(Yes, more “Inception.” I’ll be writing about it once more today. Certain readers have been warned.)
One day away from “Inception,” and after a fresh spate of reviews hit the web in the past few days, a familiar “you’re either with us or the terrorists” mentality is starting to emerge. We had a taste of it last month, when critics not on board with “Toy Story 3″ were taken to task for daring to sully its Rotten Tomatoes rating — and already, even mild detractors of Christopher Nolan’s latest are being branded “bitter,” “haters” or simply “wrong” by the film’s more enthusiastic online champions.
Predictably, some are labeling the film a “love it or hate it” deal — a statement that necessitates boxing a number of mixed or conflicted reactions into the “hate it” pile to be true. Todd McCarthy’s indieWIRE review, for example, is a respectful piece that nonetheless states some reservations with the film, but has been conveniently described by Jeff Wells as a “slam.” I’ll detail my own thoughts on “Inception” later today, but I’m already being told in some quarters that I’m against the film because I judged it a flawed-but-respectable “B/B-” effort in my initial Twitter take.
(Meanwhile, I’m increasingly seeing the word “schizophrenic” bandied about by online commenters in response to reviews that, inconceivable as it may seem to some, can simultaneously admire some aspects of a film while questioning or disliking others. This needs to stop.)
Worse, some are dismissing the negative reviews as little more than a spiteful, knee-jerk slapdown to the bloggers who enthused about the film last week. That may be true in some cases, but it’s both short-sighted and demeaning to assume that any dissenter is responding to other writers ahead of the film itself. (Case in point: Nick Schager’s extremely well-argued, if also extremely harsh, Slant review, which makes its stand without denigrating that of the film’s admirers.)
Sasha Stone, however, believes any honest criticism of the film to be impossible. In an impassioned but ill-judged blog post, she declares that journalistic envy is “the only logical explanation” for the negative reviews of the film, and that any detractors are “[j]ust flat out wrong.”
I regard Sasha as a friend, but this kind of stubborn refusal to engage with alternative opinion saddens me, and returns me to the questions I asked after last month’s “Toy Story 3″ flap. How can any opinion on a film be wrong (or right, for that matter)? When did people start to prize consensus over conversation? And what good would consensus serve in matters of art anyway?
I’ve said all this before, so I’ll now defer to Film Experience blogger Nathaniel Rogers who, way down in the comments section on Sasha’s post, spoke my mind so perfectly that I feel I owe him about ten steak dinners:
I think the film is pretty interesting but the ‘love it or you’re stupid and wrong’ thing is pretty reactionary/irritating. Can’t there be a middle ground?
I would also like to say that Stephanie Zacharek is a great critic. I almost NEVER agree with her but that hardly matters. I’m really depressed that in the past 4 or 5 years it’s become common feeling that in order for a critic to be good you have to agree with them. HUH? That makes NO sense. A good critic is basically a good writer that writes interesting pieces on movies that make you think about the movie in a different way or consider a fascinating perspective other than your own. WE NEED THIS. Why does everyone think we just need everyone nodding at each other going “YEAH!!!!”
I wonder when we (collectively) lost that curiousity about other people’s opinions?
I can’t say it any more directly and effectively than this. Yes, it’s always reassuring to hear (or read) your opinion seconded by a voice you trust and believe in. But disagreement is just as bracing: it’s what helps any viewer test their own interpretation of a film. By thinking only in banal polarities of right or wrong, love or hate, masterpiece or disaster, we risk reducing the capabilities of film criticism to the point where it is unequal to the demands of a work as complex as “Inception.” If people wanted that, they wouldn’t be getting so worked up about a handful of reviews in the first place.