Escapism has always been popular in literature and fiction, but our society seems to have a particular fixation on two forms of it.

The first is the “Other World” — where we live in the regular, boring world of day-to-day life, only to find that we are neighbors to a fantastical world, fraught with danger, adventure, wonder and awe. “Harry Potter,” “The Wizard of Oz,” parallel universe television shows like “Fringe,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Stardust,” “TRON,” “Peter Pan,” “Alice in Wonderland,” the Narnia series — they all focus on an ordinary person who always feels some indescribable pull to something mystical. They find that not only is the mystical world real, but it was just around the corner all along.

The second type of escapist literature/film popular today is the “Wake Up” sort, where characters travel to another world by way of some kind of awakening. This would include “The Matrix,” “Westworld,” “The Truman Show,” “Fight Club,”  “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” or “Vanilla Sky.” You could probably put “Inception” in this category, though ironically the characters “wake up” by going to sleep. These themes do not manifest physically in “American Beauty,” but they are still present.

Obviously these films overlap quite a bit when it comes to these themes.

Image: Warner Bros.

Sometimes film is a product of our culture. A movie about frustrating office drama might reflect the frustration shared by many who suffer through daily cubicle life. Conversely, sometimes film is a way to combat elements of our society that many are sick and tired of, like the stark rise of irreverent comedy in contrast to the rise in PC culture.

Where then, would these films fit? Perhaps as large swaths of America begins to become more and more comfortable, they settle into a monotony and comfort that ironically makes them uncomfortable at a deeper level. I mean, these films are fantasies, and the characters who live in them do not lead easy lives. They suffer incredible hardships and are forced to make impossible choices, and yet on some level, we envy them. We want to “wake up” and travel to another world where, despite the danger, heartbreak and tough choices, your decisions actually matter. On a grand scale.

Or maybe it’s not a product of modern society. After all, literature like this (at least theme-wise) has existed for a long time, despite their abrupt rise in popularity in the last few decades. Perhaps that is an eternal quality of human beings — to yearn for some kind of metaphysical or spiritual awakening. To feel as if we are able to transcend beyond the confines of our mundane lives and into something of true meaning. Maybe it’s an unattainable desire of the human condition, or maybe it’s a call for the human soul to awaken.

What do you think?