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The importance of storytelling: Finding the emotional truth in fiction

By Britton Perelman, Managing Editor

We walk up to the theater and take our place in the short line. We may already know what we're here to see, but we look at the other titles and times listed anyway.

"I can help whoever's next down here," calls the newly free employee. She's gesturing to us and we hurriedly step up to her window. We duck down to speak through the glass and tell her which movie we'd like to see.

She smiles and taps a few times on her computer screen. We hand over a plastic credit card in exchange for two hours of our night. The employee says, "Enjoy the show," and hands us our tickets.

We grab a small popcorn and drink and head into the theater. Another employee rips our tickets along the jagged line and points to the left. "Theater 10's down there and to your right."

As we walk into the dark theater, we scout out a pair of seats and, since it's not too crowded, we get the perfect ones - a few rows up, eye-level with the middle of the screen. We settle in just as the previews start. We quietly decide which we'll be seeing in a few short months and which simply look dumb.

And, finally, the lights dim, everything else fades away and our movie starts.

By the time the title appears on the screen, we've forgotten how our friends scoffed at our choice in film before we left. We've forgotten about the exams we should be studying for, the fight we had with our significant other last night, the pile of dishes in the sink and the long to-do list of other things we should be doing.

Film critic Roger Ebert once wrote, "The movies probably inspire more critical nonsense than any other art form, and they are also probably written about with more ignorance."

It's so easy to dismiss movies as trivial, just another form of mindless entertainment produced to please the masses. It's easy to claim there's nothing significant in watching a work of fiction.

In fact, just the opposite is true.

The entertainment industry is in the business of stories. Like everything else, it's a business, but it's one of the biggest and most important businesses in the world.

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Movies are successful because they're important. Because they fill a need. Because they matter to people.

"We all love stories. We're born for them," said Pixar filmmaker Andrew Stanton during his TED talk in 2014. "Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmation that our lives have meaning, and nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories."

Truth has a slippery definition. Most people confuse it with the "facts," when, in reality, the simple definition of truth is "things that are true."

For so many, the words "movie" and "story" have come to mean "fiction." But what we forget is that "fiction" does not mean "false."

It was Elie Weisel who said, "Some stories are true that never happened."

The stories we watch on the big screens might be works of fiction themselves, but there's something at their cores that is universal - emotional truth.

The films that move us do so because something in them is real and human and true.

For me, it's the joy in the moment when Pat and Tiffany hear how they did in the dance competition in "Silver Linings Playbook." It's the bittersweet way Rick says goodbye to Ilsa at the airport in "Casablanca."

It's Tim and Mary's quirky, disastrous wedding in "About Time" and the light bulb that turns on for us when Gil realizes what century he's meant to live in during "Midnight in Paris." And when Walter Mitty finally finds the photographer he's been searching for in the mountains, yeah, it's that, too.

It's that montage of wins in "Moneyball" and that final shot in "Inception" - you know the one I'm talking about.

In "The Way Way Back," it's how we cheer when Duncan gets out of the car, and how we laugh during "The Kings of Summer" as the boys figure out how to live in the woods.

It's the sobs we choke back when the sound fades and the music takes over as Ma and Jack are reunited after their escape in "Room," and our uncontrollable smiles when Eilis and Tony start dating in "Brooklyn."

I don't know which movies - which stories - speak to you, but they're important.

Storytelling matters. It's what brings us together, gives our lives meaning and makes us human.

What could possibly be more truthful than that?