I rarely see feature films that contain extreme physical or emotional violence because of the powerful effect of that medium. Sitting in a dark room, sound bouncing off the four walls, visuals larger than life, and people on all sides of me in reaction -- no thank you. Those skillfully crafted images plant seeds in my unconscious that sprout unease and fear long after the lights go up in the theater. It can take days of uneasy sleep before the crash boom bang fades away, especially if torture is part of the thrilling plot.
However, I will watch a documentary on almost any subject, with no hangover except thoughtfulness. In the last three days I have seen one on cancer patients in hospice; a family of three grown daughters having Christmas with the father that raped and beat them daily; and for the final touch, one about prostitutes in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico who are more or less slaves although legally free.
My husband and adult children regularly ask me why I won't see a violent fictional movie but watch documentaries on some of the more awful things people can do to one another (including all the ones on genocide I have purveyed in the past year).
There is a difference between spending millions of dollars to imitate the worst of human nature, and documenting the troubles that actually exist on the human planet. I do refuse to watch documentaries on cruelty to animals and fish as it is too painful to watch the agony of slaughtered innocents (although it behooves meat/chicken/fish eaters to do the research and decide what food sources they want to support).
Admittedly, after the last three docs on the menu, I do feel psychically slimed by the death and debasement of the worlds into which I descended. But these are worlds that can be effected by change, and that is why I want to know about them.
While I sit in my enchanted garden alongside a loving husband and family, with enough money to buy food in any one of the 7 supermarkets within a few miles of my house, I wonder how reality can be so different for human beings living on the same planet.
Some call it karma, but personally, I can't take credit for the family I was born into, or the education that was afforded me, or the privilege of exposure to arts and culture. A common "spiritual" belief is that one chooses the family circumstance they are born into. With no conscious experience of that, I make no assumptions.
The world is full of sorrow and the world is full of equanimity, depending on where you enter this life form and how you navigate its turbulent waters. Everyday I think and think and think. How can the lucky ones make a difference?
For those of us not on the front lines of struggle, the most immediate form of justice that levels the playing field is the practice kindness and generosity.
As Pema Chodron recommends, "Start where you are."