We can learn a lot about life from film and literature. Film and literature tend to reflect and magnify life. We can learn a lot about ourselves in the ways we choose to translate between the two. Film and literature tend to teach us less about film and literature and more about ourselves, our culture, and our society.
I think the best example of the lessons film and literature have to teach may be the 1947 Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Elia Kazan's 1951 film version of the same title. The story's core is class struggle. Whether or not we would like to admit it, we are surrounded by this kind of struggle. There are always those people who refer to the "wrong side of the tracks." Stanley (Marlon Brando) and Blanche (Vivien Leigh) have an immediate dislike of each other because of their different upbringings. Stanley is a poor "Pollack," while Blanche grew up on the family plantation. Neither of them can see past the other's economic situation. The story does not indicate that this is good or bad; it just states that the situation exists. We all need to realize that.
Lesson from Streetcar number two: Love is not ours to control. Love usually controls us. All of us have had problems with love. Love is a four-letter word. The only difference is one can say "love" on any channel at any time of day. It is Stella's (Kim Hunter) love for Stanley that brings her down from Eunice's (Peg Hillias) apartment. After she has fled Stanley's abuse, it is love for Stanley that will result in black eye after black eye. Blanche loved her husband. He loved another man. The result is years of unhappiness for Blanche and her husband's suicide. He seems to have gotten off easier.
Streetcar also shows us that life is not going to be easy. No one ever promised us anything. No one owes us anything. The DuBois family fortune is lost and gone forever. All the hopes and dreams of Blanche are lost along with it. Her family died around her. This is real life. She found her dream man, and he found his. It happens. Look at daytime TV. Stella's dream marriage to Stanley promises to be long and hard. Many marriages are long and hard. There will not always be a silver lining. Sometimes there is just rain.
The "Hollywoodizing" of Streetcar also hides a lesson. Blanche's husband had sex with men, unless one is watching the movie. There is no mention of homosexuality to be found. There is no sex anywhere to be found. Stanley's rape scene leaves one only with an assumption. This is 1950s Hollywood, where keeping things in the closet is a specialty. This is the time and place wherein phony marriages are arranged to protect the public from reality. The lesson here is that there is always someone willing to think for us. The media often try to protect us from the truth. To paraphrase what Chuck Palahniuk writes in his novel Lullaby, it is Big Brother singing and dancing to distract us.
The most important lesson remains. All of the characters in Streetcar struggle and struggle against life. The important part is not that life is a struggle; the important part is that something must make it worth the fight. We are like Sisyphus pushing his rock. The victory is in continuing to push.
There are many lessons to be learned from film and literature. They have the ability to show us ourselves. "Film and lit" . . . I say, "Film and life!"