Ever watch a movie, get to know the movie so well you can literally quote its dialogue line by line? Most of us have films we love that much in our personal histories. We grew up with Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. Our teachers not only taught us how to read but they also taught us what words really mean and the true beauty of the English language. We were also taught not just by teachers but by our parents how to watch films. We learned that films are more than just action sequences and that actors tell as much of their characters story by their expressions and body language as their dialogue does. Facial expressions can say far more at times than dialogue ever could. In silence lies the heart of the matter and the soul. Silence at times is when we are most alive and most communicative. A great actor knows this and applies this diligently to each character he or she portrays.
Now here is the issue at hand. It has come to the attention of many that a certain generation of people growing up is losing their ability to understand simple facial expressions and how to relate to others and the world around them. Scientists think this is mostly to do with the digital age. These people also have a tough time understanding dialogue in movies and plot. Hollywood has dumbed down their films so that these people can watch the movies they make without losing their interest. Meanwhile those of us who grew up in the 80’s and earlier are frustrated beyond our capacity to reason because even when plots are and dialogue are dumbed down so even the least educated millennial can sit and watch the movie these millennial's still don’t know what the heck they saw and get the story entirely wrong.
There is a movie that while it’s not great it’s full of things that are good and one hell of a mystery that is compelling enough for me to want to solve, badly. For my own interest I have watched it repeatedly and I feel I have a pretty good grasp of the plot, dialogue and the arc of every character. When I discuss the movie with others my age we get into a healthy debate about the meanings behind various scenes and what the actors are really saying. We understand there is more to a character than just dialogue. A great actor conveys as much of what he or she is thinking by his or her facial expressions and body language. The best ones can give a class on how to tell a story without uttering a word. But, then we discuss the movie with somebody under the age of thirty and we look at this kids and think did you even understand anything that happened? The answer is a frightening no.
The issue is this: These young viewers don’t realize that there are moments when words are not needed. Nothing has to be explained in plain language. You have two characters played by enormously talented actors having a silent but intense conversation. In reality, film moments such as this reflect much of our existence. Here’s an example: You can take a scene from a movie and describe it perfectly from the action to the characters reactions to the events around them and these younger kids would be arguing with you that that’s not what happened. Why? Because they do not know how to sit back watch a scene from a movie the way they should so they can understand it better. They ignore whole sequences and dialogue. They do not remotely understand the facial expressions of the actors and how important that is for the films plot.
Hollywood knows this and has adjusted accordingly. Take for instance The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams sacrificed character and exposition for cool action scenes because today’s kids are unable to understand character or exposition. When there’s a chance to see what a character is thinking he cuts too fast to an action scene because lingering on the face of a main character during a scene for a second or two longer so we can get the full impact of what he or she may be thinking would bore or mislead the younger members of the audience. Thanks JJ.
I call these digital kids who love their selfies, their talentless pop stars, and reality show celebrities Generation Dory after the absent minded attention deficient Blue Tang voiced by Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. All they need is a bright shiny object to be dangled in front of their faces. They go from one shiny object to another without understanding anything they are seeing or hearing. The moment something they watch is over they forget almost everything they saw. Its apparent watching them discuss something like The Force Awakens that the ability to understand and interpret that film is above their skill sets. It is not that hard because The Force Awakens is not Citizen Cane or Macbeth. It’s a very mediocre 7th story in one of our cultures most enduring sagas. Cue Generation X’s consequent eye roll. All of the subtle moments that actually really tell the story of this film are lost on the Dories and even big scenes are vacuously taken to mean something that they do not.
Watching a movie is like reading a poem or a novel. In fact of all the arts, film is probably the most outstanding because it encompasses all of the arts from acting to music. In college while sitting in a film and literature class we discussed every film intelligently that our professor had us watch. We tried to figure out what Stanley Kubrick’s reasons were behind his bizarre imagery and why Albert Finney interpreted a character in a certain way. Now days I sincerely doubt a young 22 year old could sit and watch A Clock Work Orange or Albert Finney’s Tom Jones because they would actually have to pay attention and understand spoken language, body language, facial expressions and plot. How could someone whose greatest triumph is finishing the last level of Black Ops sit still for a two hour drama? What would their dulled neurotransmitters do? Split? Explode? They would have to think. Horror of horrors. Someone find a safe space and binkies.
Part of this is our fault. We of the older generations until now really did not mean it when we said our kids would not have video games or watch TV. Too many parents let the TV and cartoons designed to distort human attention spans sit with their kids. And when little junior wants his first IPhone well he gets one. Why? Because, they all have IPhones. XBoxes, PS4's and so on. It’s ridiculous. And all this does is feed the garbage culture that our kids are exposed to now.
So, what as the older and much wiser generation do we do with the Dories? A study by UCLA showed that just five days of unplugging reboots a child’s brain to correctly identify facial expressions, thus rebooting social skills. This would enhance the cultural experience for kids and likely change how they perceive the culture if they were forced to unplug. What the Dories need is time and I mean a long time away from their digital worlds and more time in the real world. We all do but at least Gen X knows that. We also remember what it was like to live in a world where we demanded the best of the culture and when we did not get it we created our own. Look at Punk Rock, Heavy Metal, and Alternative Rock. That was all Generation X saying we reject the popular culture and this is who we are. If Dory’s can leave the digital world and see what is happening around them and realize that acting like everyone, thinking the same things as everyone else, wearing the same clothes as everyone else is not rebellious but, it is the highest example of conformity. Maybe if they unplug and explore the world, music, art and movies they can create a real counter culture. What they need is a real Johnny Rotten, a real Joey Ramone, a newfangled no less original version of Chrissie Hynde or Ozzie Osbourne. How’s about they discover a talented young film maker whose model is Steven Spielberg. All this kid wants to do is make movies for the love of the art. And find real movie stars again. A man or woman who owns the scene the moment they appear on film. A movie star who is a larger than life icon and legend. Someone we cannot take our eyes off of for even a minute. Create a counter culture so unique that twenty years from now people will be saying, oh that was so 2017. If Dory’s can do that then maybe the wide open sewer that our culture has become will be closed. I have hope. Not much but it’s there.