With their favorite actors and story lines lifted from the ancient myths, as well as old movies (such as "Harvey") and books (such as "Alice in Wonderland"), how can they resist the whole? The viewers understand what is being said through the medium of film. They enjoy the movie, discuss the tension and the romance and then begin to think about the parallels to their own lives. Film is the key to understanding the problems and issues that young people face today. Film and music (and both combined) are the main channel to young minds and in discussing the films, the young mind reinforces the message that the film has delivered. The ideas of stereotyping, bullying, discrimination and intimidation by authority are all treated in the three movies reviewed above.
The young person, seeing a film about another world, or someone else's world, attaches their psyche to that of the hero or heroine and feels the emotion of the actor. This puts them in another world, setting the stage for mind alteration.
The film media usually reinforces the powers that be in its treatment of society. However, these three films find society lacking in one way or another. Pleasantville finds society unwilling to change or bend. It researches the dynamics of change and of resistance to change. It finds that when authority refuses to allow change, as a conservative party in power usually does, there are consequences not so desirable to the weakest ones in the community. The lowly servant (the soda jerk), the housewife, the young people who are not going along with the popular kids all pay for their desire for change. They pay by being ostracized when they find that changing their world betters their situation. Liking the situation, they decide to continue and to persuade others to change as well, even forcing change upon those least willing to accept it, such as the Mayor and the "good ol' guys" in the community.
In Edward Scissorhands, a fairytale, the change comes into the hearts of those who reject the one unlike themselves. When Edward finds love and acceptance, support and a creative outlet, he thinks the world is wonderful. This is how things should be. But the perfect world does not last and he finds it is not as easy as just finding love and support, to make it in a real world.
In Donnie Darko, a mentally ill boy is misunderstood all the way around and, in trying to warn the world that it must be kinder, more loving and accepting, he loses himself. This film is not a happy-ending type of film, but is thought-provoking. Revealing the character of a brilliant schizophrenic, the main character tries to find out how to survive and fails. This is a condemnation of the creative and well-meaning, but misunderstood in the world by society. It does not say much about how much the world has advanced since the Dark Ages.
Films usually tend to favor the articulate, as Stuart Hall warned us (Hall 1974, p. 10), as well as the consensus. These films, however, go against the experts, against the organized majority viewpoint, the sacred institutions of society. These films, instead support the idea that the experts are wrong if they demand conformity. The majority is wrong for believing that just because they outnumber the minority doesn't mean they are right. They attack the sacred institutions such as "tradition." And the popular, accepted viewpoints are wrong if they are applied with pressure to the weak and defenseless.
Communication is the key to understanding what the film is trying to tell us. We believe, for instance, in Pleasantville, that the parents are communicating with the teenagers. Most families believe that they are communicating comfortably with the other members of their immediate family, and not communicating very well with outsiders. Whether communicating with their children, their parents, or brothers and sister, or even others, people feel very comfortable talking to people they know intimately. However, it appears that in most families, though many words are passed between the members of the family, there is very little communicating going on. In Pleasantville, the parents in the town think that they know their children and their gentle admonitions to "eat your breakfast" are taken quite differently when the teenager looks at a table piled high with pancakes, waffles, bowls of scrambled egg, oatmeal, toast, bacon, sausage, and griddle-fried ham steaks.
While the parent seems to thrive on the ritual of feeding their child, the child looks at the breakfast ritual as being forced to do something they would rather not. After Peggy Sue eats the enormous breakfast, topped with a half-gallon of imitation maple syrup, she wants to throw up. The father, happy in seeing his children eating at breakfast and wife cooking and serving the enormous meal, reads his paper, unaware of what is really happening. It is only when he comes home, calls out "Honey, I'm home!" several times and walks through the dark and empty house, hears his wife telling him that she is going out and then is gone for three days, that he realizes that the ritual is not going to happen again. There was no communication between the couple or between the parents and the children. Ritual does not take the place of verbal communication.
Verbal communication is not enough to pass along the information that the children have and feel to their parents, even though parents and children seem to feel comfortable talking to each other. Survey results from Roper Starch Worldwide say:
very sizable majority of people are comfortable communicating with their "significant other": 87% of those who have one say they are "very comfortable" when it comes to their spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or partner. Most people also believe their communication with that person to be effective: 73% say they are "very effective," and 24% are "somewhat effective."
Three-fourths of Americans feel very comfortable when interacting with their parents (77%). People also rate their effectiveness in such conversations as high: 69% say they are "very effective" communicating with their parents. Similarly, 78% are "very comfortable" communicating with their siblings, 65% believe that they are "very effective" when doing so.
It seems that practically no one feels uncomfortable when interacting with their children: 93% of respondents are "very comfortable" communicating with them. In terms of the effectiveness of their communication with the kids, people are slightly less glowing: 75% think they are "very effective" while 22% admit being "somewhat effective" when communicating with their children. The parents might be talking, but the kids may just not be listening. (Starch 2006)
Communication is a large part of the message that all three of these films try to make. When one cannot talk with one's parents, neighbors, friends or those in authority and really be heard and understood, the problems start. Pleasantville makes the point that children can communicate effectively with parents. There are at lease two scenes in which the children pass along valuable information to parents. One when Peggy Sue talks about sex to her TV series "mother" and another is when Brad talks to his single mom about how everything changes, but not always for the worst, at the very end of the movie.
Communication is not the only problem in these other worlds that have been presented in these three movies. There is the problem of just not understanding what the other person is. Donnie Darko does not understand that the huge bunny that he interacts with is malevolent, though he has fears enough. The character of the rabbit is ambiguous, as are the characters we interact with daily, bringing good and harm into our lives simultaneously.
The three alternative realities, of the old TV Black-and-White series, of a castle on a hill that produces a warped but lovable monster, and of the illusional mind of a schizophrenic boy, bring the issues of communication, abuse of authority, misunderstanding of others not like oneself to the fore. These are real-world issues with which teenagers deal daily. When they see the abuse of power, they think of Pleasantville. When they see the mistreatment of the weaker or mentally handicapped, they will think of Donnie Darko and Edward Scissorhands.
Stuart Hall said that the media favors the articulate and the sacred institutions of society, and it is in these areas that the youth encounter problems. When they hear wrong ideas articulately expressed and cannot speak for themselves, they can describe any of these films. When they observe abuse of power and they are powerless, they can look at these films. When they see organized armies rallying against them and they are unorganized, they can look at these films and gain hope. (Hall, 1974)
List of References
Berger, a.A. 2005, Making Sense of Media: Key Texts in Media and Cultural Studies. [Online]