For the film-intimidated
I feel obligated to begin with a disclaimer: I am not a film student – or even a film buff, for that matter. In fact, the list of movies I haven’t seen is long and would, if read aloud at the correct party, prompt every film bro in a five-mile-radius to remark “You haven’t seen [insert literally any movie title here]???” as they so often do.
I have, however, been taking steps to remedy my film ignorance. I mean, as an English student, media analysis has been instilled in me, and I never really had anything against movies as a genre; I was only ever intimidated by their length, and somewhat off put by the fact that every film fan I know has a seemingly never ending pool of weird facts and names at their (often-unsolicited) disposal. With these walking encyclopedias as my ambassadors, the world of film felt alien.
But last year, something in my brain clicked, and I realized it’s not that deep. Because it isn’t. They’re movies. So I picked a place to start and followed my whims, watching classics I’ve always wanted to see, the work of specific actors and directors, random flicks that seemed fun – literally anything. Some I devoted full attention to, and some were half-watched in the background while I was playing games or texting friends. Because – I can’t stress this enough – it’s really not that deep.
My most recent film binge took me through the ouevre of writer/director Charlie Kaufman, and I quickly fell in love. My marathon was planned in anticipation of his latest film, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which also happens to be the film that inspired this article. I personally loved the movie but, while scrolling TikTok, came across several videos by confused and disgruntled viewers. Many of them found the movie completely inaccessible, self-indulgent garbage created solely to stroke the egos of pretentious film snobs. Fair enough, but I figured I would take some time to write something in response to these concerns, and a roadmap to film enjoyment in general.
Step 1: Understand that one film can have several different interpretations
This is essential to not only viewing films, but consuming any scrap of media. We come out of high school thinking that books and films are like riddles that need to be solved, but they’re not. They’re complex, living things, and you are going to be coming to them with a very particular set of life experience and knowledge that will influence what they make you think and feel. And that’s great!
This is sometimes complicated by the existence of those asinine “[insert title here] EXPLAINED” YouTube videos that seem to exist for every film and TV show out there. Sure, those are great if you’re looking for a quick run-through of some imagery or details you might have missed, but you don’t need them. I promise you. FilmWarrior8000 is not giving you the definitive take on whatever it is you just watched, and I’m willing to bet whatever you think was happening in the movie is just as valid of an interpretation, with just as much valid evidence to support it.
As Kaufman himself said in an interview with IndieWire, “I let people have their experiences, so I don’t really have expectations about what people are going to think. I really do support anybody’s interpretation.”
Step 2: Forget about “getting it.”
This goes along with tossing those “Explained” videos aside. Sometimes things are just weird. Some films include a lot of weird, surreal, things and not all of them make sense. That’s… okay. It’s okay for things to just be weird.
Instead of trying to figure out a logical explanation for everything occurring on screen, or thinking you’re not smart enough to soak up some hidden subtext, embrace the weird. Think about your emotional response to what’s going on and how that might factor into the film’s larger themes; take some time to just enjoy the imagery and atmosphere.
Step 3: Don’t be frightened by intertextuality
In one of the TikTok videos I watched critiquing I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the OP made the case that the film is elitist, inaccessible trash since, in one scene, it references a 1974 film called A Woman Under the Influence.According to her, the name-dropping of the film is intended to exclude anyone who hasn’t seen it, and just further proves that films like I’m Thinking of Ending Things are made for a specific, insular, community of viewers.
But, the thing is, you can understand what is happening in the scene without having seen the movie they’re discussing. Sure, it’s super bizarre, and if you had seen the movie you’d know a bit more about what the characters are talking about. But unless you’re watching a sequel, other films or books are hardly ever necessary prerequisites.
If pieces of media never interacted with each other, the things we watch and read would be a lot less interesting! So don’t let references or allusions intimidate you. Worst case, you miss a tidbit of context, but you can always Google the piece of media being referenced. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can even make that supplementary material your next watch/read.
Step 4: Rewatch!
So maybe a movie’s plot twist didn’t make all that much sense to you. Or perhaps a film didn’t really vibe with you when you watched it in grade 7. Why not play it again? So many films have a lot of things going on, and it’s nearly impossible to catch everything on the first watch. Likewise, the way you interact with film is going to be drastically different at different stages of your life. Film appreciation isn’t a sprint. Take your time. Enjoy.
P.S. You’re allowed to dislike things. You’re even allowed to dislike good things.
That film won the Oscar for Best Picture but you literally can’t get through it without falling asleep? That’s cool! Not every film has to be your cup of tea – even if it’s critically acclaimed. Don’t let the film bros get you down.