Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Keep Open Mind, Go See Film, Decide What You Think

Recently, over on his own blog, Jedidiah Ayres wrote a superb piece about the soon to open film, The Joker.  In the piece, Jed discussed the portrayal, in fiction, of people who do terrible things.  To quote a few lines from Jed's piece: "But as a writer, I am very here for the challenge of humanizing horrible characters because when we write off real people who do horrible things as 'monsters' or 'unhuman' we do a disservice to ourselves.

They are human and what they do is monstrous."

You should read the entire piece because, as usual with Jed when he talks about film (and not just film, of course), he's fearless and illuminating.

If you haven't read it yet, you can read it here: "I Started a Joke".

I mention Jed's piece because aside from all the dead-on points he makes, it appears that The Joker is symptomatic of a syndrome that never ceases to recur.

What am I getting at?  

Just this:

The Joker has divided the people who've seen it.  In both Venice and Toronto, the festivals it played at, it drew praise and stoked concern.  Okay.  That happens.  What's off-putting are the all-in reactions you see from people yet to see the movie.  As I say, there is nothing new about this; it's a sad and pitiful road that people continue to take.  

A previous example that comes to my mind, that I remember: the opprobrium thrown, way back in 1988, at Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, before the film had even opened, protests and outrage and boycotts by Christian groups over the depiction of Jesus in the film.  If you had to characterize this in political terms, I guess you could say this was outrage coming from conservative groups. 

Why so narrow-minded and reductive, conservative people?

But then there was the anxiety, again floating around before the film had opened in the United States, that led up to the release of David Fincher's Fight Club, in 1999. "What are we going to see?" some people were asking.  "Is this film a right-wing fascistic fantasia?"  I'm not sure what these people based their perception of the film on;  again, the film hadn't opened before many were giving their definitive take-downs of the movie, and as I recall, none of these take-downs referred to Chuck Palahniuk's novel as the source of the problem.  In other words, people who hadn't even read the book or seen the movie knew the movie just had to be somewhat fascistic based on what they imagined the movie was.  Like The Joker, Fight Club had premiered at the Venice Film Festival to a very polarized reaction among critics, and word that it had to do with men fighting and secret societies and violence naturally meant - to some - that it contained a right-wing, proto-fascist slant.  If you had to characterize this in political terms, I guess you could say this outrage, for the most part, came from liberal-minded people.

Why so narrow-minded and reductive, liberal people?
And, oh yes, with Fight Club there was something else. There was the worry that the film would incite copycat violence.  Have we not heard this exact same fear expressed about The Joker?  

I don't know whether I'll like or dislike The Joker, and in all honesty, it's gonna have to be really damn good for me to rank it anywhere near Fincher's film.  But I want it to be a film I consider a good film.  Why wouldn't I?  There is always an abundance of poor and mediocre films made, so every time a good film is made, that's a plus.  There are films you hear about that you expect will probably not be good - fair enough - but why would you root for a film you haven't seen to be a stinker?  It's remarkable to me that I see comments online where people essentially applaud the negative reviews they see about The Joker not because the movie may actually not be great (possible), but because they want to see it taken down a notch after reading the good reviews it got. What we're talking about here is people having what you might call a psychological stake in a film based on what they read about the film because they're convinced the film carries a certain ideology.  Convinced by what?  I can't quite say. They haven't yet seen the film.  Of course, when they do see the film (if they do), the odds of them going into the film with anything like an open mind are very high. 

When does The Joker come out, by the way? I have to check, reserve my seat.  I don't know whether I'll be there opening night like I was with The Last Temptation of Christ and Fight Club, but I'm sure I'll be there soon after it opens.

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