Movies Change Lives

Pedagogy of Constructive Humanistic Transformation Through Cinema

by Tony Kashani (Author)
©2016 Textbook XII, 144 Pages
Series: Minding the Media, Volume 14


Movies Change Lives is a rigorous interdisciplinary examination of cinema as a vehicle for personal and social transformation. Interdisciplinary scholar Tony Kashani builds a theory of humanistic transformation by discussing many movies while engaging the works of philosopher/psychologist Erich Fromm, cultural studies theorist Stuart Hall, critical pedagogy theorist Henry Giroux, political philosopher Hannah Arendt, the great French thinker Edgar Morin, the pioneering psychologist Carl Jung, the co-founder of string theory, physicist Michio Kaku, and Frankfurt School philosopher Jürgen Habermas, among others. The book argues that in the globalized world of the twenty-first century, humanity is in dire need of personal and social transformation. Movies have universal appeal and can deeply affect their audiences in a short time. Coupled with critical pedagogy, they can become tools of personal and social transformation. Movies Change Lives is an ideal text for graduate and upper-division undergraduate courses on film (cinema) and society, visual culture, consciousness studies, transformative studies, media and social change, advanced personal and social psychology, and political philosophy.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. The Need for Humanistic Change
  • The New Global Condition and Role of Cinema
  • The Challenges
  • Chapter 1. Pertinent Theories
  • Is Cinema Art?
  • Reality and Cinema
  • In Search of a Transformative Cinema
  • The Transformative Potential of The 400 Blows
  • Film Noir
  • The Search Continues
  • Documentary Cinema
  • Dissident Cinema
  • Romantic Comedy
  • When We Encounter Movies
  • The Question of Culture
  • Cinema and Reason
  • Chapter 2. Cinema as Pedagogy for Constructive Humanistic Transformation
  • Pragmatism, Reality, and Education
  • Multiple Intelligences
  • Cinema of Good Faith versus Cinema of Bad Faith
  • Non-interpretative versus Interpretative Readings
  • Content-Only Cinema of 1970s America
  • Transformation for Social Justice
  • Chapter 3. Ten Movies
  • Mississippi Masala
  • Syriana
  • The Runner (Davandeh)
  • The Truman Show
  • The Matrix
  • Match Point
  • Paradise Now
  • Doubt
  • Her
  • A Separation
  • Appendix 300: Proto-fascism and Manufacturing of Complicity
  • References
  • Series index

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Kurt Vonnegut once said famously, “As a species we are not fit to be on this planet.” To be sure, he was being provocative, pessimistic, or even cynical. But there is insight in that claim. Could it be that the majority of us have not yet acquired the level of development to use rationality in a constructive manner and evolve to a higher place? How underdeveloped is humanity? Can humanistic transformations take place on a massive scale? While we have made great advances in science and technology, humanism has suffered mightily. We seem to be more isolated from each other than centuries before, yet we are more connected in the virtual world. In fact it is a truism to say, “The world is much smaller now.” But are we better off as a species? Are isms, like capitalism and individualism, making our collective human society better for all or at least the majority of humans? Given the dominance of neoliberalism around the globe, the collective evidence reveals that the status quo does not suffice. From my vantage point, the human society has to undergo a transformation, one that brings about democracy, cosmopolitanism, egalitarianism, and harmony with nature. There are various humanistic entities that can assist humanity in this process.

I have been exploring for quite some time, through my studying, teaching, and writing, whether cinema, as a humanistic medium of communication, ← ix | x → could be a vehicle for such transformation. It is no exaggeration to claim that mass-produced moving images fill our everyday world and our innermost lives. I am convinced that cinema (movies) is the most powerful form of such moving images. Cinema, along with other image-saturated media, shapes our private thoughts and public minds. Within the past 120 years, one can argue, cinema has transformed the way we see and understand the world. The visual language has indeed taken center stage in our collective consciousness.

With its universal language, cinema can help us respect our differences while sharing common values, goals, and aspirations. Ultimately, humanity must move away from using the logic of the marketplace as the logic of common sense, embrace planetary thinking, and understand complexity to build a global society with vitality and cultural richness. In this book I argue inductively that cinema (movies) can indeed be an agent to usher in such transformation. In short, movies change lives. This can happen in the United States and it can happen in other societies as well, given the ways in which cinema is teaching people how to govern their individual and societal ethics. I argue that cinema is a major player in determining the terms of our social contract. And according to social contract theory (Kashani, 2013; Rachels, 2003), our moral obligations begin and end with the rules of the contract that members of our civil society have agreed upon. Can movies show us ways to think deeply into notions of freedom and justice? Can movies change lives?

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It seems to me the universe has conspired to put me in the company of many remarkable men and women. Indeed, their intelligent ideas and moral energy have given my work much sustenance. And I mean that. I wish to thank Shirley R. Steinberg for believing in my work and giving me the opportunity to contribute to the invaluable Minding the Media series. I am immensely grateful to Henry A. Giroux. His intellectual guidance, generosity, and commitment to social justice have no comparison. I want to thank David Ingram for patiently reviewing the manuscript and endorsing my work. The great Toby Miller made time, read, and offered words of praise. Allan Combs too carved time from his demanding schedule and wrote a review. I am forever grateful to these towering figures of intellect and humanistic integrity to have considered my work worthy of their consideration.

I want to thank my loving wife and partner Aida Dargahi, an outstanding filmmaker, photographer and an academic in her own right, for always believing in me and offering her love and support. My brother Ali Kashani, a philosopher of the highest caliber, who has taught me the ways of wisdom, deserves special thanks. I thank my father Reza Kashani for always believing in me. My colleagues and dearest friends Wendy Ostroff and Margaret Anderson gave ← xi | xii → me many insights through our long conversations about transformative movies, and I am grateful to them.

I also want to thank Chris Myers and Sophie Appel at Peter Lang for their outstanding ethics and professional help. Last but not least, I want to thank my mother Shirin whose unconditional love and excellent teachings have given me the strength I need to want to help make this world a better place.

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The Need for Humanistic Change

In 1996 Dolly, a sheep that was cloned from an adult cell, was born. This historical scientific achievement gave birth to a myriad of ethical debates on a global scale, which continue to this day. Reflective people around the world are asking a not-so-science-fictional question: What if we lived in a society in which the government mandated parents to select their best genes to produce their children? If those children happened to have the genes to have the best positions in society, then they would be the members of the ruling class. For others, they would be assigned to various service jobs and have lower socioeconomic status. This, in effect, would produce a sort of biological caste system.


XII, 144
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Henry Giroux Arendt Banality of Evil Cinema
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XII, 144 pp.

Biographical notes

Tony Kashani (Author)

Tony Kashani (PhD, California Institute of Integral Studies) teaches interdisciplinary studies courses at Southern New Hampshire University. His previous books include Deconstructing the Mystique: An Interdisciplinary Introduction to Cinema (2009) and Lost in Media: The Ethics of Everyday Life (Peter Lang, 2013).


Title: Movies Change Lives