I Love Jeffrey Overstreet

I Love Jeffrey Overstreet October 2, 2012

Here he is, facing perhaps his most hostile interviewer in a discussion of The Master.

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  • victor

    It reads like a conversation he had in his head between himself and Barbara Nicolosi.

    • Dan

      I had this very thought almost word for word! I read Nicolosi’s savaging just the other day.

    • barbaranicolosi

      Good grief, Victor. Give me a little more credit than that. What an insult.

  • Mark S (not for Shea)

    That’s awesome. My first thought was that a close member of family I shall not name had somehow interviewed J. Overstreet. Imagine my surprise when the interviewer finally revealed himself.

    Well done, Mr. Overstreet!

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Awwwww, thanks, Mark!

    Victor, truth is, reactions from several colleagues inspired this review. And halfway through I realized that I get worked up about these issues because that was me. I started out being taught to argue the other side of this debate. I realized, “Yeah, I remember that point of view.” Then everything from Shakespeare to Scripture to Flannery O’Connor started raising red flags, saying, “Um, hello, we don’t hesitate to depict characters behaving badly for the sake of the truth.”

    Should artists be discerning in how they portray misbehavior? Of course. But the way to do that well… it’s a challenging conversation without clear answers.

    I find some of the scenes in this film terribly unpleasant to watch, especially regarding the way men treat women, talk about them, and fantasize about them, in this film. But I think these things are presented in order to accentuate the sickness, not to condone those perspectives or behaviors.

    • victor

      Oh, cool! I figured this interview was inspired in some way by that film chat forum discussion last week. I have to say, though, that you should be wary of a form of consequentialism here. There are lines you can’t cross (or crass), even in service to the “truth”. And really, couldn’t a capable artist express the same truth about mental illness and spiritual sickness without resorting to such reportedly misogynistic and gross depictions (I haven’t seen the movie and I won’t)? What does it say about a filmmaker if that’s the only way they can get their message across? And given that no one seems really certain what the message of this film was, or if it even has one, if these depicitions were in service of some truth it doesn’t sound like they were partciularly effective.

      It has been fun, though, watching the Christian film critic community fall over themselves (to the extent that they “interview” less enlightened versions of themselves) in attempting to justify the existence of this film on anything but its technical merit.

      • Jeffrey Overstreet


        I’d love to write a review about the technical merits of the film. But I often write my reviews in response to other reviews, and as the reviews coming in seemed preoccupied with whether or not this film’s content was “justifiable,” I felt like expanding that conversation to discuss questions about “ugly” art and the difference between “portraying” and “condoning” evil. It’s been my inclination since I first started writing about film to, for better or worse, step into a fray and try to raise questions that will counteract vitriol, name-calling, and unfruitful shouting matches.

        I’m not stumbling all over myself to justify it. It needs no justification, in my mind; it’s no uglier than a lot of impressive films about deeply troubled characters.

        And I really think you *should* see the movie before you accept descriptions of the scenes in question as outrageously perverse. It doesn’t strike me as that unusual, actually. But if my usual moviegoing fare was the stuff of the typical American Box Office Top 10 rather than independent and international cinema, then this might seem especially unsettling.

        As for whether or not this was the only way that Anderson could, in your words, “get his message across…” I don’t think that really applies. I don’t think this film has “a message” to “get across.” I think the artist is wrestling with quite a lot here, and I can’t say what it is. It may be some kind of personal experience, or some kind of question that haunts him. But I don’t think he went looking for situations that would get a message across. I think he became preoccupied with some particularly damaged and deranged characters and followed them as their contentious relationship brought up big questions and suggested a variety of implications about relationships, power, and American history.

        • Jeffrey Overstreet

          Oh, and as for this: “There are lines you can’t cross (or crass), even in service to the ‘truth'” …

          I *did* say that discernment was important.

          • Discernment is important, I’m just not sure why this film is. So far I haven’t come across one compelling reason to see the film and have heard many reasons why I might avoid it. In fact, this (pseudo-oikophobic) statement is probably the best argument I’ve heard in favor of NOT seeing the film:

            “It doesn’t strike me as that unusual, actually. But if my usual moviegoing fare was the stuff of the typical American Box Office Top 10 rather than independent and international cinema, then this might seem especially unsettling.”

            Assuming I’m not sufficiently desensitized already, do I really want to dull my sensitivities to the point where I don’t find something like this film unsettling?

            • Jeffrey Overstreet

              I don’t know… do I really want to dull my sensitivities by reading Flannery O’Connor or Cormac McCarthy? Or watching 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days? Or watching Von Trier’s Melancholia, in which a bride in her wedding dress f—s (there’s really no other word for it) a guest at her wedding on her wedding night? Or watching almost anything by Lars Von Trier? You’ve been quite clear that these are some of your favorite films, and I find scenes in these films to be far more “unsettling” than Anderson’s.

              Nevertheless, in all of those cases, though, I find portrayals of depravity to be, in fact, “sensitizing” rather than “desensitizing.” Contest and composition are everything when it comes to this. The troubling behaviors are portrayed in such a way as to provoke conscience and questioning.

              Having said all of that, I am not some kind of champion for this movie as if it’s a masterpiece. I just think that complaints made against it (“perversion”) really connect with the movie that I saw. I saw a purposeful depiction of bad behavior, not a celebration of it.

              • I think you have me confused with that other Victor. 🙂 I read “The Road” (and liked it) and saw “Dogville” (and wished I hadn’t). Anyway, it seems like the life of a film critic is one of gradual desensitization (or sensitization — tomayto/tomahto) in the service of what, exactly? Provoking one’s own conscience? In that light your interview reads less like a dialog with your previous self and more like a eulogy for him.

              • Jeffrey Overstreet

                For clarification, I *do* find this film unsettling… but in a good way. I think popular American cinema serves up violence and sex in an “entertainment” fashion on a regular basis, but in independent and international cinema I often find violent and reckless sexual behaviors portrayed in a more honest (and thus *productively* troubling) fashion. What I was trying to say is this: Those who aren’t used to seeing such meaningfully shocking behavior are probably going to feel a bit gobsmacked by something like, say, your #1 film of all time: A Clockwork Orange.

                • Jeffrey Overstreet

                  Oh… good heavens. I though you were Victor Morton, and so I was a bit startled by the posts! My bad. Mark, can we have a “do-over”? 🙂

                  • Jeffrey Overstreet


                    My moviegoing life has been one of growing *sensitization* to the way that most popular cinema deceives us about the nature of violence in all its forms. That has led to a growing appreciation of those artists who treat violent behavior as if it has actual consequences, as if it is truly inappropriate. It has been an awakening of conscience. I am grateful for it. (That’s what my “moviegoer’s memoir” Through a Screen Darkly is about, actually.)


                    • I’ll have to check out your memoir, as I have totally dug your movie reviews over the years. I especially like it when you and SDG tag team on some poor unsuspecting piece of dren.

                      I get mistaken for the other Victor all the time. I’m like him, but less urbane and with fewer puns in Russian all the time. 🙂

      • Ted Seeber

        “There are lines you can’t cross (or crass), even in service to the “truth”. ”

        I keep hearing this, and it makes NO sense to my autistic brain (kind of like the appropriate/inappropriate line that seems to move every time I look at it). Can you explain more why neurotypicals draw such lines?