Behind the Silver Screen Afterthoughts

from Erin

I have a terrible affliction: It’s the near inability to relay bare facts in a succinct manner. My communication style is the meandering sort—I’ll get you to the facts, but not without loading up a whole lot of extra details along the way.

Depending on your own communication style, you are either happy to take the leisurely stroll or you are crawling out of you skin with irritation. I try to be mindful that some people would prefer the short cut, would prefer to get the short summation rather than the whole novel. And, if I’m going to take you the long way around, I try to employ good storytelling techniques to keep us moving forward.

We all communicate in stories, whether you prefer them short and sweet or epic. As we share details about our day or the deepest treasure of the our soul, it’s all story. We share some version of beginnings, middles, and ends; we share the intrigue and tragedy. Stories are foundational to how we think, speak, and engage with others. Neuroscience research has found that when we share a story with others, our brains fire in the same places and patterns. Which means that stories have the ability to sync our brains and connect people at a neurological level. In describing my communication style as a meandering stroll, your brain likely pulled up the sense you’ve had when you’ve strolled someplace in the past, even pulling up the emotional experience associated to it. Likewise, whatever stories we share—whether a happening at work or a news account or a movie—our brains sync and think, together.

I’ve been pondering the syncing power of story ever since our conversation with Alissa Wilkinson (“Behind the Silver Screen,” Episode 164) to discuss the role of big-screen stories in syncing society’s collective mind along various themes, narratives, and ideals. When a certain film rises in pop culture status, it becomes a way for us to connect with others. Whether it’s sharing the conclusion of Marvel’s 22-film epic with Avengers: Endgame or binging the latest season of The Crown on Netflix, these stories pull us together to discuss the fate of fictional characters, with lives that aren’t really real but are no less impactful to our psyches. These made-up people in made-up worlds prompt us to think about our own very real struggles and sorrows and triumphs. These stories help us process our lives, giving us ways to relate in our shared humanity and find words to share the deepest parts of ourselves.

Such connections are very real and very powerful. They also plant markers, a home base to which our minds run whenever a similar conversation shakes that mental ground. We speak lines of shared dialogue to ease mounting tension or reminisce of happier times or evoke wayward courage. Shared stories from the silver screen bind us with their larger than life sights and sounds, changing us—and even society as a whole.

But there isn’t just one type of film that binds us together. Classics, comedies, rom-coms, musicals, action-adventure—all these have embedded into our cultural narratives with their quotable lines and infamous scenes that somehow root us in a cultural moment we share with all who partake.

In this Persuasion series, we will select six films that were especially popular and powerful—but ones that either Hannah or I have not taken in yet—hence the series name, Never Seen. We’ll watch them with current day eyes and then discuss how and why these particular films had such an impact—and if they’ve stood the test of time.

Looking at how these silver screen stories from various points in history bind us together gives me hope: That maybe, just maybe, if we take the time to share our own stories, we will find a way beyond today’s prevailing disconnect and isolation and remember how very much alike our stories really are.

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