Recently those of us who obsessively follow movie news have been treated to the news that the new Terrence Malick movie To The Wonder has met with “divided” reviews. The “divided” is in quotes (you can reference that in this sentence) appears to be “critics” vs. “audience members.” Basically it boils down to the fact that the critics love it, and the audience... may not like it so much. (I personally think it should be settled with pistols at dawn.)
I bring this up because it reminds me of an incident that happened back before I started this blog, which is something that I would have totally written about had it existed back then. Back in February, I went to go see the “AMC Oscar Showcase” which shows all of the movies that were nominated for an Oscar in one 24 hour glorious marathon. (I will be marathoning again this year, so look for that!) But one of the movies was Terrence Malick’s last movie Tree Of Life. I commented that I didn’t enjoy it. I was immediately told that I was “watching it wrong” (I should have watched it with my feet?) and that I didn’t “understand what he was trying to say.”
Here’s the thing. I did understand what Malick was trying to do. I understood the story, I just didn’t like how he went about it. Long nature shots, a listing voice over, Sean Penn wandering around, and a story done in flashback that was supposed to represent a sort of coming of age, sort of compassion vs. cruelty that everyone goes through. Oh, and Jessica Chastain flying and rotating in the light. I just didn’t like it. I felt it was what happened when you got a film student, gave him Brad Pitt and a budget, and told him to cut loose. And when I tried to say I didn’t think it was a good movie, I was attacked. (Not literally, but you get what I’m saying.)
Now these audience members are being attacked by more critics who claim they “don’t get it.” (ignoring the fact that movies are made for people seeing them.) But the whole thing goes with what I’m asking all along: What is art? Who says what is art and what is good. Here we have an audience that hates it, and a bunch of critics that love it. So, who is right?
But, this little skirmish points out what I am saying all along: Who is it that determines that something is literary? That group of critics? The Audience? If I can find meaning in a book, but not in a "classic" then don't I determine what I can find?
I don’t have an answer. What? Yes, I don’t currently have an answer. That's the point. I can't determine what you will get out of something. These movies, and the work of Terrence Malick clearly prove that. There are a vocal group of people who don’t like it. There are a group of people who do. Neither is wrong. Both have valid arguments. And just because someone gets something, or doesn't get something out of a movie doesn't invalidate your opinion of it. At this point I’m just sort of writing in circles. (Like a Terrence Malick film!)
But for now, let's just forget the debate. I’m going to go watch the Fountain again. (Yes. I know he didn't work on that movie. I just liked it better.)