When considering film as an educational tool, primarily the movies in question are either poorly made or uninteresting. It would appear that for every viewing of The Big Short in economics class, there are often in-class showings of myriad, mid-tier Shakespeare adaptations as well as half-hearted nature documentaries to counterbalance the rare, engaging in-class movie.
Largely, the excitement around taking a handful of class periods to watch a film derives from the inevitable fact that this is better than the alternative. Instead of having legitimate enthusiasm around the cinema. This is unfortunate because, yet often unavoidable, as the lion’s share of film, directly pertinent to class curriculum, veers into the land of tedium before the opening credits have concluded.
Thankfully, the interplay between education and entertainment in the realm of cinema needn’t be so cut-and-dry. Film offers boundless educational merit for collegiate scholars. Now, the knowledge gained isn’t going to pertain directly to English or chemistry, but it will offer something integral to every student’s Wheaton experience: perspective.
The expansion of one’s worldview is imperative to becoming a well-rounded member of academia and society in its totality and film is an excellent avenue in which new experiences can broaden perspective and posit challenging ideas.
The first film which deserves mention is mere weeks away from the multiplex; the equally lauded and controversial Joker. Directed by Todd Howard, this film tells the origin story of Batman’s most iconic rogue, the Joker. Beginning as Arthur Fleck, the film chronicles his descent into chaos as he assumes the mantle of the Joker.
While many bristle at this film conceptually, due to either the notion of giving the Joker an origin movie at all or attempting to portray the villain after Heath Ledger’s defining rendition of the character in 2008, The Dark Knight, Todd Howard’s take on the Clown Prince offers a chilling new perspective. Not only does the film seek to elevate the ubiquitous comic book movie above its current reputation, but it also looks to illustrate the violent mental and physical decline of a disenfranchised man.
Unfortunately, the latter is incredibly poignant in today’s society, wherein acts of mass violence are perpetrated by people who bear similarities to Arthur Fleck. For this reason, some critics have loudly advocated against the film, citing societal dangers in releasing a movie which illustrates, glorifies, and perhaps even sympathizes with Arthur Fleck and his struggles.
Yet, by closing oneself off from Joker, the realities of such people and their very real stories are left to fester in the dark. While I am excited for the film, foremost because I am a comic book fan, a fairly large portion of the movie’s appeal lies within the portrayal of such a taboo, corrupt character considering current events.
As students of the world around us, exposure to such topics and themes is integral – if simultaneously uncomfortable. Cinema provides a landscape for the discussion of ideas and the catharsis to experience them. Confronting such a heavy subject through the lens of fiction allows for the reflection upon the fractured society around us; while also providing two hours of artistic, engaging filmmaking.
To that point, high-caliber filmmaking seems to be exactly what the audience will be getting with Joker, as it received the Venice Film Festival’s prestigious Golden Lion award upon its debut. With Joaquin Phoenix’s acting chops and a supporting cast, including the likes of Robert De Niro, everything seems to be building toward a successful, intellectually poignant film.
For a lighter – but no less important – trip to the movies, Jojo Rabbit may be the perfect film with which, to pass an otherwise uneventful afternoon. Directed by Taika Waititi, the director best known for Thor: Ragnarök and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, this WWII satire takes a twist with the ultimate subversion of history. The story is centered around a Hitler Youth member named Jojo who is fed advice by his happy-go-lucky imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler.
Not surprisingly, this choice has raised the ire of some, claiming that the Nazi regime is nothing to joke about. Yet, the fact that Taika Waititi, one of Hollywood’s zaniest, well-intentioned and talented voices, is tackling such a concept is reason enough to be excited for Jojo Rabbit.
Much like the controversy surrounding Joker, criticisms of Jojo Rabbit stem from a place inherently adjacent to censorship. Yet, this line of argument, the attempted silencing of socially-unacceptable film concepts, is antithetical to sort of unfettered artistic expression, which has produced some of the most groundbreaking works of fiction. Admittedly, satirizing the Third Reich isn’t as timely as documenting disenfranchised men the way Joker does, the brazen nature of Jojo Rabbit’s conceit is exciting and worthy of discussion.
Too often, history is landlocked in traditional narrative. Railroading creative minds into following typical narrative threads or simply using particular events as the catalyst for period pieces. Jojo Rabbit seeks to entirely bust open these conventions of history and conventionally accepted historical fiction tropes.
This, by itself, is incredibly thought-provoking. The challenging of one’s set notions or perspectives is an incredibly valuable exercise to partake in. While, hopefully, Jojo Rabbit won’t curry your favor toward the Nazi regime, it will provide the springboard for meaningful discussions about established narratives and create the opportunity to think creatively about how such narratives could be subverted to some particular end.
Naturally, these lessons could be learned, and these discussions jump-started, by merely reading some articles online and having a classroom dialog. But, the truth of the matter is this: learning can and should be fun. Here at Wheaton, we have so many excellent opportunities to engage and enrich ourselves in traditional school settings.
These atypical worldview topics can be broached through these typical avenues easily. However, to do so would be to discount the fact that learning can happen organically and critical engagement can be found off the Wheaton grounds too.
Cinema is a very powerful art form which carries with it the ability to inform and challenge its audience while simultaneously enrapturing the crowd with resonant, bold storytelling. Films like Joker and Jojo Rabbit not only represent what the most creative and daring voices in film have to say, but also what the medium, on the whole, has the power to convey.
So, the next time you’re looking for something to do, head down to the movies and relax a little, we work hard enough as is. But, while you’re reclined, shoveling fistfuls of popcorn into your mouth, take a moment to really appreciate the lessons conveyed by the film in front of you.
Spend some time after the movie to reflect and discuss, really dive into the thematic elements of the film; don’t simply view it as disposable entertainment. By doing so, you’ll find your enjoyment of cinema will deepen, and you’ll be a more engaged, thoughtful person as a result.