I am known in my circle of friends as the geek with the film problem. I am also hard to converse with sometimes (I get in my moods). So when a friend gets tired of talking about their day and what they ate (I like my food conversations), they usually ask if I would recommend anything that I had watched recently. With the undeniable popularity of netflix, hulu and hbo go on my generation as a source of cheap entertainment, many people are constantly searching for a way to pick out a great movie from the sea of subpar streaming titles. With this surge in popularity, I am getting this question with an increasing regularity. But the rise of this question has also triggered a certain aversion to it by me. I am becoming weary of trying to convince someone that is normally pretty smart (or else I wouldn’t be hanging with them…) that they do not need to fear foreign films. Subtitles will not hurt you!
Subtitles were not designed to harm your precious little pupils. They are not there to make your small little brain hurt. They are there simply because it helps you to understand a film that was produced in a foreign country and in a foreign language. If you decide that subtitles are your mortal enemy, then you are easily cutting out half of the content the world makes in a given year. You are restricting yourself to Hollywood blockbusters, remakes and precious pseudo independent movies. You won’t be able to understand how Tarantino finds most of his influences. You won’t be able to hold your own in a conversation about the most horrific horror movies. And most importantly you won’t be able to comprehend the complicated history of the world around you. You live in a global society, whether or not you can accept that. China, India, France, Italy, and even South Africa’s decisions impact our economy and by extension your job, family and friends, more than you realize. If you were able to watch the films that came out of a particular foreign country, you might be able to understand why Japanese people aren’t having sex or why India still has one of the biggest population of poor people despite having a stronger influence on the world with each passing day. Even in a Bollywood or a kung fu picture, that country’s ideals, politics and structure are reflected in the flickering image on the screen.
An average American sees something like a 100,000 words a day. This is mostly done unconsciously. You are reading without realizing it. This is how subtitles work. It may take work at first, but eventually your brain will just comprehend the words and translate them to dialogue without any extra effort on your part. You will be able to see both the action and what a character is saying at the same time. You may have to pay a little bit more attention to the movie than the average Hollywood movie, but that is a good thing. I promise you will get more out of the watching ritual. And most importantly when Hollywood announces that they are going to remake The 400 Blows, you can righteously stand up and shout at the dumb Americans always wanting to destroy everything that is sacred to your well being. Oh and you can also recommend a foreign language film to a friend and rant to them about how stupid they are for rejecting your recommendation purely because it has subtitles. It feels really good, trust me.