The last four days have been a little surreal. Halfway through Saturday I found out that my friend Tosh had been killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. Denial is often something we joke about, and it’s not until we see it and feel it in action that we know it exists. And that’s the way everyone has felt since we found out—complete disbelief that such a thing could happen, that he could be really gone. But, as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, it’s not some weird prank (although at first I wouldn’t have put it past Tosh), and it’s the horrible, unshakable truth.
Four days later and I’m finally starting to catch up on sleep and the reality of what has happened is setting in. With a review deadline looming large and everyone else uninterested or otherwise occupied, I went to see Superman Returns alone. Attending a movie solo is always an awkward experience, but I’ve come to appreciate the immersion and solitude that are somehow still possible amongst 200 strangers.
Somewhere in that movie I realized that all of the clinging sadness from the last few days had fallen away. It was just me and the flickering lights projected up on the screen 60 feet or so away from me. Or rather, it was me, the passive bystander, watching as Superman/Clark Kent battled with his emotions for Lois Lane, his own doubts and insecurity, and the maniacal Lex Luthor.
A screen is a flat, impenetrable surface, but it has the power to suck you in, to involve you. To involve you to a point where, perhaps for just a few minutes or sometimes hours, despite everything going on in the bright lights outside, you’ve escaped for at least a little bit. Perhaps that’s the enduring power of cinema, no matter how much we complain about ticket prices and errant actors, we find ourselves back in line on a Friday night with our tickets in hand.
Some people look down their noses at this notion and mutter, "Escapism," derisively under their breath. In The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay author Michael Chabon said this about escapism, under the guise of responding to the threats of reading comic books: "The newspaper articles … always cited ‘escapism’ among the litany of injurious consequences of [reading comic books], and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life."
I’m not going to sit here and assert our salvation in escapism. No one doubts that our problems will return with the house lights. Whether we like it or not, we live in the real world; we’re always on the audience side of that screen. But there’s no doubt that the real has a way of canceling out the good until all we can see is the bad. That’s when escapism has its power. While watching a film today I remembered—even in the midst of tragedy—that there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for. Escapism recalls us to the idea that there is yet light behind the obscuring clouds. Escapism reminds us to not be content with the ordinary but intent on the extraordinary. Escapism reveals the possibilities that may only seem like they exist in our imagination, but really are within our grasp should we only extend our reach.
It seems sometimes like the good we experience in this life is so incredibly fleeting. And sometimes it is. It’s a hard fact to face up to, but everyone we love will eventually die, if we don’t die first. Everything that we’ve worked for, whether scraps of paper or piles of property can be burned up, blown down or submerged so easily and so quickly. Because these moments are so transient, they need to be treasured. Even if it’s just for the space of an embrace with someone you love, the sharp inhale while taking in the mountaintop view or the eleven reels spent in a darkened room while light dances through the projector’s lens.