Les MisÚrables; Django Unchained; Jack Reacher; This is 40; 2012 at the Movies
The Death of the Opinion
by Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison
There's an old expression we like to throw around that goes "opinions are like arseholes, everyone's got one and they all stink." Clint Eastwood said it in a movie once, so it must be true, right? Well, over the past year I've become increasingly convinced that maybe it isn't. Maybe opinions aren't much like arseholes at all? Maybe not everyone does have one and maybe, just maybe, they don't stink at all? Maybe actual opinions have become rare and valuable things? Bear with me.
There are other expressions thrown around with much greater regularity these days. Phrases like "turn off your brain" echo with reassurance wherever film discussion lurks its head. It's okay, you don't have to think about things, just absorb them and join the singularity. Enter the hype machine and watch The Avengers. And God forbid anyone ever defy the hype machine. I wrote a few controversial reviews this year, some negative, some positive, all recieved a certain amount of backlash. What was strange about it was that most of the backlash in these cases stemmed from my suggestion that these films meant something, that they were artistic statements. The Avengers is a prime example. I felt that the film held some distaste for its own audience, that it suggested the superhero fantasy carried so much baggage with it that it was self-destructive and that having a character embody America meant that addressing him was addressing its American audience. This was met with haughty guffaws from the film's fans. Their alternate reading was an interesting one: The Avengers means nothing, it has nothing to say, it is not art, but it is also somehow a masterpiece.
This is what they'll show you, as some kind of badge of merit: the Tomatometer. See? Turns out I was wrong the whole time. The Avengers is damn near perfect! Fans of The Avengers don't need to form an opinion when they have this recorded statistical fact right at their fingertips. They call this "democratisation." The votes are in, this film is objectively good and now nobody needs to think about it. So, let's look at the other end of the spectrum.
What a terrible film! I know it's bad, I checked the figures. How can a film called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter possibly be good? It's an absurd premise. I'll take superheros fighting space aliens over this any day of the week. A film about a historical figure fighting vampires is just silly by comparison.
Of course, if you were to ask me, I'd say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was easily one of the best films of the year. It went beyond self-awareness and into a genuinely sincere examination into how myths are born. Compare this film to the story of St. George and the dragon and you'll see it's cut from the exact same cloth. These towering historical figures would once have become the figures of legend, but now the lessons to be gained from their deeds get lost in the mess of historical facts and personal asides. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a modern fable and a beautifully constructed one at that.
Wow, another stinker. But, of course; how can a film based on a boardgame be anything but? Battleship has appeared on worst of the year lists all over the internet. Why? Battleship, to me, had an honesty you don't often find in Summer blockbusters, as well as a very strong thematic idea at its core; that everything is a blind shot with only a hit or miss outcome and you can only learn and grow by continuing to shoot. You know, like in that boardgame "Battleship." The film actually dares to suggest that you should put down your Xbox controller and play one of your grandfather's games where you might learn a lesson in humility. Battleship felt like an easy target, so to speak, for critics and audiences alike in that it was much easier for them all to say that Battleship had sunk than it was to give it a chance and form an opinion.
The point I'm trying to make here is that nobody seems to put any value on real opinions anymore. Even a great deal of film critics are often lured into the trap of dismissing anything they consider to be beneath them, like films with absurd titles or films based on boardgames. I fear that this idea of "democratisation" is largely to blame. Stop looking for validation from some arbitrary numbers, stop declaring unpopular films you like as "guilty pleasures" and start thinking for yourself. Don't say that films are not art, just so you have an excuse to not think. All films are art. Art is communication. Communication leads to dialogue and understanding, so start responding, you'll be happier for it.