Friday Fun: Cinema shows the power of sustainable transport
Cinema has the power to influence our perceptions on sustainable transport, and confront us with tough questions about the future of urban transport. Photo by Tama Leaver/Flickr.

Cinema has the power to influence our perceptions on sustainable transport and confront us with tough questions about the future of urban development. Photo by Tama Leaver/Flickr.

Movies have the power to shape our perceptions of love, of adventure, and of growing up. More subtly, movies also have the ability to shape our perceptions of small things, like how we interpret different cities, clothing brands, and even transport – who uses transport, how they use it, and why. All of these different social norms can be expressed in just a few scenes. Here are some of TheCityFix’s favorite movies that show the power of sustainable transport to help our heroes, whether its bikes that help Dave overcome social divides in Breaking Away, the train in Last Train Home that stands as the last link to family for the Zhangs, or Forrest’s run across the country in Forrest Gump that challenges the mobility limits doctors once set for him.

Breaking Away (1979)

Dennis Christopher stars as Dave, a high-school graduate who grew up in a working-class community. Yet Dave idolizes the Italian racing team so much that he speaks and acts Italian even though he lives in the middle of Indiana. One day, as Dave is biking he encounters a girl named Katherine from the University of Indiana, the university on the other side of town. The two develop a connection, but only because Dave pretends to be Enrico Gismondi, an Italian exchange student. This is a movie that revolves around Dave’s personal self-growth, but it is also a movie that confronts class divisions – and the role of sustainable transport to cross the divide between them.  Cycling plays a pivotal role in lending credence to Dave’s deception long enough to win Katherine’s heart, and prove to the world what he is capable of, no matter his past.

Cycling also has the ability to help bridge social divides outside of movies. Bikes can give all demographics the opportunity for low-cost, sustainable mobility and wider access to economic opportunities.

Mode of Transport: Bicycle

Setting: Bloomington, Indiana

Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✭

Last Train Home (2010)

The opening scene of this movie shows an astonishing mass of people squeezing onto a train at a Guangzhou, China train station. Though packed in tightly – some are hanging head or hands out the window – somehow a few more manage to still make it on. This film depicts the exodus of 130 million migrant workers from China’s cities that are often only able to afford to go home once a year for the New Year. The award-winning documentary focuses on the Zhang couple, who struggle to make a living in a factory while feeding their two children and parents they left in their rural hometown. The train is a symbol for the Zhangs of the thin connection between the world of family and their rural past, and their unknowable urban future. They might be able to bring their children a better life, or they might become one of the many millions of China’s “floating population” of rural migrants.

The film also looks outward from the Zhang family’s personal story to the wider phenomenon of how China might be able to develop its cities in a way that can give housing and jobs to these migrant populations. The movie ultimately raises far more questions than it answers of how the country can supply its poor with an affordable means to go home, or how to house their families in the city, so that the quest for economic opportunity does not need to result in millions of fractured families.

Mode of Transport: Train

Setting: China

Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✫

Forrest Gump (1994)

When Forrest Gump was young, he was diagnosed with a crooked spine and was told that he would never walk without unwieldy metal leg braces. Yet Forrest does learn to walk on his own. Even more than that, he runs – all the way across the United States. His run is a symbol of his personal perseverance over adversity. But Forrest’s journey slowly becomes more than a story of his own personal perseverance as he develops a following of other runners. Some people run with Forrest to rebel against the political system; others run to find themselves.

Even if you don’t have a logical reason for running, the simple act of sustained motion has it own benefits, from weight loss, to lower stress levels, to a healthier heart. If this isn’t enough to entice you to run from one ocean to the other, running can also be a sustainable, healthy way to commute to work.

Mode of Transport: Running

Setting: U.S.

Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✭

Whether you are watching a movie this weekend with a magic flying carpet, hover-car racing, or a daring fight-scene on top of a moving train, take a moment to think about how the mobility modes in movies influence what transport you take, and what you think about it!

Editor’s note: All of the movies mentioned above are available to watch on Netflix.

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