Last night I took advantage of my wife being out of town to stream, through Amazon, an action movie that I've wanted to see for a long time: The Bourne Identity (2002).
My wife isn't big on action flicks and wouldn't have appreciated the way-cool Mini chase through the streets, alleys, and walkways of Paris nearly as much as I did. But what irritated me through the entire two-hour movie experience was watching it on our television in HD (high definition).
I paid an extra dollar to get the HD version. Then, almost as soon as I started watching amnesiac Matt Damon try to figure out his CIA-provided identity, quite a few of them, actually, a sense of this looks way too real popped up in my mind.
And never left.
I kept being bothered by the fact that when Damon entered an American embassy or a Swiss bank, he looked exactly like Matt Damon entering an American embassy or a Swiss bank. The "movie look" had left The Bourne Identity.
I've seen previews of this movie, and it looked much different in non-HD. So I'm trying to get some philosophical mileage out of the two hours I spent watching a highly entertaining movie, which would have been quite a bit more enjoyable for me if I could have immersed myself deeper in its unreality.
My wife and I watch a lot of television shows in high definition. Reality shows like Survivor look just fine. Sports events look just fine. Scientific shows like Cosmos look just fine. But The Bourne Identity didn't.
Having just blogged about our differing "narrative" and "experiential" ways of experiencing reality, my theory is that I wanted to be immersed in a fictional movie story, a narrative, for those two escapist hours -- not something that looks like my everyday experience of life. Cinematographers have ways of doing this.
Watching the movie in HD took away a lot of that magic.
I was watching the scenes as filmed, but I couldn't get away from the thought "this is a movie." The actors looked so real, so lifelike, so sharp, so crisp, it was like I was watching The Bourne Identity being made. I could picture the actors on a sound stage, or on location, with the director looking on outside of camera range.
Here's my Big Philosophical Conclusion: We want our stories about life to be fuzzy around the edges. Too much detail reveals the flaws in them. Reality isn't what we desire; it's a narrative that's more appealing than here-and-now reality.
Religions, of course, are all about story-telling.
They do a great job of entertaining us with narratives about God, salvation, heaven, hell, spiritual ascent, enlightenment, and such without leaving themselves open to questions about nitty-gritty verifiable details, because usually there aren't any such details in the stories.
There's two more films in the Bourne series that I want to see. For sure, next time I won't choose HD. I want my escapism to be different from reality. However, I wish religious fables could be communicated in high definition. Then their reality-escaping nature would be crisply apparent.
[Technical note: partway through The Bourne Identity I considered fiddling with our TV's display settings. But it was late, and I didn't want to interrupt the flow of my movie-watching. Reading some online discussions of this subject, here, here, and here, complaints similar to mine sometimes are met with a "dude, you need to adjust your set by doing X, Y, Z." Well, I doubt it. Anyway, those suggestions are aimed at degrading the lifelike look of an HD movie, so I stand by my Big Philosophical Conclusion.]