What prompted me to write about this? Maggie May Fish’s explanation on Twin Peaks (part 1).
In general, I dislike and actively avoid such videos, but I have enough trust in Fish to hear her out and she makes a compelling case here. Unlike some of the other explanations I’ve seen.
In general, I just don’t like it when people try to rationalize everything. Everything needs to have an explanation. For example, there’s a whole movie on various interpretations of Shining called Room 237 in which various people have these very forced takes on a horror movie. And sure, there is a lot to discuss there. Is it really about alcoholism? What is actually the family dynamic here? Yes, we know that Kubrick paid a lot of attention to details, but that doesn’t mean that we can necessarily discern something important from a specific detail. Does that room number (237) actually have meaning? I don’t know, but the more important question is, would it affect my experience of the film if I did? No. So, why should I or we as a society or movie fans spend any time trying to figure out these “hints”?
The only reason is that maybe you don’t want to put any actual thought into these movies. You know you like a movie and you want that weird relationship to be more meaningful, so you spend time figuring these things out. I guess. Is that helpful to anyone? I don’t think so.
However, the matter is quite complicated. I liked Squid Games quite a bit, but at first glance I did not understand all the themes, because South-Korean culture is foreign to me. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of South-Korean media, so I have a sort of shallow understanding of it, but I can’t claim to be an expert on it. So, learning about the way capitalism was forced upon this nation is something that gave me additional insight into the series, but that was about understanding certain themes, plot points and character traits differently. This is separate from trying to explain every detail in we see.
However, without understanding the context, you can’t always know what is important. There’s a small moment in Matrix, where the camera zooms in on the text “SYSTEM FAILURE” in such a way that at some point M and F are highlighted and we move in between them. I don’t know if this was the intention, but with both of the directors coming out as transwomen, you can easily read much meaning into that little moment. However, while I wasn’t able to read this hidden meaning of the movie at the time (when I had never met a transperson and I’m not even sure the concept was familiar to me), do we really need to put any emphasis on this specific moment to figure out what the movie is about?
Okay, maybe I should finally get into the actual topic. Some years back (in 2018 to be exact) I saw Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built. I did not like it and after expressing this I was told that I just didn’t understand it. Well, no. I think I understood it pretty well. It’s just Von Trier trying to defend some of his earlier work, which had received criticism, but doubling down on the provocation. The end result just feels like a director trying to defend his mistakes, not an actual creative project. The violence just felt meaningless, because Von Trier was doing it just for it’s own sake. The movie is not raising any interesting philosophical points or telling us a compelling story about a compelling character, but instead is just Von Trier saying that we should just deal with his nonsense.
I think it was Lumet, who argued that a good movie should take two points of view on an argument. While I would need further justification to find this a compelling theory, because it’s hard to see two sides to even Lumet’s own masterpiece, 12 Angry Men. Still, Lumet’s other big movie (yes, he has had more widely known movies, but to me these are the ones I’m most aware of, except that now that I think about it, I somehow managed to completely forget Network), Dog Day Afternoon, does indeed do this: on one hand, armed robberies are wrong, but on the other hand, how far would you go to help someone you love? The movie makes a case for both.
It’s not subtle either, but at the same time this is a discussion that is or at least should be of interest to all of us. You get both sides of this and this works, because both sides of the argument are also attractive to us. There’s also the LBTQ+ theme, which was probably a pretty big deal back in mid-70s, but Lumet wasn’t trying to be provocative here just for the sake of being provocative, like Von Trier, because there were and still are many issues regarding LBTQ+ rights.
So, if someone doesn’t like a movie, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t get it. You are free to not like movies you understand. In fact, many movies that are understandable can be way too heavy-handed to be goo. I haven’t seen Don’t Look Up yet, and I’m pretty sure I won’t, because this is exactly what I’ve heard about it: the metaphor is just not interesting, because there is no subtlety to it. The argument is weak, because most of the audience is already on board with the message, so what’s the point? You can believe in climate change and want to do something about it without having to like a bad movie about the subject.