How Cinema Shapes Our Expectations Of The World
By Emma Frost
It is no secret that cinema is not exactly realistic. The wise among us will understand that contrary to what George Lucas tells us, there is no galaxy far, far away where a masked madman is battling his son with a laser sword over the fate of the universe. Films that transport its audience into a completely immersive world full on wonder and magic (Harry Potter I’m looking at you) or superheroes and interplanetary warfare (ahem, Marvel Cinematic Universe) are obviously not going to be heralded as realistic.
But often within cinema – all special effects and epic plot narratives aside – the films we watch and devote our time to market to us, the viewers, unrealistic ideals of love, friendship, careers, and family, all presented as attainable, normal, and most shockingly, healthy.
Take relationships in films, for example. I have lost count of the number of times a romantic film has relied on outdated and, quite frankly, toxic narratives and characters to idealise love. The Twilight franchise, worth an astounding $3.3 billion worldwide, is a prime example of just how popular this toxicity is to the audience, an indication that we are so conditioned by cinema to digest these giant red flags and instead interpret them as pretty red ribbons.
Throughout the films, Edward Cullen – a sexy, pale, bad-boy vampire – exhibits disturbing behaviour disguised as devotion, including but not limited to ominously standing over Bella’s bed to watch her sleeping. Such intense obsession is marketed as normal behaviour for a man – albeit an immortal creature in this case – in love. In reality, this sort of thing is incredibly creepy and should land you a hefty prison sentence.
Lovebombing, too, is another trope featured prominently in romantic films that wrongly trick the viewer into thinking that a guy does not truly love you unless he drowns you in said love. Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Noah from The Notebook glamorises this sort of strange behaviour – not long into the film he climbs up a giant Ferris wheel while his love interest is on a date with another man in order to force her to date him, the ‘right guy’ for her, or else be responsible for his fall to death.
Hilariously, this is only a glimpse of the crazy yet to come in the film: spoiler alert, Noah sends Allie letters every day for a year despite receiving no response back or even an indication she still wants to speak to him, and eventually for no reason at all builds a three-story house dedicated to Allie despite her moving on with her life and being happy with another man.
The very idea pushed in films that *if only the guy will pursue the girl hard enough, for long enough, eventually she will realise she loves him and give in* is so unhealthy and unsustainable, and should be exorcised from our screens immediately. Needless to say, this is not normal behaviour we witness from men in real life, and any woman who goes out searching for this sort of love will quite likely find herself dating a future serial killer.
But perhaps what I hate the most about unrealistic-but-pushed-as-realistic romantic films is the whole *guy needs to be changed into a better person by girl* thing. If anyone has seen that god-awful living Wattpad nightmare that calls itself The Kissing Booth then you know exactly what I am talking about. Bad-boy Noah (reoccurring name here) likes to punch people and shout a lot because of his ‘anger issues’, and desperately needs the help of Joey King’s irritating-as-a-mosquito-bite character to calm down and, well… Not punch people. Even Bridget Jones’s Diary (as fun a film as that is) features an over-sexed bad-boy played by Hugh Grant who needs to be tamed by the loveable heroine Bridget. Unfortunately, this teaches women that in order to love a man, you need to be his mother. You need to literally take it upon yourself, with zero training or expertise, to transform this feral man into Prince Charming in order to be happy. Well, news flash: we do not need to be our boyfriend’s mothers, hun. He needs a therapist.
And do not even get me started on the unrealistic portrayal of women’s careers in films, if they may be so bold as to even have one! The Devil Wears Prada, stripped back from its incredible wardrobe and the genius that is Meryl Streep, is essentially a story that tells you to give up your dream job if your boyfriend cannot handle it, as retaining the love of an insecure man should be the most important thing in your life. I am sure many of us have also seen those classic Christmas Hallmark films that end up with the ‘uptight’ (read: not a grinning idiot) businesswoman finding love in the shape of a rugged local and eventually deciding to give up her thriving career in the city to open a village pub with Mr Handsome.
But why is this all so important? Why should we care that films are unrealistic? Well, according to a study conducted by Statistica, UK children and teenagers consume around 13 hours of TV-watching per week. It is no secret the huge role that television, media and films play in shaping young, impressionable minds, molding identities and communicating so-called social norms and expectations that young people need to emulate. Filma are our reference point for the journey called life that lies ahead of us. It would follow, then, that by consuming cinema that repeatedly portrays toxic relationships as the gold standard and stark power imbalances in relationships as healthy is somewhat dangerous, and steers us toward accepting problematic behaviors in men without challenging them.
We are so often fed this narrative of guy chasing girl, girl changing guy, girl appeasing guy that we subconsciously believe that that is what life holds for us around the corner, that every guy we date has to lovebomb us into the next century in order to legitimize his feelings toward us. NONE of this is realistic, and definitely should not be allowed to shape our worldview in the slightest. I want to see imperfect men on the screen, men who can respect us, admit their flaws, take responsibility for their actions, grow as people with us and (if this is not too much to ask) not expect us to change them or fall for them immediately just because they bought us 2,000 roses after the first date. We need to see what healthy relationships look like in films, so that young girls do not get brainwashed into accepting unacceptable behavior from men in the name of so-called love.
In my opinion, that sort of realism in cinema would be way sexier than Edward Cullen and his ominous sleep-watching.