Monday, July 14, 2008

Critical Flaw

A friend of mine and I saw "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" on Friday. Before I get into the meat of this post -- which is not, as you might expect, a review of "Hellboy II" -- I'll just say I enjoyed the movie, laughed at the funny parts, thrilled to the action, and sat in awe of the imagery and graphic design. I felt my eleven bucks was well-spent (we went to the Arclight, which is more expensive than some theaters locally, but has, in my opinion, a better film-going experience, tra la la).

Then we ran into another friend as we were leaving the movie, and the first words out of his mouth -- I'm not kidding, here -- were, "What a load of crap."

Now. Watching a movie is a subjective experience. It's an interaction between you and the filmmaker. He/she creates and presents, you absorb and respond. What you absorb and how you respond depends on your expectations, your attitude toward the filmmaker and the genre he or she is working in, the screenwriter's ability to construct a script, the technical competence of the production crew, the performance of the actors, and the director and/or producer's skill in managing it all. Every aspect of this experience -- from the production, to your observation of the results -- is dependent upon a subjective appraisal. There is no absolute, concrete reality, no definitive, absolute consensus. Every movie, no matter how good or how bad it's judged to be by the film-watching population at large, offers ample opportunity for dissenting views. There are people who think "Lawrence of Arabia" is overblown, colonialist bull-hockey. There are others who think "Plan Nine From Outer Space" is the finest American film since "Citizen Kane."

The French love Jerry Lewis.

But when you leave a film, and run into friends, and the first words out of your mouth are, "What a load of crap," you are not presenting your opinion as a personal, subjective appraisal of the moment, but as the definitive, absolute, real-world summation of an undeniable objective reality.

You're forestalling any honest discussion because you're defining the entire experience in objective terms. "What a load of crap" could just as easily have been "God could have made this movie, it's perfect." In effect you're stating that anyone who doesn't agree with your summation is literally out of touch with objective reality.

It's obnoxious.

It ain't film criticism.

It isn't even a statement of honest opinion. (A more honest statement would have been, "I didn't really enjoy that much," or, "I was disappointed," or "I don't like movies that bombard you with visual imagery," or some other comment that accepts the idea that what you're asserting is your own personal view, and doesn't invalidate the views of anybody else.)

After that opening salvo there wasn't much to say. I could choose to agree with his opinion, or I could engage in a fruitless debate asserting my personal view as objective reality. I couldn't really discuss my experience of the film.

There was a time in my life when I would've jumped on that "debate" and done my best to tear down this friend's view of reality.

These days, I'd rather just admit I was disappointed by his reaction.

But that's my opinion.


Andrew Wickliffe said...

Come on... no one thinks PLAN 9 is actually good, do they?

As for HELLBOY 2... what a piece of... well, you know.

James Meeley said...


I know exactly what you mean. But this isn't just movies that are that way.

People's opinions on everything from comics, to politics, to humanity itself is judged in much the same way by many people, in absolutist terms, that anyone disagreeing with is a fool (or worse).

And nowhere more is that evident that on the Internet. With the cover of anonymity (although, that cover isn't as impregnable as it used to be, despite what some people like to think), they fire off their bile-fueled comments. Safe in the knowledge that if someone disagrees, or even atempts to, as you put it, "asserting your personal view as objective reality," they can level on them a flame-fest of insults and ad hominem attacks, with the target of it able to do little, or nothing, to stop them.

I have felt for some time, the Internet has tapped into something dark and disgusting in many people's nature, which they tend to try to control in reality, for fear of the consequences such actions and words would bring (like a good punch to the mouth, for one). But online, able to hide who and where they are, that fear is lifted and the darkness within can roam free and unchecked.

Of course, it is even spreading to the real world, in ways like you shown in your story here. It is only a matter of time before the false bravado online seeps into real life for these kinds of people and all the walls of conscience, courtesy and simple personal respect are all but washed away in a sea of vitriolic venom.

I share in your disappointment of the human condition and attitudes that prevail today. I only wish a solution was forthcoming. Sadly, it is not.

Unknown said...

Funny, I ran into the exact conversation about the same film, except that when I said I enjoyed it, the guy who hated it accused me of having down syndrome.

I think a big part of those “critical” conversations is that everyone assumes they have great taste. If they like or dislike something, then it must be the right way to feel about the work, because they’d never enjoy a bad movie. Their taste is infallible.