The 92nd Academy Awards mark another year of cinema in an ever-changing social climate, one that does not embrace the cinematic experience in the same way it used to. For this reason, two of the Best Picture nominees provide particular interest in this day and age. Both Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” are films that attempt to restore themes of old cinema. For Scorsese, “The Irishman” represents a final collaboration between the classical acting legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” attempts to recreate the old Hollywood style of film and demonstrate its impact in the culture of the film’s period. Today, with the rise of short-form entertainment and the increased “Netflix culture” of college students, can cinema truly impact our lives like it used to, and moreover, should it?
Over Winter break, while bickering over which movie to watch together one night, my family, mainly under the jurisdiction of my parents, chose “The Irishman.” I spent the first twenty minutes on my phone, having made up my mind that a three and a half hour movie starring actors all over 70 could only be a snoozefest. Throughout the course of the film, however, I became fascinated with the plot and particularly the mood. Having never watched “Goodfellas,” “The Godfather” or any other prominent mob movie, I was enthralled by the loud personalities of the characters shown and the stark contrast in theirs to any sort of life I had lived or witnessed before.
Films like “The Irishman” make one question the values that are drilled into us early in our lives about the ramifications of morally unjust actions, what true loyalty means in friendships and how much we can judge others for living societally frowned upon lifestyles. Frank Sheeran, as portrayed in the movie, fits the description of someone engaging inpsychopathic behavior on the surface. He killed men for a living without thinking twice about some of their deaths. Yet De Niro is able to demonstrate an extreme rationality in the character in that his ultimate goal is to provide for his family and only kill when he has to, without celebrating the deaths of his victims. His decisions throughout the movie are to protect those he loves and they ultimately backfire toward the end of his life, when he ends up alone as a consequence of the violent actions of his past. He is forced to ask if it was all really worth it.
Too often we watch movies as an isolated experience, nothing more than an extended amusement park ride, meant for pure entertainment over the course of a few hours. However, movies often provide clues about society and the state of the culture at their time. The movies that are able to transcend time, however, have the ability to shape society and set its course for the future rather than reflect what society is. Cinema is also unique in that it can open up new lenses and perspectives on life in ways no other medium can. Nowhere else can you live through someone else like in the theater and understand their struggles, motivations and most of all emotions — without driving to the closest theater and buying a movie ticket, that is. Literature and physical artwork can paint a picture in a viewer’s head, but there is something to be said for the ability to see a thousand mixed emotions in a character’s expression and, in a literal sense, see the picture the creator of the work intended.
As the rising generation, our ability to propel the future depends on an ability to see the present clearly from different points of view. Cinema can provide the opportunity to do that, and actually do so in a way that captures attention and passion, if we have the patience to let it. By showing interest and appreciation for cinema that moves culture forward, artists with revolutionary ideas can be given a platform and continue to benefit the world around us. In the world of short-form media — from news on Twitter to communication via Instagram memes — it is easy to get sucked into the short-term rush of instant entertainment. While this form of media consumption may have some effect on society, much of the time there is little thought given to what those effects may be. As a result such mediums do not drive us forward as a people. Netflix was the only company willing to fund “The Irishman,” an indication of the course that today’s audience is paving. So as I write this article from the sudden all-knowing position of a college student who has seen one Robert De Niro movie, I end with an equally pompous, but nonetheless true, reminder to my peers: Art can only continue to shape the world around us if we allow it to.
Arjun Lama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.