Why Film Is The Key To Understanding Others

As Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Our entire lives are lived through a single kaleidoscope lens. We see with our eyes, hear with our ears, feel with our hands. While this is powerful and important, it is -in the slightest way- constraining.

It is only our eyes, ears, hands, that we can experience life through, and no one else’s. This allows us to understand what is best for us and what makes us, as an individual, feel the best. The challenges that are unique to us can be faced and understood because there is no life you are more acquainted with than your own. But what about other people?

How do we open the door to the lives of others? How do we experience things in order to understand them, things like mental disorders, things that we can’t possibly understand simply by reading text or even from hearing first-hand experiences? The answer is through film.

Film and cinematography have the power, as a medium, of “narrative perspective”. We can see people and worlds through the eyes of the camera as opposed to text on a page and experience it as words and thought. One thing that we gain through literature is an omniscient perspective, we can go inside the head of a character and experience their thoughts and deep observations, but when it comes to film, it is a different personal experience. The audience is invited to see and observe with their own eyes and is allowed to make their own opinions and observations. They can see the troubled expressions on the faces of characters and allow themselves to understand what an expression caught on camera would have taken multiple novels to accurately explain.

This has exceptionally important implications when it comes to helping people understand the lifestyles and challenges that other people face. Take, for example, this video from the National Autistic Society- the leading UK organization regarding awareness of autism spectrum disorder.

This video uses cinematic abilities for a strong purpose. There are artistic design elements used within the medium of filmmaking that are represented here and can’t be replicated anywhere else. It uses film in order to give a perspective that is not our own.

You are the girl. Confused, suffocating. You see the text in the subtitles layered on top of one another, the sound muffled in the background, and you can see the discomfort and confusion contained in her face. This is something that novels and pages of text in a book cannot capture accurately. We see a human face and it is this empathy that drives filmmaking and storytelling, and the importance of this specific video is telling a real story. It takes the experiences of many, the overlooked, misunderstood experiences, and it holds a candle to the challenges of life that, for most of us, are not our own.

Film, like good literature, is not one sided. It is a conversation. It is the key that opens doors to more questions and even more answers. Like that documentary you watched about food that prompted you to Google important questions before posting on Facebook, or that book that made you question just how frequently the government is watching you.

Obviously, everyone’s experiences with these things are different, but maybe just one video will be enough to inspire someone to ask just enough questions and create a desire to understand. The goal is understanding and when we understand more about one another we can connect better with the people around us and the people we have yet to meet.

Learning through film is a powerful experience because for the person being exposed to these ideas for the first time, it opens doors and bridges gaps allowing them to connect with those around them, and for the person who has lived their entire life as the girl in that video, it is an affirmation that they are not alone. Someone understood enough to make the film and now hopefully many more will understand because of them.

Watching a video won’t give you all the empathy or understanding in the world, but perhaps it will turn your kaleidoscope perspective just a bit more to make everything clearer, and that is what will make all the difference.