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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Can You Love a Movie You Don't Understand?

I remember asking this very question on Twitter last year, when the conversation surrounding Paul Thomas Anderson's "confounding" INHERENT VICE was at its peak. All I kept hearing was "what a great movie!" and "PTA does it again!" Um, excuse me, does what again exactly? Can you really follow this adulation with "I don't really understand [the movie], but I love it?" Is this love for the film more a fascination with the idea of it than a sincere admiration for the work? Are folks just saying they love it because it's the popular thing to do?

One thing was clear for after I recently saw the film: I am just not a Paul Thomas Anderson fan.

And I never have been. But for some reason I continue to try to put myself through his films (not all of them, but enough of them), and arrive at the same sentiment. I can just never bring myself to care about them, and he never seems to have a perspective. He's not a moment-capturer, but more of a tone-capturer (particularly for INHERENT VICE, which was basically a limp acid trip from the 70s). If there was something impressive about portraying a mood, jaggedly, maybe that's what Anderson is going after. That's his, er, shtick I guess. Whatever, he can keep it. He, and his legions of fans who have (from what I have been able to gather) all agreed that they have no idea what his latest film is about but have given him all the props in the world. Come on, guys. Do better.

I know there are quite a few Anderson naysayers like myself out there (many are now in the Witness Protection Program). We're often confused for people who "just don't get it." Oh please, trust me, we get it. We just don't care about it. I'm (not) sorry if you love to discuss movies that you say are profound but actually say nothing at all. Please, feel free to bask in the pretentious world of PTA, who seems to be able to attract some of the finest actors of our generation (Joaquin Phoenix, never change) but reduces them to mere cartoon characters (and not the good kind). Seriously, it grates on my last nerves.

If I'm going fawn over a puzzling film, I'd rather it be something like Inception or The Matrix, movies that entertain me but also provoke so much thought and analysis that I can't take my mind off it. I want to talk to everyone about it. Those are the movies that are worthwhile, the ones that remind me why I even write about movies. We're not all going to have the same taste in film; some people get certain things from certain films that I don't (and vice versa). But hey, I expect you to at least come up with a better response to it than "It was great, but I don't know what was going on in it." Isn't that called wasting your own time?


Ashlee Blackwell said...

I like to think I'm pretty good at giving some context to even the most vaguest of films but some really don't pass muster (Mulholland Drive is one).

I don't think I've ever seen a Paul Thomas Anderson film. In my very sophmoric summation, the trailers have always looked "douchey".

But as far as movies I "just don't get" that everyone enjoys: It Follows. So I understand fully what you're saying, and appreciate you giving a filmmaker a shot at another one of his films regardless of your lack of fandom.

Being re-affirmed is an odd thing sometimes...

Rebecca Sharp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca said...

I totally get what you're saying and I feel it too with this exact film!! I was the one going around saying "I want to like it, because I love Joaquin Phoenix and I tend to like films like this... But can't, I can't say that I like it" because I didn't! I thought I was just being pretty stupid that I didn't get it because... I thought maybe that was the point? In the way that the music used was actually a few years later than the time the film was set, but it sounded like it was supposed to be from the time, that kind of mind trip... That's the conclusion I came to anyway and it ain't gonna get much better than that!

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen Inherent Vice yet, so I can't comment on that particular film, but I can say that I have loved some films I didn't fully understand if they were films that I could assert my own understanding into. Some films carry a vagueness of plot that allows you to find your own kernel of truth within it, to find something to latch onto that may not be the directors intention and yet is something you can draw from it without actually understanding it as it was intended, if that makes sense.

And then some films are just plain stupid.

Brittani Burnham said...

This is a really good question. I haven't seen Inherent Vice yet, so I can't vouch for that. I can't quite think of a film I love that I don't understand. I've seen plenty of films I've enjoyed, despite wtf'ing all the way through them. (Like Kaboom) Maybe Persona. I'm not sure if I'm understanding that film properly, but it was excellent.

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