Saturday, November 15, 2008
Wrestling with feelings after a movie
Last night, I attended a Starz Denver Film Festival screening of "The Wrestler," a new film starring Mickey Rourke and directed by Darren Aronofsky. If you follow film, you know that "The Wrestler" received an enthusiastic reception at September's Toronto International Festival and that many are hailing it as a significant comeback effort for both Rourke and Aronofsky, whose last movie, "The Fountain," tanked with critics and with audiences.
I'm going to hold off on commenting on the movie, but want to address something else, post-movie discussion. The moment the film ended, the person seated next to me said, "That was a great movie. What did you think?" I don't know if she wanted me to confirm the movie's greatness for her or whether she was genuinely interested in what a trained movie observer might think, but I was stopped in my tracks by the word "great," which is not a description I use casually. I mumbled something about needing to think about it and moved on.
The truth is I can't recall seeing many movies that I would deem great, least of all at the precise moment I finished watching them. Even critics deserve what I call a digestion period, a few moments to allow the movie to arrive in one's psyche, to live with the feelings that a film engenders.
The moviegoing process -- at least for me -- is twofold: It consists of the immediate experience of the movie and, just as important, the way the movie plays upon reflection. Does it continue to reward me? Does it nag at me? Does something about it fail to compute? Does it have anything to say or was it just another flickering diversion?
For me, both parts of this process are vital before I start talking seriously about a movie, unless it's so obviously bad that spending another moment thinking about it would constitute a form of intellectual dumpster diving.
On the morning after, I'm pretty sure that "The Wrestler" is not a great movie, which doesn't mean it's not worth seeing. It just means that I don't see it as something that will become an indelible part of my movie consciousness or of movie history.
But back to the moments after the final credits roll. Yesterday, I also showed "Five Easy Pieces" to a class I'm teaching. Late in the class, we arrived at the movie's quietly powerful ending -- the moment where Bobby Dupea, the character played by Jack Nicholson, abandons his pregnant girlfriend at a gas station in Washington. I let the credits play, offered a brief suggestion about something they might consider for the next session and then dismissed the class. I'd leave the discussion for next time. I wanted the movie to work on them. At minimum, I hoped the mood of that last shot would linger with them before they clicked on their cell phones, checked for text messages or scurried toward the weekend. A few students lingered. "That ending always tears me up," I said to them
Am I being too picky? Maybe. I know people use the word "great" to mean that they've just seen something they've enjoyed or that has had a real impact on them. Maybe they just feel something needs to be said as a way of getting outside the solitary absorption of viewing a movie. But just after a movie ends, the reaction I most appreciate is one that tells me precisely how someone felt about they've just seen. Had the woman next to me said "The Wrestler" really got to her, I'd have been more interested in continuing the conversation -- after, of course, I'd had a chance to let my own emotional dust settle.