Conflict in Film

Saturday, December 27, 2008

With the perpetually busy lives of Americans, it would seem a lot to ask to sit down in front of the silver screen for two hours or more, but we do. And what movies do we watch?

Sure many are purely for entertainment purposes, to bring us out of our tedious lives and into a fanciful world where the hero is victorious and the vanquished see justice. But many blockbuster hits of late have portrayed the world as it is, violence and corruption and all. And this is to John Q public who may be oceans away from conflicts-- who may not have the patience to read policy papers or textbooks, but still craves truth that can be found beyond the 24-hour news cycle. Movies like Blood Diamond, Hotel Rwanda, Jarhead, Body of Lies, or Traitor have had such success that it would seem Americans use film for other purposes than simply entertainment—maybe film can be used as entertaining education.

I’ll grant that film isn’t always the best educator. Even when depicting real events, it is still a subjective portrayal, with changes in characters and timing to make the two hours as action-packed as possible. But film may have a different type of education—it may show an emotional history, and quite possibly find a deeper truth than any documentary can uncover.

So seeing the entertainment value of international conflicts, how may film be used to help end, or at least understand conflict? Can it even be used? Many terrorist organizations use music videos and short films to recruit martyrs and send a message of hate and violence by using the high emotions and energy of youth against them. But might it be possible for peaceful organizations to send their message of tolerance and understanding through film as well?

I have always been amazed by the beauty of moments in film that lend a real understanding through fictional characters. For example in Kingdom of Heaven, the main character, Balian (a Christian), listens to the translation of a Muslim prayer and states that they sound curiously like his own. Or in a similarly named, but more recent movie The Kingdom, a deeper truth in the conflict between the Western and Arab world is revealed at the end—- both sides have lost loved ones and vow to kill all the perpetrators of these atrocities, demonstrating that in a war where no one is completely innocent, we might be more similar than we believe.

Another, very recent, release Waltz with Bashir, for example, which depicts the experiences of a few Israeli soldiers during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, might lend understanding to a small part of an ongoing war, in an area of the world which is now experiencing the violent effects of continued misunderstanding and hatred.

Given the lag time between an event occurring and the possibility of portraying that event through film, it cannot be used as an everyday policy tool. But in ongoing conflicts with frequent uprisings, it might be useful to teach a younger generation (that makes up a majority of the population in developing countries, especially the Middle East) the emotional taxations of both sides, the misunderstandings that led to a semi-constant state of war or even reveal the tools that could lead to an ultimate peace


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