What makes a film good for me are two things: it manages to involve me emotionally to the extent the world disappears, or it stays with me for a while and makes me ponder its key points.
Recently, On The Waterfront (1954) has ticked the second box. And maybe the first too, but to a lesser extent.
The film is a very good case study – excuse the annoying academic jargon – of herd behaviour and human weakness.
There was scene in that film where I felt the weakness of humanity to be painful to endure. The main character, a soft-hearted dockworker who gets dragged into waterfront mafia and then challenges the system to help break the control the mafia holds over the area, is brutally beaten by a thug gang. The workers, whose life he had tried to improve, stand by and do not help. They want to, but are too cowardly to interfere. They stand, a whole crowd of men that could easily break up a gang of five or six, while the man that tried to improve their lives, could be beaten to death behind the corner.
It was just so frustrating and shameful to witness. Human weakness and herd behaviour at its worst. It was obvious that if one man from the crowd had ran to rescue, the whole crowd would have followed. But there was not that one man. And for the absence of that one person, a lot of bad gets to happen in the world. No one interferes. Everyone wants someone else to take the first step. Many people would follow if there was a leader. Many people are not unsympathetic or uncaring, they are simply self-preserving and weak. They won’t risk the first step. And yet how terribly important are first steps.
I’m a self-preserving weakling too. But I try to improve and become more brave in voicing opinions that I think do not have majority support, that might result in me being ridiculed or socially shunned. This kind of bravery is within my abilities and among my goals for future self-development.
There is a thing called pluralistic ignorance. This means that people believe other’s have different ideas from their own, so they renounce their own ideas publicly and copy others to be socially accepted. Typical example is students believing other students enjoy drinking more than they actually do. And thus, the drinking student myth continues, it gets copied and exaggerated without end. Truth is, a lot of students aren’t as into drinking but due to thinking others are, they are peer pressured to adopt the drinking lifestyle as well and pretend they love it.
That is why it is important to have the courage to express one’s viewpoint. Contrary to our perception, more people may actually back us up than we think. Taking the first step is hard, but if more people took first steps against norms and ideologies they do not like, perhaps such norms no one really likes would go away in the end.
I have been reading on these subjects a little lately, considered it from the perspective of my own personal weakness and that film really fitted in with these kind of ideas. It gave me a very powerful image of how regrettable human cowardice is. I hope I find the strength to conquer my own. And my undying admiration for people who can step out of a passive crowd and challenge the dominant mindset. You are my heroes.