NR Digital

Film: Total Immersion

by Ross Douthat
A review of The American

At times, it can feel as though television’s auteurs are making the movie industry irrelevant. Fifty years after phrases like “idiot box” and “vast wasteland” entered the American vocabulary, the long arc of a TV serial has officially proven itself a better vehicle for conveying psychological depth and sociological complexity than the 100-odd minutes available for the typical feature film. And from The Sopranos and The Wire to Breaking Bad and Mad Men, our small-screen storytellers have been exploiting this advantage to the hilt, turning out human dramas that put most of their cinematic competitors to shame.

So why go to the movies at all, when you can sit home with HBO and AMC, Netflix and iTunes, and experience the closest imitation of a great novel’s richness that visual culture can offer? Well, there’s spectacle, of course: that James Cameron rush, that Michael Bay high. But there’s also immersion: the sense of being surrounded and enveloped, sealed away completely from the real world, seeing only what the director intends for you to see. For all of television’s dramatic potential — and yes, for all the advances in flat-screen technology and surround sound as well — this is still something that rarely happens in your living room. It takes a movie theater, and it takes a movie maker.

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