Cinema: A Machine That Generates Empathy

Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert in 1970, donated by...
Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert in 1970, donated by Roger Ebert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”

Roger Ebert

Empathy vs. sympathy

Do you remember how old you were when you came to understand that there is a difference between empathy and sympathy? offers an illustrative explanation:

“Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ – compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally ‘feeling into’ – the ability to project one’s personality into another person and more fully understand that person. Sympathy derives from Latin and Greek words meaning ‘having a fellow feeling’. The term empathy originated in psychology (translation of a German term, c. 1903) and has now come to mean the ability to imagine or project oneself into another person’s position and experience all the sensations involved in that position. You feel empathy when you’ve “been there,” and sympathy when you haven’t. Examples: We felt sympathy for the team members who tried hard but were not appreciated. / We felt empathy for children with asthma because their parents won’t remove pets from the household.”

Today’s post will be post number 501! Our blog went live on June 24, 2008, and over the course of these six years we have addressed the subject of empathy 11 times.

So why all this talk today about empathy?

Life Itself opens nationwide this weekend…

You may remember that last year when award winning author, journalist and film critic Roger Ebert died we wrote about his life, his journey, and how he celebrated every aspect of his life including the road he traveled as a recovering alcoholic.  We also talked about his last book “Life Itself.”

So this weekend why not check out the documentary “Life Itself” directed by Steve James? Not surprisingly it is receiving great reviews. For example:

  • Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says, “Don’t miss it.’
  • Walter Addiego from the San Francisco Chronicle says: “It’s fascinating stuff…”
  • Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Report: “James has done a wonderful job of telling a colorful life story.”
  • James Berardinelli from ReelViews says: “This is a uniquely powerful motion picture, the kind of open and honest portrayal I can’t ever recall having seen about a celebrity.”
  • Geoffrey O’Brien from The New York Times says: “‘Life Itself’ is a work of deftness and delicacy, by turns a film about illness and death, about writing, about cinema and, finally, and very movingly a film about love.”
  • Whitney Matheson from USA Today says:”Savor the bliss, learn from the pain.”

Magnolia Pictures “Life Itself” – Official Trailer

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

As you get ready for this summer weekend, think about taking a break and seeing life itself. As Mr. Ebert says so beautifully about cinema, “a machine that generates empathy…it lets you understand hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears…”

There is a good chance you will give this film “two thumbs up!”

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