Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blockbusters Do Not Rest Our Brains

Many people have called mindless blockbusters an opportunity to rest our brains.  They say these movies are relaxing because they don't make us think too much about big ideas or because they don't require a lot of focus to follow.  Yes, they don't make us think too much and they are usually somewhat easy to follow, but I most certainly do not find them restful to watch.  They overstimulate the brain.  They make the brain work involuntarily.  Part of the reason people like over-the-top escapist action movies is that they are the opposite of rest.  We are passive yet we are active.  This activity is not restful.  Overdone blockbusters are not a rest for the brain.

What is mental rest?  To me, it is a relaxation of the brain, an almost non-use of the brain.  The mind is at peace because it is contentedly clear of not only thought, but of stimulus.  Your whole being becomes relaxed.  To me, some sort of meditation would be the height of mental rest.  Some might not first think of this as rest because this state is not found without effort, but moments like this truly are peaceful and restful, both for mind and body.  Sometimes it is challenging to fall asleep at night, but we don't stay up all night and call our lack of discipline rest.  A Hollywood movie is the exact opposite of this idea.  Hollywood movies are built on constant action and stimulus.  Although this must work some lower level of the brain (I'm no brain scientist), this stimulus overload is most certainly making the brain move and do work.  Hollywood blockbusters get us amped up.  This may be a feeling that someone is looking for in a given moment, but it is not rest.

Great song, but I don't understand how people can listen to it before going to bed. 
I think many people like mainstream movies, whether they realize it or not, not because they give us rest, but because they give us a false sense of activity.  We are passively entertained by action which gives us a vicarious sense of being active.  This may be a bodily rest, but it is not a true mental rest.  Movies are merely involuntary brain work.  People enjoy the feeling of doing something, but without the effort of doing it or coming up with something to do.  We are busy, but so are our movies.  Rest makes us restless.  Quietude is scary.  Our constant need to be doing something and our spirit of busyness can secretly poison our leisure.  A Hollywood movie is to the mind like having someone else drag your arms in the movement of a jumping jack.

Are movies a rest as a change of pace?  This could be a validation of movies being a certain form of rest.  For a response to this argument, see my article Overexposure and the Failure of Escapism.

What movies do I personally find restful?  A slim plot is a good choice.  This does not mean the movie is dumb.  It merely means that it does not get bogged down with a million plot details and things happening.  Black and white is usually softer on the eyes than color, so long as the video quality is decent.  A soft soundtrack is also nice.  Having an all around lack of boisterousness, big explosions and gunfights, etc.  Characters can get a little boisterous, but the tone of the movie should not go with them.  Big themes need not disturb our sense of rest because we rest in them rather than trying to solve them at that exact moment in time as things pertinent to the plot would need immediate solutions.  Lastly, it can sometimes be helpful if a movie is shorter, thus not having to hold our attention for too long.  These are the types of movies I can watch before going to bed.

Hollywood movies give us a false sense of rest and cause us to mistake laziness for restfulness.  Mental laziness is not rest.  Mainstream movies are filled to the brim with frenetic energy that sets us on edge.  Lastly, as a Christian, I am reminded of the words of Saint Augustine, "Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee."  (He's referring to God)

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