Forget blockbusters, start watching independent movies

Alex Silber

By Jesse Rider

According to author and journalist Alexandra Robbins, Whitman students really are overachievers; she even wrote a best-selling book about it. Whitman students tend to carry this reputation inside the classroom, but when it comes to the movie theater, the reality is the opposite.

Whenever teenagers decide which movie to see, we typically just pick whatever’s most popular — and whatever requires the least amount of thought. According to an informal Black & White survey of 69 students, over half of Whitman students choose to see exclusively blockbusters and popular movies, meaning they rarely experience what less popular movies have to offer. I’m guilty of this, too: last summer, instead of seeing The Farewell or Peanut Butter Falcon, I saw Good Boys and Hobbs and Shaw.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this mindset, but the world of movies has so much more to offer. Rather than watching purely for entertainment, students can watch movies to engage with different perspectives and challenge themselves intellectually.

Most blockbuster movies follow the same basic structure: the protagonist has a goal, the antagonist gets in the way of the goal and in the end, the protagonist defeats the antagonist and achieves their goal. Obviously, these movies are popular for a reason: they’re super entertaining. But they’re also repetitive.

Nobody walks into Home Alone thinking about the profound message it carries. Instead, teenagers have become accustomed to watching movies solely for entertainment.

This is what makes smaller movies powerful. Since smaller movies are usually self-produced before being sold to a larger production company, directors and writers typically have more creative freedom to work. This gives them a chance to really speak to their audience and create something unique.

A great example is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino used his own money to make the film before selling it to PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. The movie became an instant classic because of its extreme violence and unique dialogue, which audiences had not seen in a movie before. Because of Tarantino’s out-of-the-box thinking, Reservoir Dogs caused a surge in independent film-making that lasted throughout the nineties.

When a studio takes too much control over a movie, the result is almost never as good as when the director or writer has more freedom. 20th Century Fox made many plot and structural changes to the most recent X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix, going as far as to reshoot the entire climax; they changed the location from space to a train. Dark Phoenix was a box office flop, and one of the worst-reviewed X-Men movies.

Beyond providing original elements and having generally more creative plotlines than blockbusters, smaller movies also commonly reflect cultural values and tackle the issues of their time period. That’s why they speak to our generation so well. Eighth Grade, Edge of Seventeen and Booksmart are some examples of this; they’re touching, current and relatable.

While good smaller movies can require more effort to find, they’re well worth it. Try checking out Complex’s list of indie movies to see “before you die.” The list has an exceptional mix of classics as well as some lesser-known films. For a more local and collaborative experience, senior Nick Cook has started a world cinema club at Whitman where he shows a movie from a different country every month. The internet can also be your best friend when looking for a new movie! There’s such a wealth of underrated, overlooked movies out there, and all it takes is a google search to uncover them.

Take the risk. Smaller movies offer groundbreaking directorial choices and audience connections that blockbusters often don’t emulate. Indie films give us the opportunity to be more than entertained; they challenge us and make us think. And that’s something we can’t always get from seeing the first blockbuster of the summer.