When I watched the most recent film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince with my sister, I cried like a baby — I actually had no control over my emotional reaction. We paused in the middle because my sister declared she had to practice violin (typical disciplined type A older sibling), and because I have no self-control, I looked up the rest of the movie on Wikipedia (the movie necessarily deviates from the original source material). Even just reading the article, which is plain old plot summary, made me cry. That’s how ridiculous of an effect it had on me.
We finished the movie together anyway, and at one point, Jennifer asked me, “Wait, why is she looking for the little prince? He’s not real.”
I felt annoyed and couldn’t exactly pinpoint why, until after we finished the movie and I figured, well, none of it is real, per se. And does that matter?
We keep literature, music, film — the arts, basically — close despite the fact that none of it is really tangible. Think about how different it is to read something like A Song of Ice and Fire or Love in the Time of Cholera versus a New York Times news article. More often than not, there’s such a distinction that, somehow, these books affect us much more strongly than a fact-based report. Somehow, someone else’s world — which in turn becomes inexplicably yours — is so incredibly powerful and moving. The words on pages bound together into a novel, shapes on a movie theater screen, that tell a story separate from reality are yet far more identifiable than the reality in which we’re rooted.
I’m sure we’ve all felt this, whether with Harry Potter, or Calvin and Hobbes, or Her. But the skeptics remain.
Albus Dumbledore famously said in the final Harry Potter novel, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
Yes, none of it is concrete and none of it is tangible — it’s hardly even explicable. Things like novels and films are woven, entangled with metaphors, because art simply can’t be defined in normal terms. It can’t be quantified or rationalized. And maybe it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why it affects us so, but maybe the reason they do is the reason we need them.
So yeah, all of that was happening in someone else’s head. And it’s playing out in yours now, too. But at the end of the day, isn’t everything? Is anything “real”? Does the "realistic" nature of art matter at all?
When it comes to art — the intangible — the part that matters is the fact that it does.
Written by Julianne Wey (’18)