The BEST: Changing Lanes
by Herbert J. Cohen
Consumption Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
Summary: Gavin Banek is a successful New York lawyer. His task for the day is to file an important document in court. Across town Doyle Gipson is also on his way to court. His agenda: to gain custody of his children and prevent his wife from moving to Oregon with his kids. Banek and Gipson get into a fender bender on the FDR Drive, and both are delayed from arriving at their destinations, with calamitous personal consequences for each. These basically “good” men are tested by a host of adverse circumstances and allow anger to drive them to outrageous acts of revenge.
Why this is the BEST: The motion picture provides unique opportunities and risks. Theaters, the classic environment in which movies are experienced, immerse all five senses (if we include the traditional popcorn and soft drink). Even with the proliferation of modern devices that free movies from these hermetic enclosures, movies continue to transfix viewers in ways that other media do not.
Watching a movie requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Viewers must trust writers, producers, directors and actors to create an imaginary reality for them to enter. That imaginary reality might deserve questions of truth (Lawrence of Arabia among many others) or ethics (most R rated specimens). In the moment, no methods for raising such questions and for preserving critical distance exist: Just “sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.”
Movies use visual effects, spatial relations, timing, sound effects, and music to stimulate the emotions of their audiences. Mirroring, a psychological behavior in which a person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another, comes into play as the viewer passively watches in the theater and long after exclaims: “Go ahead, make my day.”
Yet cinema retains the power to uniquely convey messages about the human condition to the viewer’s benefit. We can take advantage of the good that films offer, if we become discriminating consumers. Changing Lanes possesses such good.
The film displays and dissects anger, a subject at the center of the Mussar tradition. The Talmud (Shabbat 105b) teaches that anger is analogous to idol worship. Ramban famously focuses his ethical directive to his son on the perpetual task of curbing one’s anger.
Studying a Mussar book or reading about the loathsome consequences of anger enables a reader to intellectually appreciate the pitfalls of anger. However, witnessing the terrible fallout of anger makes a movie viewer viscerally understand the damage that anger can bring to people’s lives. Watching Changing Lanes provides a mirror onto the consequences of a viewer’s own anger (in life outside the theater) through the medium of the characters’ anger.
Immersing all of one’s senses within sometimes problematic emotions, movies can edify and can debase. Changing Lanes does the former without the latter. It conveys the necessity of consciously choosing the movie experiences to which we subject our psyches and our souls. We have much to gain from carefully selecting the menu of cinematic culture that we consume.
Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen was the longtime principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta and now writes at www.koshermovies.com
This is the ninth installment in TraditionOnline’s “The BEST” column, exploring exemplars of the best culture has to offer thinking religious people – click here for the series introduction and links to all entries in the series.
Published on September 19, 2019.