In Meaning at the Movies, Grant Horner explains:
Where does culture come from? Why have culture at all? The simplest formulation is that culture is the sum total of beliefs and practices distributed among various people groups throughout time. But it is more than just what we believe and what we do; it is also our whole framework for comprehending the world, for making sense, or trying to make sense, out of life.
Perhaps thirty centuries ago, Solomon decided to try to think his way through the meaning of life: And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. (Eccles. 1:13–14)
I believe culture is what we produce in our attempts to understand the world. It is what we believe and what we do to deal with the twin problems of meaninglessness and death. Humans were designed to have the total fulfillment and infinite pleasures of knowing an indescribably beautiful God while living in an unending state of intensely blissful perfection. Instead, we find ourselves frustrated and trapped in continual futility, while still retaining a sense that we are immortal and should be filled with peace and joy. This only furthers the frustration of our existence. Culture is the attempt to create a system that allows us to live in peace, in pleasure, and with a sense of meaning, a feeling of fulfillment.
And this is why movies are so powerful and so popular. They are the absolute center of modern culture. They attempt to explain us to ourselves. Culture is the web of ways we have of both looking at the world and living in the world. It is the collection of our conscious interactions with our world, our neighbors, and ourselves. We could say that culture is how we are programmed to interpret and understand the world and ourselves as part of that world. Narrative film—which has been part of human culture for a little more than a century now—is perhaps the richest aspect of human culture, for it shows us, in a form that seems to be quite universally accessible, what we are like.