Image Credit: Melissa MoseleyHere’s something cool coming off the first weekend of Inception: Excited moviegoers are spending a lot of time talking about Huh? and Wow! and What’s up with that ending? Here’s something less cool: Critics and bloggers and blogger-critics and readers who like to post on Internet comment boards about those same critics and bloggers are spending a lot of time trashing one another. The argument is about the early raves, and the critical backlash citing those early raves with disdain, and the reader backlash to the critical backlash, and the tyranny of aggregate scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and on and on and zzzzzz….
I wish I were dreaming this. Instead, the bickering is a waking nightmare at a time when professional movie criticism is being viewed more and more as a rude, elitist intrusion on the popular preferences of a public with greater opportunities than ever before to be your Own Best Critic and let the world in on your thoughts.
Discuss! Right now, below, discuss! In the meantime, I want to discuss three words that signal when a movie critic (professional or amateur, dead-tree publication or cyber-format) has lost his or her authority.
None of these words has anything to do with the movie under discussion, whatever it is. (Some critics who don’t like Inception bolster their arguments by declaring that The Dark Knight, also directed by Christopher Nolan, is overrated — which begs the questions, By whom? Obviously by someone other than themselves in their finer, more rigorous judgment.) All of these words circle back to the writer, rather than the work. At the very least, they hint at a conversation the writer is having with someone that writer wants to impress, or wants to inflame, or wants to enlist as an ally or adversary. You can be sure that someone isn’t the reader.
Both “overrated” and “underrated” stink up the place with egotism. “Disappointed” and its cousin in pain and self-regard, “I’m sorry to say,” do something creepier still: The phraseology is a tip-off that the whole review is rigged. Certainly a professional or otherwise serious critic can be as excited about an upcoming movie as any civilian. She can anticipate, or doubt, or even (being human) just plain not look forward to seeing New Movie X or Y. And hype doesn’t help. No movie could possibly live up to the hype that builds not only as a result of shrewd marketing, but as a byproduct of the very same blog-and-buzz culture that makes everyone his Own Best Critic. But once in the theater seat, the critic’s job is to analyze the movie that is, not the movie that critic wants it to be. The great plus of fanboys (I use that term to embrace fangirls, too, because it sounds so hearty) at a movie is their built-in enthusiasm. Their great minus as critics is that they have more difficulty objectively analyzing what’s on the screen, rather than the movie already playing, in previews, in their imaginations.
So, back to Inception. Can we agree that those who love it aren’t brainwashed? Those who don’t like it aren’t snobs? And can we agree, too, that you won’t Google me into a gotcha! position, because you’ve discovered instances where I, too, have succumbed over the years to the vanity of using “overrated,” “underrated,” and “disappointed”? I’m only human, and dreaming of a perfect world.