We need to talk (about how we talk) about movies: Part II
PHOTO COURTESY IMDB.COM
While Batman – The Dark Knight is still an excellent film, maturity the development of a more critical eye can force the viewer to re-examine former film favourites.
Last week, we posed the question ‘What is your favourite movie?’ Digging deeper into the seemingly simple question, we discovered that our ‘choices’ are influenced by multiple factors, including critics, groupthink, and our own insecurities. As with any opinion-based question, answering in a certain way can leave us open to judgment and labelling, as humans are hardwired to search for depth and meaning in the simplest of choices, and are looking to categorize people in any way they can. So, how do we avoid this problem and get more honest about our art?
Quite often, when people start a discussion about film with me, I notice how quickly it devolves into a ‘name game.’ How many directors/trivia/films can be named off in succession in order to ‘prove’ that they are knowledgeable enough to be having this conversation, and that their opinion should be listened to. You like Tarantino? Let me quote Pulp Fiction to prove I know what I’m talking about. You’re a Sci-Fi fan? Well, today is May the Fourth, only true Star Wars fans will know what I’m talking about! This discourse is not very useful for discovering why we like this content, but instead acts as a type of ‘gatekeeping’ in order to ‘protect’ the validity of the fandom. This type of practice was highlighted best in the recent ‘GamerGate’ campaign, which called out the more toxic attitudes of the gaming community that seemed more intent on creating a hierarchy of fans than acceptance of all gamers. While this practice may seem relatively harmless, what it does is entrench people in their opinions, and makes it harder to have actual discussions. These groups become factions, and are directly pandered to by the studios, creating a weaker, less creative product.
Another major issue of this factional approach to movies is that it blocks active criticism and re-evaluation of the work. If you asked me what my favourite movies were 15 years ago as a teenager, I would have probably mentioned Indiana Jones or The Dark Knight. These are still excellent films, but I would be remiss to say that they still hold up like they once did. I am finding it harder and harder over time to root for Indy and his practice of pilfering ancient artifacts and carelessly murdering Indigenous peoples. Likewise, it is hard to watch a Batman film today without picking up on the fascist undertones of a billionaire playboy spying on the people of Gotham, playing vigilante and creating his own brand of justice (on that note, I can’t help but think if Bruce Wayne really wanted to make a difference, he would simply buy his way into political office. Or, you know, he could just pay his taxes). Shielding beloved films from criticism is not protecting anything more than fan’s pride. While it is a little disappointing to re-evaluate things you loved, only to discover they don’t have the magic you once thought, it is much better than the alternative of thinking exactly the same way you did two decades ago.
So, what are we to do then? How do we have more meaningful conversations about things that we love and care for? Instead of asking the question ‘What is your favourite movie?’ why not ask ‘Why do you like your favourite movie?’ or ‘What message did you get from that film?’ instead. It is deeper, more meaningful, and creates a healthier conversation. Liking or disliking a certain movie doesn’t disqualify you from the conversation, nor does it make your input moot. Fandom is not just being able to recite quotes or getting the in-jokes and liking a certain film does not define you as a person. So instead of getting worked up when someone dislikes something you liked, why not try to talk it out instead? Whether it makes you like your film more or less, it will make you and the person you talked about it with have a better understanding of the film – and each other.