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Futurist and Filmmaker Jason Silva on How Watching Movies is a Kind of Ecstasy

Futurist and Filmmaker Jason Silva on How Watching Movies is a Kind of Ecstasy

Jason Silva, the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic Channel’s “Brain Games,” is among the 2015 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award honorees. This afternoon, Silva will participate in the “Tribeca Talks: Immerse Yourself” panel about how today’s entertainment has become immersive physically as well as psychologically.

Indiewire recently e-mailed with Silva about the future of film and immersive storytelling.

Congrats! You’re being honored at the 2015 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. Do you consider yourself a disruptor or an innovator? In what ways?

I’m quite delighted to be among the honorees this year.  I like to think that my work disrupts the mind, causing ripples in our understanding of the world. 

My musings and mini-video essays on exponential technological disruption aim to create an ontological shift. I want my media to disrupt the viewer’s “reality tunnel.” I want people to transcend what Tom Robbins calls their “cognitive Kansas.” The world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and our media needs to reflect this. My series “Shots of Awe” has been focused on creating these wormholes for the mind. So yes, being included among the Tribeca disruptive innovation honorees is a thrill.

READ MORE: Filmmaker and Futurist Jason Silva on How Humans are Hardwired for Story and Cinema

There’s a lot of talk about the future of film. How will cinema as we know it change in the next 5-10 years? Will we still look at screens at movie theaters in that time period?

Everyone is talking about virtual reality, although I prefer Zizek’s term “the reality of the virtual.” There’s nothing “virtual” about virtual reality. The dream is real when you’re in it, as they remind us in the film “Inception.” The holy grail of all storytelling technologies, from books to radio to cinema to VR has been to create “PRESENCE.” To put you inside the intersubjective world. To become someone else. To step inside of someone else’s reality.  

When we become immersed in cinema, our self-awareness dissipates. We enter a kind of fusion of cognition and dream. Watching a movie is a technologically-mediated lucid dream. It’s like smoking cannabis. I think the future is simply ever more immersive technologies. More PRESENCE. More experiments with narrative. More ways to author the “intersubjective lifeworld.” I’m excited by the work of Punchdrunk and what they’ve done with interactive theater in Sleep No More. I’m excited by director Chris Milk’s work with VR, working with directors like Discovery’s Barry Pousman. They made a VR film for the United Nations that put viewers inside of a Syrian Refugee Camp. It was incredible. Talk about a waking dream.  We all crave the holy other.  We want transformation and we want cathartic illumination. 

The point is that cinema is a technique of ecstasy. The virtual is the space in which we live. We are self-creating animals living inside of linguistic reality tunnels. Everything is language. Even biology. It’s all alphabetic. It’s all code. It’s all instructions. Story. 

What happens to our brains when we watch movies? And how is that experience unlike anything else?

Watching movies is a kind of ecstasy. The ecstasy of understanding. The ecstasy of relating to the other. We experience a “deistic shift” as we assume the viewpoint of someone else. This is ecstatic. We transcend ourselves and experience a kind of radical empathy. Radical compassion. We are beside ourselves. Gene Youngblood once wrote “cinema reflects mankind’s historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind in front of his eyes.”

Cinema is a mirror and watching a movie we leave the chamber of our bodies and enter what Jane Murray calls the “liminal trance state,” a magical borderland between dreams and reality. The matrix really exists. It’s called cinema. Movies are a technology that delivers a mythopoetic experience. Movies pattern subjectivity, much like a pop song, that’s why they are so satisfying to watch. They play with patterns in our brains. They summon coherence. The mediate and steer attention towards sublime ends. 

Increasingly, we’re moving into a world of cinema immersion with 3D, virtual reality, etc. Do you think the days of passive viewing are over?

I think we will experiment with many forms of ingesting narrative. Sometimes we will crave agency in the virtual world: we will want to move around and explore, like in a video game. Other times we will want to surrender, we will want to hand ourselves over to the narrative artist.  We will say: I trust the director to steer my awareness. We will continue to fuse cognition and dream and we will engender dreamscapes beyond the imagination. We will be as Dorothy and we will live in Oz. We will be as Alice and we will tumble down the rabbit hole. 

Jason Silva is the Emmy-nominated host of hit TV series “BrainGames” on the National Geographic Channel, and the creator of the original series “Shots of Awe.” Follow him on Twitter @JasonSilva.

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