isn’t the point of art to make us feel?  To help us recognize ourselves?  To feel less alone?

And what we need… is seriously engaged art that can teach again that we’re smart. And that’s the stuff that TV and movies — although they’re great at certain things — cannot give us.  —  David Foster Wallace

Maybe I ask too much.


(1) Before Midnight rages against film`s dying of the light

*When I refer to “real human beings“ or “real people“ I mean “characters who resemble real human beings“ or “actors who portray a character in such a realistic way I think I`m watching a documentary about a real person.“

6 thoughts on “Real Human Beings* Disappear From The Movies

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. Give me a movie or book with real people with real emotions any day, over special effects, aliens, and (shudder) vampires.

    I also loved those Julie Delphy/Ethan Hawke movies. Delicious dialogue at its best.


  2. This is exactly how I felt about gravity, how three years worth of special effects does not make a quality movie. Also I agree with you in that most of the high quality content can be found on TV nowadays. I think its because a long running TV show is a much larger canvas for directors and actors to work with. Also, I just started watching the wire and the first season is moving pretty slowly but I can tell there is good things to come.


    1. Season 1 and 2 of The Wire are slow but those episodes are better than 95% of the movies and TV ever made.– riveting, realistic, and relevant. Personally, I thought season 4 and 5 were the most beautiful and heartbreaking and brilliant seasons and the story lines and characters from seasons 1 and 2 play a part in the later seasons so that’s why I recommend all 5 seasons. The Wire has ruined me for other TV shows. Am I overstating it? Nope. You’ll see.


      1. I look forward to it. Recently, Breaking Bad did that for me. Being as popular as it is, its almost corny to say now, but the depth and development over the course of the whole show was astonishing. Since many are quick to compare the two, I’m sure I’ll love the wire just as much. (Also, Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia is my guilty pleasure and restores my faith in TV comedy)


      2. I’ll be starting Breaking Bad very soon and I look forward to it if it’s similar to The Wire. That show left a big hole in my life. That’s kinda sad. I saw one episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It was kind of mean spirited so I didn’t enjoy it.


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