Sunday, April 12, 2009

On the Road

I stand up in the dark, matter of factly. The couple several rows in front of me and to the right are still slouched down, waking up I think. Did any of that matter? Were they bored? Are they not going to let that happen to them? Had they just come to the theater to escape? How ironic…
I walk outside. The moisture in the air strikes me. It’s midnight. Taking a few steps, I find myself almost in the middle of the road. It doesn’t matter – there are no cars coming in either direction. The only lights are those from the neon orange street lamps lining the road. It feels as though the streets stretch on forever.
I could really use a cigarette. On second thought, nevermind.
I’m taken by the amount of fog. It’s enough to evoke this noir feeling, though not enough for me to think that I’ll stumble across the corpse of a 19th century British prostitute.
Quickly I get into my car. Somehow Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” doesn’t seem appropriate. I put in the same score I just heard. There’s something haunting about it, yet also comforting. I’ve had plenty of time to listen to it, since I bought it nearly a week ago. I never buy film scores before I see the actual film. Actually, there is something very off-putting about buying a film score in general. I think it’s that the tracks are often not much longer than a couple minutes. It feels like I’m getting ripped off, since the albums cost at least the same amount as normal ones.
I’m sitting there, staring down the foggy street. It feels as though something is about to happen.
The couple comes out of the theater. They look confused. Probably groggy.
I drive away.

As most of my friends know, after I see a movie I don’t like to comment on it. At this point, it’s just some hybrid of ritual and habit. I enjoy letting what I’ve just experienced sink in for a while before committing myself to a “first impression.” Plus, I think I like to keep my first impressions to myself so that I can think about why those were my initial responses. Maybe it’s just a cinematic phase. Possibly not. I have lot of these kinds of idiosyncratic things that I do. Then again, who doesn’t? (At least that’s the kind of thing I think, so as to reassure myself.)

Revolutionary Road is the kind of movie that I feel compelled to enjoy, mostly because it seems to affirm a number of things I already believe. And so I after I see these kinds of movies, I naturally feel kind of energized. However, and it certainly varies from film to film, it may take some time for me to decide whether or not I actually enjoyed the movie, and if there was such enjoyment, whether or not it was justified.
Perhaps all this seems overblown. Did you like the movie or not? Was it a good movie or not? Fair enough. And yet, I find that by second-guessing my thoughts and reactions to movies, I’ll often uncover new things about the film and possibly myself. I can admit that this process is a by-product of my being stuck in my head too much. But it’s a by-product that I certainly enjoy. It gives me a history with a film. Maybe I grow to love a film more and more. Maybe I like it, then despise it. In that respect, it can be an exciting way to position oneself with regard to movies. On the other hand, to do it faithfully would seem rather exhausting. Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

In the interest of giving myself time to savor Revolutionary Road, I just wanted to comment on why I think my enjoyment of it may be justified – i.e. even though there are obvious themes to the movie, in the end, I’m not exactly sure what the movie was saying in terms of some overarching idea. I could perhaps throw out some guesses, but I also think this film does not purposely tell you how to think. Well, it does and it doesn’t. The plot has some obvious ideas it’s trying to convey. And yet, a lot is left unanswered. How you view the film would change, depending on if you viewed it through the eyes of April or Frank, and even though you’re likely to have an automatic association with one of the two characters (it was April for me), I don’t think this is the kind of film where you’d have to do too much stretching to attempt another association in another viewing.
To not give up any plot points, maybe I should just leave the matter there and say that I enjoy the leeway movies like this give. They allow the viewer’s imagination to stretch out to the movie and play around with unresolved or ambiguous matters. I’m not necessarily talking about cliff-hanger endings, but that’s kind of what I’m getting at. I feel more involved with movies as an art-form when they seem to beckon me to take a stance or make an interpretation, or just imagine how things could have played out differently. In other words, these are movies that make you think. For myself, I don’t mean that they present me with an opportunity to think, but they rather make me think. I don’t know if I can really explain it. And maybe it’s just a natural progression that I will experience more often with movies as I become more overtly involved with academic thought about them. Either way, I find these cinematic experiences to be the most fulfilling, and they bolster my thoughts on the importance of film… for myself and others.

And so I drive home from the theater with that certain movie afterglow. I feel like just need to do something. I’m impatient for any obvious reaction to the movie I just saw. Actually, I’m already impatient for the history of love/love, love/hate, indifference, or whatever other feelings that I expect to experience with the movie. It’s a new relationship in some respect. I just go home and eventually go to sleep. The sooner I go to sleep, the sooner the history will begin.


agust symeon said...

I actually feel that you touch on one of the main purposes of film "criticism" in your piece, which I believe to be the ability to make us see a film in a clearer, more profound light, to make us reevaluate our position and to challenge us intellectually and maybe even spiritually. Some of my favorite films of all times are films that I did not appreciate at all on first viewing. Among those are "The Big Lebowski," "Eyes Wide Shut," "2001: A space Odyssey." Actually, come to think of it, I feel like every single Stanley Kubrick film is like this: Hard to digest and fully savour at first but later on, given time and space, they become quite delectable. And this is not just a matter of thinking really hard about a film, but rather opening yourself up to new horizons, new ways of seeing, being open to seeing films (and consequently the world around you) in a new light.

--------- said...

Reid. That was a nice post. Well written. I watched this movie in the theater with a girl. At the end of the movie she said, "I don't get it." Then she looked at me as if I should explain it. When I write poetry, I sometimes get the same response. Particularly because I'm not interested in one for one poetry. I don't think sermons translate well into film or poetry. To get a thesis out of a poem or film is the often the result of encountering the piece of art with a club, or encountering a bad piece of art. Example: I also recently and unfortunately watched The Day The Earth Stood Still. If I hadn't seen it in the theater I would have just turned it off. The film was a stupid excuse for a clear agenda, an argument, and the veil was ridiculously thin. The result was a trite movie.

Revolutionary Road, I think, is meant to play the part of the mid-wife. I think poetry should do the same. The hope is to create an experience that guides the viewer. Questions should be raised: did the couple in Revolutionary Road make a mess of their life? Would they have been happier if they moved? Was their mistake a lack of contentment with the blessings they had? Were they selling themselves short? What does making the most of life consist of? Was their desire for something better a false one, a stupid or greedy one? Is the way their life turned out, how most life turns out? Should we content with that, or at least expect it? I think there's some other questions there about relationships, the difficulty of empathy and selfishness simultaneous, etc.

And then all those questions should be turned at the viewer. Conversation about film should foster this. For that reason, I'm more attracted to art conversation than art criticism, since criticism assumes a place of authority on the art.

thanks for the post.

RL LePage said...

Glad you experienced a similar sentiment with regard to the film. I wasn't sure if I pre-created a response to the film, since my reaction to it was what I went into the movie wanting it to be. I'll probably remain somewhat skeptical about it until I see it again. I just didn't want it to be what American Beauty seemed to be (though I want to see that again).

I agree about art criticism. The word "criticism" just has some unfortunate baggage. It's there in art, literature, film, philosophy. Here's to more conversation!