Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen
David Butler’s Fantasy Cinema forms part of the Wallflower Short Cuts series, which provides introductions to a wide spectrum of film studies. His last chapter, ‘Interpreting Fantasy: Functions and Beliefs’, applies the concept of fantasy to real life. Butler challenges the idea that fantasy is mere escapism, that all fantasy offers is a ‘carefree wishspace’ that has nothing to do with reality. Surely fantasy can, and is, used in this way.
Tolkien claimed that escapism can just as well be regarded an act of resistance. We shouldn’t condemn people for trying to imagine a different (better!) world. Butler uses the example of Martin Luther. Can we now dismiss his ideas of racial equality and civil rights as escapist delusions? (One must, however, of course take care to not get caught in a fantasy world and keep in touch with reality!) Returning to Tolkien, he believed that the best fantasy could offer a receptive audience was recovery, escape and consolation.
But, as Butler asks, ‘what happens when we contrast a fantasy world with our own?’ and quotes Jack Zipes on this issue:
‘By moving to the past or another world, the fairy tale enables readers to regain a clear view of their situations’ (p.100)
So, by looking at our own world through the filter of a fantasy film (or written story), we can examine it from a more objective point of view. It is easier to understand, critique or applaud society if you are not directly involved in it.
Finally, Butler mentions in ‘Fantasy Cinema’ Christopher Booker’s five stages of story structure (adding to the previous theories I have written about by Vladimir Propp and Susan Sontag). They seem to apply remarkably well to many dystopian films and will be worth keeping in mind for future reference.
The five stages are:
- Miraculous escape