Nobody I know takes the question “What is Christian film criticism?” more seriously than Michael Leary. And so I’m thrilled to find him starting up a new site … film-think where he’s posting his thoughts on movies.
Check out recent posts on
And his post on Southland Tales has reminded me that I need to see this movie!
Speaking of thoughtful moviegoers…
When No Country for Old Men opened on big screens across the nation, a lot of moviegoers stormed out of the theater, frustrated with the Coens’ acclaimed film. Perhaps some understood, but didn’t appreciate the Coens’ perspective. (Or McCarthy’s.)
But most of the Christian media pundits and reviewers who wrote the movie off were not thinking about what it meant. They were instead disgusted that critics and the Academy were celebrating a movie that had not become a hit with the public. Further, they saw a violent movie, and assumed that the film was celebrating violence. They saw a film about an amoral character, and concluded that this movie was corrupting our culture with amorality. (That’s not my presumption about their perspective of the film. That’s what they openly declared.)
We’ve been conditioned to expect that movies will end with a bang, not with a monologue. We’re not used to movies that ask us to think through our experience or wrestle with the unexpected. So No Country, which can be a jarring and confounding experience during the first viewing, sent people away reeling with an experience of the unfamiliar, which some immediately concluded was a bad thing.
Furthermore, many Christian film reviewers wrote the movie off immediately because of the violent and the troubling conclusion, without stopping to consider *why* there was violence in the film, and what the conclusion of McCarthy’s unsettling narrative meant. Some pointed to the Oscars and said, “See? The fact that this film won an Oscar proves that the Oscars are in decline, and that critics are not connecting with audiences.” The rationale: Whatever is popular should be our standard of excellence, and if the audience doesn’t understand a work of art, well, that’s the artist’s fault, not the audience. (And in that case, we might as well burn down the Louvre.)
But this letter to the editor is remarkable. A response to Roger Ebert’s review of No Country for Old Men, it shows how an individual can come to a moment of personal revelation through careful contemplation of every element in a movie… even the end credits! I may not agree entirely with this fellow’s interpretation, but I’m inspired by his thinking, and grateful for a whole new list of reasons to revisit this remarkable movie.
I will hold my ground in arguing that even though McDonald’s sells a zillion burgers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they show us the standards of excellence. And I refuse to believe that those delicious, gourmet feasts being served in specialty restaurants on the edge of town should be condemned for not connecting with a larger audience.
When we start dumbing down art for the sake of connecting, we’re doing our audience a disservice. Artists should challenge us, and summon us to humble ourselves, think things through, discuss, revisit, and discover. It should inspire the audience to grow. Audiences are usually lazy. They want to be entertained, not challenged.
I prefer to get my recommendations from the critics, not the box office. And the Oscars? I’m glad they had the guts to acknowledge some challenging films this year, and to draw audiences in to see unconventional and groundbreaking work experiences that they might not otherwise have discovered.
(To revisit my first-impression review of this year’s Best Picture winner, visit CT Movies.)