Reminder: A Movie Is an 'Empathy Machine'

If someone asks me what it is that makes me so passionate about movies -- even when I've seen more terrible ones in the last five years than most people have seen period -- I usually cut right to it with a quote from the late, great Roger Ebert:

Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else's life for a while. I can walk in somebody else's shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

This is a liberalizing influence on me. It gives me a broader mind. It helps me to join my family of men and women on this planet. It helps me to identify with them, so I'm not just stuck being myself, day after day.

The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.

It's been a hard week month year decade for America, and we have a shitload of work to do. A lot of that work is going to be hard. It's going to involve getting more involved with local politics. It's going to take not fooling yourself in to thinking that Facebook and Twitter are enough to make you an educated citizen. It's going to require going out and engaging with people you might not understand or agree with, and actually listening to them.

But not all of it need be difficult.

Roger Ebert is right. Movies are an "empathy machine," and it strikes me that empathy (which, to be clear, is not an endorsement of someone's thoughts or feelings, but instead about the capacity to simply share in them) is something that has been slowly leeched out of people in a variety of different ways over the last decade-plus.

So, you know, get ready for all that hard work. But also keep going to the movies. Keep finding unexpected lessons in them. Tell people when you see something that will make them feel differently about someone else, and encourage them to go get a "broader mind."