For the last couple of weeks I have been off the air, living – literally – in a land of make-believe. For the first, and without a doubt the last, time in my life, I was invited to play the principal rôle in a French-Australian movie. It was not a million-dollar blockbuster but a modest “court-métrage”, a 12-minute film made on a shoestring budget with unpaid actors including a young French professional who was my “co-star” (!), a volunteer professional technical crew as well as some fifteen extras, French volunteers with no speaking rôles, pretending to be Australians. This last detail was not the only pretense. The whole film is fiction, credible I hope in spite of the blatant limitations and Thespian inexperience of its central character, supposedly a septuagenarian Aussie wine-maker visiting the Western Front battlefields where his fictional grandfather was blown to bits in 1918. Our job, that of the Directress, her staff, technical crew and actors was to make believe that the story was true and that what we were portraying actually happened on a certain Anzac Day, April 25, 2014, in the Somme.
Anyone who has seen a “Making Of” will know the techniques movies use to create the illusion of reality. I have now had actual experience of what goes into making people believe that what they see on the screen is for real, and not just for reel. (Even after participating in the making of just one short movie, I find myself, watching movies now, realizing how certain scenes were staged and shot.)
Naturally I could not resist applying all this to the illusions of religious faith. Of course, once you start to analyse how movie-makers get you to believe what you see, the effect is lost. We put our left-brain on hold, we want to believe what we see happening on the screen, even though we know it is not true. Some want God to exist, we want Trevor the wine-maker to exist, some want to believe in Christ’s salvific death and Resurrection, we do not doubt the fictional pointless death of Trevor’s grandfather and how this affects the life of his fictional grandson. Movies, like the Bible, make us believe not only the stories they tell but “events” we know to be impossible. Movies make money by knowingly getting us to believe that what we see on the screen is real. Religions make money – though more often than not their proponents’ motives are not mercenary – by innocently making us believe that what we read in the Bible is true. When we leave the cinema or turn off the T.V., we return to reality. When believers close their Bible or go home after the church service, when Catholics follow the injunction “Go, the Mass is ended”, they take their illusions with them.