Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The films I can't be bothered to understand

There are generational divides in music. Punk was one. Rap was another. Metal a third. It's a point beyond which older listeners usually don't want to go, because it's just too noisy and abrasive on the other side.

I noticed the same thing happening with films the first and only time I saw The Matrix. I didn't understand it. This in itself is nothing new. What was new was my complete disinterest in gaining any understanding. I realised that the plot had probably been worked out in scrupulous detail so that it made sense in some way but I frankly couldn't be bothered to find out because I suspect I would have been underwhelmed by the conclusion. I decided to watch it scene by scene as if it was a collection of pop videos,

I felt the same about Source Code, which I watched this week. I feel that if it takes more than a minute to explain the premise of the film then I'm losing interest. This particularly applies in the science fiction idiom. If the hero has to ask lots of questions in order to establish whether he's alive or dead then there's a chance mere spectators like us won't be entirely sure either, which is bound to impair our enjoyment. I did enjoy it as a matter of fact but I probably only got about 25% of it.


  1. Felt the same way about The Tree of Life, which I saw half of the other day. Obviously it wasn't Terrence Malick's intention to bore and baffle me, and equally obviously he's a film-maker of immense skill and ambition. Visually it was stunning, but it does help if you care what happens next. I felt the most telling comment was Sean Penn's - he said he had no idea how what he was doing fitted in, and felt that the movie would have benefited from more narrative. Perhaps in 20 years I might have another go and get more out of it.

  2. I feel the same way about "Inception". A load of nonsense that I couldn't be bothered to understand. I don't even believe the people who say they understood it.

  3. I'm with PV Mullen regarding Inception. Not only did I find it wilfully obtuse but the booming soundtrack was plain unpleasant.

    I want good character driven plots which engage me and not something that, as you say, seems like just a series of pop videos or montages designed to show technical skill.

    Maybe it is a generational thing - I just prefer a little more light and little less heat in my films.

  4. Same for Memento. I had the same feeling when watching it - after about 15 minutes I just couldn't be bothered trying to figure out what was going on.
    It's the film equivalent of a rambling guitar solo with lots of difficult notes. "Look at me doing something really complicated. Try and keep up if you're smart enough ..."

  5. Interesting examples. Know what you mean about The Tree Of Life, Mike and Memento, Michael. I suppose the important factor is that in these cases the film makers know what the premise is and they need never worry about the gulf between their understanding and ours.

  6. I did get Source Code. Eventually. It took about three viewings before it came together. Can I remember why? No. Was it worth the effort? Obviously not. Inception was one I saw where I truly believe I could have understood it but it sapped my will to live. My kids (16 and 19) loved it though and tried to explain it but . . . agh, even thinking about it now irritates me. Is their not a better use for the money that went into it?

  7. @me "Their"!? Tsk. Should have been "there" of course.

  8. I don't know if it is generational, apart from people getting less likely to give things the benefit of the doubt as they get older. When we are young we are prepared to work at things we might not like. When we older, we prefer to stick to things we know we will like. Personally I thought Inception was dull, and my GLW thought it was obvious. Source code I enjoyed, but as a genre fan it was not a surprise. On the other hand I wont give Warhorse or Birdsong my time - war is bad, who knew? Depends on what you want from your entertainment. Costume drama almost instantly turns me off, but seems to be very popular. I can't stand Dickens, but love Tolstoy and Shakespeare. Goodness knows why.

  9. Surely one of the great joys of getting older is you lose your reverence for 'art' - ie anything called art by the person who made it.

    lets face it, the majority of anything made by humans is by definition average and derivative and who really wants to spend time with something which is just average?

    About ten years ago I threw my first book across the room. Actually physically threw it across the room it was so dreadful. It was Whatever Love Means by David Baddiel and I defy anyone to get past the smug patronising banality of the first few pages without joining me.

    The effect of doing so seemed to break some sort of spell and I now routinely throw books across the room - for maximum effect, it's better with hardbacks as they make a deeper more contemptuous thud.

    Similarly if a film is rubbish I either just quietly leave or if at home, take it out of the DVD player and literally throw it in the bin. it's immensely satisfying.

    My wife and I just finished the final episode of the utterly sublime Wallander. Most nights before we go to bed we watch a few of the flawless early Frasier episodes.

    I also have Basho's collected Haiku by my bed and Sonny Stitt and Steely Dan on the CD player.

    Why waste time with stuff you don't like/get? Give it a chance by all means, thats how you discover wonderful new things. But you get to an age when you can tell something isn't going to go anywhere new or interesting and it's a pleasure just to move on.

  10. Would you say the same thing about music though? Some of my all-time favourite records are ones that I didn't "get" or even like much at first.