Saturday, July 4, 2009

Disagreements hurt

The best high -- one that comes naturally from discussing film, that is -- occurs when you discover that the other person loves a certain film just as much as you do. If you love the movie for the same reasons, even better. Sometimes, I'll admit it, I even get goosebumps.

The same can happen for films you both hate with equal intensity. I've always thought that my best friends were people who hate the same things I hate. As long as you agree, it can be intoxicating.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

When you disagree vehemently about a film -- especially with someone who usually shares your tastes -- it can feel like you're "breaking up." It can feel like you'll never again be able to find common ground on future movies, and may make you hesitant to even discuss certain films for fear of further heartache.

I should know. I've been in two sizable film disagreements with the same person inside of two weeks.

This in itself is not "newsworthy," in the sense that I felt like I needed to come write about it in my blog because it was so shocking. I've disagreed with this lifelong friend plenty of times before. We've called each other idiots (jokingly, of course) and moved on. Disagreement is inevitable when you watch as many films as we do, and feel as passionately as we do.

However, for some reason, the last two disagreements have carried a particular edge to them.

About 10 days ago, I finally saw Rachel Getting Married, one of my friend's favorite films of last year. Not only did I not like it as much as he did, but I of course felt compelled to dissect its problems in ways that verged on the sarcastic. Hey, I'm a writer -- I'm not accustomed to blunting my own tools. I usually say what I feel. Unfortunately, in a quick email analysis forged during down moments of the workday, I probably didn't show enough sensitivity to the fact that he loved the movie, and would obviously not be convinced by my quickly tossed-off nay-saying, which only half-said what I really wanted to say.

Then this week, I saw Away We Go. He liked Away We Go about as much less than I did as I liked Rachel Getting Married less than he did. Which is to say, we both liked the other's movie, but had definite criticisms close to the surface, just scratching and clawing to get out. And so it was that I was still on my bubble of entrancement after seeing Away We Go, when my friend's pointed critiques popped that bubble.

This last was actually quite a valuable experience for me. The way it worked out, his criticism of Away We Go came within only an hour or two of my seeing it. (I came in to work early but then learned I had to work late, so I took off at lunch to see the movie in order for my hours to work out correctly). And so it was that I got to feel how my wife feels when I can't hold my tongue whenever we exit the theater.

The most natural instinct for people upon leaving the theater is, of course, to talk about the movie they just saw. This works out great when you both loved or both hated a movie -- or even if you both felt lukewarm about it. But when there's a decent discrepancy in how you felt, and you still feel compelled to discuss it, someone's going to get their feelings hurt.

And so it is that about once every couple months, I harsh my wife's buzz after we see a movie she liked better than I did. This happened for us most recently with Up. Instead of allowing her to float out of the theater on those balloons in the movie, I quickly popped a couple of them with my complaints about it. "Why is that guy still obsessed with finding that extinct bird if he's invented a dog collar that allows dogs to talk? Why did they spend half the movie walking around with the house lashed to their backs? Wouldn't it have been better to spend more time navigating to South America? How come the 3-D wasn't better?" I wanted answers to all these questions. She just wanted to bask in the afterglow.

You don't want to censor yourself and keep your true feelings about something a secret. There's nothing less interesting to me than a person who nods along with everything you say for fear of bruising your fragile ego. But there definitely has to be some kind of balance, not to mention a brief moratorium on unwanted criticism that lasts for at least the first hour after leaving the theater. There are ways to criticize a movie without making it seem like an act of war.

And so with my friend these past two weeks, we probably hauled out heavier artillery than we really needed. We like to express ourselves, and it goes without saying that we think we've made astute observations. But these observations also have the power to cut, and sometimes we have thinner skin than we like to imagine we do.

But I'd like to vow to make my own skin thicker. If someone doesn't like a movie I liked as much as I liked it, it doesn't mean they're calling me a bad person. Except we take it that way, don't we? We think the other person is implicitly saying that only an idiot could like the movie as much as you liked it. It's like they're saying that if you missed such obvious flaws, your whole ability to render judgments has now been called into question.

But it's not true. We film fans are a strange bunch. We like and hate things for totally bizarre reasons. It seems to me that the really important thing is to agree on the really important films. But then again, who is to say what fits into that category? Is there a film out there that's so unquestionably good, or so unquestionably bad, that if someone disagreed with you on it, they would lose all credibility with you? Okay, to take an extreme example, if someone came up to me and said that Citizen Kane was a bad movie, I'd probably have to say that they were stupid. And I'm sure there are plenty of other Citizen Kanes out there that would inspire the same reaction in me. To list them here would miss the point.

The important thing, really, is to love film -- to love talking about it, to love watching it, and to love the reasons you love and hate it. The biggest enemy of the film fan is not the film fan with different tastes -- it's the non-film fan. The person who can't appreciate the medium in any way, shape or form. That's a person I really find myself incompatible with.

So love what you love, hate what you hate -- just never stop talking about it. And if you do that, I'll always be interested to be on the other end of that conversation.


Don Handsome said...

Vance - great post.
I think you are right that its important to talk about film no matter what - even when there is a sharp disagreement. And you are also correct in pointing out that sometimes film feels personal...when one party loves or hates a film strongly, disagreements can really hit home. So I think that while it is important to develop thick skin, its also important to maintain some tact and to understand that emotional investment in films often feels like personal ownership in them, which opens up vulnerable spots in the armor of even the most battle-tested film-snob. So sometimes, it is a good idea to back off for a little while.

So what your friend who likes Rachel Getting Married (whoever he or she may be) SHOULD have done is waited until later when you were actually having a conversation to dump all over Away We Go. Instead, he started in on you over facebook (at least I assume that's what he did) when you were vulnerable and not ready to debate. Its one thing to have a thick skin, its another to be ambushed and maintain that thick skin. Your friend should have had known better.

As someone who has been in "film fights" with various friends on a few occasions, I think that it can very often feel like breaking up or like you'll never again find that common ground and you'll never again agree. The best fix for this situation is, of course, the film snob equivalent of make-up have to quickly find a movie that you both feel very emotionally charged about and dump on it or praise it together. Nothing restores faith in film compatibility like strongly agreeing with someone...

Vancetastic said...

I think I might have had pre-fight makeup sex (if that's possible) with this person when we both shat on Terminator Salvation.

Thanks for the comment ... hey, if films weren't personal to us, why would we even watch them?