[19 July 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Apparently, I am easy to please. Soaked in the slop of a continuing line of mainstream movie muck, I will jump at any above average mediocrity and call it a “masterpiece”. I’ve drunk the Dark Knight Kool-aid, worship unabashedly at the altar of Memento and its muse, and fail to recognize a naked cinematic emperor when he struts naked and exposed right in front of my fawning eyes. From my outright championing of The Prestige as 2006’s Best film to the relentless conviction over Inception‘s creative brilliance, I am a dope. A dunderhead. An aesthetically challenged part of geek nation whose fanboy love of all things Nolan clouds my already questionable online critical judgment.
Watching the Inception debate unfold over the last few days, a few givens must be mentioned. First, there are some in the world wide webisphere who’ve never gotten over the impact of Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman mythology. For them, everything since Heath Ledger sputtered his way to a posthumous Oscar is an apple of artistic gold (for the record, I am not one of them). So challenge said position at your own flame war risk. Secondly, something like Inception was bound to draw sharp, “love it or hate it” criticism. It is a film that fails to lend itself to an anchored middle ground. Finally, the actual published opinions of those on both sides seem stuck in an “us vs. them” mentality, a weird protracted positioning that allows little leeway for contrary or complex arguments.
Right up front, it seems fair to add some personal history. I have been writing online film and DVD reviews for more than eight years. Over the course of this “career”, I have tackled more than 3000 motion pictures - from big screen blockbusters and small indie efforts to the flotsam and jetsam that the often dire direct to home video has to offer. During this time, I became a member of the Online Film Critics Society, The Florida Film Critics Circle, and the Southeastern Film Critics Association (I mention this only to distance myself from the perception that I remain a basement dwelling “blogger”). Granted, none of this makes me any better than anyone else (and it DOESN’T, so call down), but it does establish a benchmark from which I draw my opinions. They may not be an more learned or accurate than others, but they definitely come from a world of expanded cinematic knowledge - and a group acknowledgment of same.
This being the case, the anti-Inception argument that most readily applies to me is one I’ll call “the Nu-De-sensitivity”, reminiscent of the decades old clash between too much violence/sex/scares and one’s eventual acceptance of same as simply normal. To listen to the Inception bashers, my love of the latest Christopher Nolan film has nothing to do with its accomplishments. It also has little to do with my actual feelings. Instead, I am de-sensitized to what is good and what is bad. Because I sit in darkened theaters on a weekly basis and suffer through sludge like All About Steve, Furry Vengeance, The Mark Pease Experience and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I no longer know the difference between what I think it good and what is actually good. Put another way, my bar has been browbeaten so low and limp that I will jump at anything that barely crosses it.
Now, instead of dismissing this blanket rejection of my opinion as rubbish, I will embrace at least the initial sentiment. You can’t sit through hundreds of hackjob entertainments every year and not become at least a little jaded. You can’t see the continued success of Shawn Levy or Brett Ratner and not feel a bit depressed for your own creative icons (right, David Lynch?). So there is some truth - some MINOR truth - to the notion that anything remotely approaches quality will resonate more profoundly than the same old commercial crap. But does this also mean I can’t parse the fool me once forest for the terrific trees? Is my genuine reaction to Inception really just a byproduct of snake belly low expectations and not a true love of the film? I find that very hard to believe.
After all, I have been known to honestly love/hate things that many in the mainstream think tank believe are bad/good. I gave positive reviews to the Friday the 13th/A Nightmare on Elm Street/Halloween remakes while “hating” on award season savants like The Reader, Precious, and The Savages. I fall for the standard popcorn entertainment (The A-Team) just as easily as I embrace the unusual approach of someone like the Godard of the Trailer Park aesthetic of actor turned filmmaker (turned full time musician?) Giuseppe Andrews. I don’t pimp for studios or stars, don’t let my outright dislike of certain actors and filmmakers fog my final judgment. In fact, if I really hate a certain member of a cast or crew, I will simply avoid the film all together (you’re safe for now, Sex and the City 2). Even elements like deadlines, screening location, or prior praise/dismissal plays little into my final evaluation.
This may sound defensive as Hell…and it’s meant to be. With the print media gasping for air and the nu-media marginalizing anyone without a so-called “legitimate” forum, an online writer like myself is constantly grouped with the most fevered, obsessive outsider. My words can be positioned along with Roger Ebert’s and Owen Gleiberman’s on Yahoo Movies (example), my views spread across the vast international spaces of popular culture, and I’m still a nerd who doesn’t know his place. In fact, as part of their panning of Inception, many in the same occupational position - that is, writing primarily for Internet outlets - are using such credentials as a negative. Logically, that should discount them as well, right?
But beyond all the sniping and snark, beyond the who’s right and who’s illiterate, there is a specific given - people are entitled to their opinion (or as Uncle Harlan once said, their “learned” opinion). I do not discount those who hate Inception, because I understand why they would. It’s obvious in every frame of the film, from its mindf*ck narrative mechanics to its frequently cold emotional center. I bought into it, but you didn’t - nor did you have to. We all bring our own personal bias and beliefs to the theater when we walk in, and if you love dopey spectacle (as I do), something like Roland Emmerich’s 2012 will satisfy more than it will support serious consideration. Let’s face it - we like what we like. Some enjoy chocolate while others do vanilla and nothing else. Just because you have a forum to foster said mania doesn’t mean you’re correct and everyone else is cracked. It’s just ideas, and there should always be a thriving marketplace of them.
Granted, I am just as guilty as the next of taking my views to outlandish lengths. Just a few weeks ago, I turned my dislike of all things Twilight into a five part SE&L pissing match between Team Edward/Jacob and Team Reality - and guess what? In the end, I actually ‘liked’ Eclipse...a little. Begrudgingly. Unbelievably. When people ask me what my favorite film of all time is, the response almost always gets a puzzled, perplexed look. Unfortunately, I adore 2001: A Space Odyssey and will go to my grave defending its brilliance. It speaks to me in a way no other film does - not even the supposed “classics” like Citizen Kane or The Rules of the Game (numbers two and seven on my top ten list, by the way). Inception did something similar, but not seminal. It will take time and further consideration before it enters such a state, if at all.
In a medium of majority rules, being on the outside looking in is always difficult. Unless you make your name playing contrarian, you have to deal with defending yourself. Hurling accusations at the ones winning in the court of public opinion is a poor strategy at best. I can’t same I’m immune from the “what were they thinking” approach, but if that is the only analysis I offer, I should be dismissed. For now, I stand by my Inception review and relish the chance to experience the film another time (or ten). Hate me all you want. Fill the comments section with as much anger and insults as possible. Somehow, I think such a stance will reflect more on you than on me.