Okay. Where is it written that in order for something to be good for you, it has to be unpleasant?
Because of The Passion, I have been smacked by yet another branch of a debate that has been raging around me for years. I trace it all back to Saving Private Ryan.
I keep being told that I should see such-and-so a movie, usually because it’s “a really good movie”. The assumption, here, is that it is somehow good for me. This is inevitably coupled with one of several rationalizations: “It was really realistic.” “It told it like it is.” “It really brought home the horrors of WWII/slavery/the Civil War/Auschwitz/urban warfare/the crucifixion.” Often adjectives are included: “Unflinching.” “Gritty.” “Wrenching.” “Realistic.”
This is all code for “Unpleasant Fucking Movie.”
I’m going to use my old whipping-boy, Saving Private Ryan, to illustrate, because that was the last movie I allowed myself to be tricked into seeing that was supposed to be “good for me.”
Well, almost seeing.
I feel guilty about this, still. I’m not a pussy, but I just couldn’t stand it. The opening scene made me physically ill. I was awake for two nights. I really, really had a bad reaction to it.
Now, I wanted to watch the rest of the movie. I still want to. But I’m afraid to. Because a director who would shit on you that much in the first fifteen minutes simply cannot be trusted not to try to screw you when you aren’t looking. I mean, one minute you could be watching a scene of windmills or something, and then it could cut to exploded entrails. Yeah. I’m in good hands there.
I am just not feeling the love.
I understand that was the point. To put audiences, as much as possible (which it isn’t, so I sort of fail to see the point at all) in the state of mind of the soldiers who took that beach. To brutalize the audience to the point of numbness.
I beg to point out that some of us live like that all the time. I suffer from panic attacks. Not because I am a scaredy-cat or nervous or flighty or weak-willed person, but because there is something fundamentally wrong with my wiring. I pretty much live in a state of fight-or-flight about three days out of seven.
I accept that this is not normal, but I think that Saving Private Ryan went too far, and it isn’t the only movie to do so. It seemed to usher in a spate of other unpleasant movies that I have had to avoid. Really, is it necessary to see people blown in half with their guts hanging out to make us understand that nobody wants to be in a warzone, including us? I’d expect it in a B-grade horror flick, but in something touted as great cinema, it rankles. Not to mention that it’s gross. (I’m not slamming crappy horror movies, by the way, I think they have a place as cheap entertainment, same as porn, but neither are – usually -- art.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for good movies, movies that make you question, movies that are hard to watch. I just don’t want people to act like I’m obligated to watch such depressing crap just to somehow gain karmic brownie points. “Look, Buddha, I watched all these Good Movies and ate only tofu! Can I have my enlightenment cookie now?”
I watch such movies when I am interested in the material (there goes The Passion), when I feel like I might learn something (I got my fill of WWII related torment in high school, believe me, I am very aware that it was A Very Bad Thing.), or when I just can’t resist because I am in love with an actor (which is why I saw Black Hawk Down, a movie that, despite its lack of a plot or message beyond “war is horrible, hooray America” and the several disgusting scenes involving entrails and gushing arteries, still only rated a 7 on my Can’t Stand It meter).
Directors make their movies in accordance with their vision. I can’t fault them for that. I won’t criticize them for staying true to what they believe. It’s the audiences that piss me off. And the media that promotes such movies as "good" movies when what they mean is "good for you in the sense that suffering (even other peoples’ on a movie screen) builds character." I resent the assumption that I want to be brutalized, or that somehow, by subjecting myself to that sort of thing, I will be "improved."
I don’t need to be traumatized to feel like I "understand" what those people "went through." I can’t ever know, and I don’t ever want to. And, frankly, watching movies like that for entertainment is kind of . . . yucky. On a par with Faces of Death, only without real bodies, thank Juno. I don’t feel the need to suffer through seriously unpleasant imagery just to relieve some sort of white man’s burden over me not having fought in WWII, been in a death camp, suffered a painful abortion, or been crucified.
So with all that in mind, would everyone please stop bugging me about The Motherfucking Passion already? If you don’t believe in Jesus, the whole thing loses its spiritual angle, and becomes nothing more than snuff porn. So lay off. Because, strangely hot as James looks as the Anointed One, and as into lashing as I may be, this is not the stuff that dreams are made of. This is Christploitation.
Tomorrow, I’m going to see Peter Fucking Pan. And I’ll come out of it a better person in that I’ll be happy about life for maybe half an hour. Which is more than I can say for Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, or the Passion.
You want to elevate my consciousness and make me ache for change? Show me a vision of something beautiful. Because I live in an ugly world, and I know it. And I don’t need Hollywood to rub my nose in it.
That said, I’m going to watch Brotherhood of the Wolf. You can have your cake and eat it too. Violence and beauty. Imagine that.link