You know you like a movie but you can’t quite figure why. Your friend, who dislikes it, is meanwhile making all the perfect points. He’s talking about the flimsiness of the storyline, the subpar acting, the bad screenplay, but it’s all you can do to not get up and ask him to go shove it. You can’t put it into words, but you know that the movie struck a chord with you, and would he stop ruining it for you with his analysis. Yes, you are one of a handful of people who like this ‘bad’ movie, but you won’t let the unanimous criticism make you feel little.
Isn’t it fascinating how there are movies — parts of some movies at least — that forge different personal connections with different viewers; sometimes to such a degree that your evaluation of the film gets coloured? Like that kid in school everybody likes to bully, but you don’t because, well, he once told you that his favourite colour is yellow — also your favourite: A little personal connection that has forever changed how you view him. Who can tell why, as individuals, we feel strongly about some films than others? It could be that the protagonist’s ambition resonates with yours. It could be that a character in the movie faces the same challenges that you do. Perhaps you watched the film at a time when you were emotionally disturbed and it came as catharsis. Maybe you were considering moving careers, and along came The Pursuit of Happyness to make the choice easier for you. Maybe, it was the first film you watched with your boyfriend. Or hell, maybe it was just the weather that day. Who can claim to know all the nebulous reasons that go into our liking a film?
When on an international flight a couple of days ago, I decided to revisit Interstellar . Perhaps because of all the hype, the overwhelming expectation with which I saw it when it released, the film hadn’t quite blown me away as I thought it would. But this was Nolan, after all; it seemed only right to give him another chance. And what a rewarding choice it turned out to be. The movie made for an almost transcendental — and I’m not using the word lightly here — experience. It was surreal to see Cooper negotiate his spacecraft, Endurance, through a wormhole, with Hans Zimmer’s organ music adding new spiritual layers to the overall experience, and then look through the plane’s window at the puffy clouds below, and realise that I was myself cruising at 30,000 ft above sea level. Hans Zimmer could well have composed the music for my experience. If I squinted enough and let my imagination take control, I could pretend it was my aircraft that was flying through a wormhole, that all the passengers alongside were chosen to establish a new civilisation in the new galaxy we were heading to. If that’s not immersion, what is? I doubt I can ever discuss Interstellar again without looking back on this surreal moment. I doubt I can ever be ‘objective’ about the film again. And all it took was to see it in an aeroplane.
While on the topic, what is objective criticism of a film anyway? There are people out there who get bored with long reviews, and simply want to know the overall verdict. “Jesus, will you just get to the point and tell me if I should go or not?” In other words, they’d like reviewers to assure them that they will like the film… or not.
The problem is, nobody can claim to do that; not while we are all different people, with different pasts and different preferences. Mayakkam Enna , which did almost nothing to me, is almost poetry for a photographer friend of mine. Imagine if I’d simplistically asked him not to see the film. I would have ruined a potentially memorable experience for him.
And that’s why a reviewer cannot, and so, shouldn’t tell you if you should/not watch a film; if you will find it likeable. He can share his connections with the movie, talk about his reflections, but how can he rule out the possibility that you may well feel differently? Who can predict what the weather will be like when you step out to watch it?