I’ve long believed that reading widely can make you a better person. My grandmother was right: reading a variety of things makes you interesting and exposes you to ideas and topics you might not otherwise know anything about.
Then I realized that reading also builds empathy. A good book allows you to step into another world, to experience people and places and situations foreign to your own day-to-day life.
After viewing a few great films this year that opened my eyes to worlds completely different from my own, I realized that movies do the same thing. It’s the power of narrative and the character development that matter most. So here are a few of the excellent films I’ve seen this past year that have increased my empathy for teen moms, ex-cons, and women in arranged marriages.
If you can’t fathom why a girl would even consider an arranged marriage in 2011 America, try Arranged–a film so realistic it’s been repeatedly described as a documentary. (It’s not.) My husband and I both loved this indie drama about two girls–one Jewish, one Muslim–who bond over their similar experiences as they each work with their parents to arrange their marriages.
Winter’s Bone plunged me into a dark and foreign world marked by codes of silence, as I watched the tough 17-year-old heroine desperately hunt for her missing drug-dealing father in the Missouri Ozarks. I was fascinated by the rural culture with its poverty, codes of silence, conspiratorial webs and female gatekeepers. (Star Jennifer Lawrence grew up down the road from me. I remember chatting with her mom just a few years ago on my parent’s porch, as she told me how she and her husband were splitting time between home and L.A., taking turns staying with Jennifer as she looked for work. It didn’t sound like a good bet to me. Needless to say, I was wrong.)
The setting: East Berlin, 1984. A Stasi officer is issued his next assignment: to oversee surveilance on a citizen who’s been labeled a possible enemy of the state. But as the months go by, and the officer listens in on his target’s life through the surveillance wires, his sympathies shift, and he begins to hope and scheme that all will turn out well for this marked man. Riveting.
The film begins with Juliette (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) being released from prison after serving a 15 year sentence. She moves in with her younger sister and slowly acclimates to her new life–and the viewer slowly begins to understand her history. This is a sad, poignant film–with moments of laugh-out-loud humor.
With its stylized dialogue and snarky tone, Juno would never be mistaken for a documentary. But this story of a pregnant teen sneaks up on you. This isn’t a movie about Teen Pregnancy; it’s a movie about one teenaged girl who gets pregnant, and what happens next.
Do you enjoy movies that expose you to worlds entirely different from your own? What are some of your favorites?
photo credit: flickr user fauxto_digit