Sunday, January 6, 2013

What Counts: Interpretation and Intention

I am an arrogant SOB.  At least so I have been told.  I am so convinced that I am right that I won’t listen to other points of view.  Mind you, I am perfectly willing to allow others their (wrong) point of view, but I very rarely will allow their points of view to shake my own.

This only makes sense because my opinion is distinctly my own and it doesn’t make any sense to me to adapt another person’s point of view.  That seems very invasive, to allow another’s mind to rest in my own as if it lived there.

And this goes with movies as well.  You might notice that I don’t very often post a typical “review” of a film, as if it is “good” or “bad”, enjoyable or not.  I typically am writing about movies that meant something to me and I am writing at least a part of what I understood about the film.  I am not asking others to agree with me necessarily.  But unless you give me pretty solid evidence, I won’t change my mind about what the film means to me.

In my review of Martha Marcy Mae Marline, I gave an opinion of the meaning of the last name in the film title, and a couple readers wrote in to tell me I was wrong and they gave me evidence from the film.  Well, I was wrong.  I’m disappointed I was wrong, but there it is.

Now recently I watched the film Looper, the popular time travel flick by Rian Johnson, who is a director I really enjoy.  The plot, like all good time travel stories, is complicated and intricate.  But there seemed to be a clear contradiction in the plot, involving the end which I won’t get into.  I thought it through and decided that there must have been an unexpressed, subtle twist in the film that isn’t usually seen.  I was pretty excited about it, and I was ready to share it with my film friends, to see what they thought.

Then I listened to an interview with Rian Johnson and he happened to be talking about the plot of the film and he made it clear that, as writer/director, he had no thought as to my subtle twist.  It just wasn’t there.  Which meant that the contradiction stood.  This really irritated me.  I didn’t want the film to have a logical problem with it.  Admittedly, it is difficult to have a complex time travel without a misstep, but I wanted RJ to have it right.  I like him a lot, both as a person and as a moviemaker and I wanted him to get it right.  But he just didn’t.  That sucks.

Now, I have some friends who, it might be argued, are more arrogant than I.  They would tell me, “The director cannot tell us the ‘real’ meaning of his film.  Once the film is released, it is in the public arena.  He can have his opinion of the film and you can have yours and both can stand as equals, each must stand under the scrutiny of the text of the film.” 

I can certainly see this point of view for most films.  Because most film is art created by committee.  So the director may have one intention, but the scriptwriter another, the studio another, the cinematographer another.  So while my opinion isn’t reflecting one imaginative mindset, it could represent another.  The intention of the director, or the writer or the cinematographer or lead actor is only one point of view on this art.  There are other creative people who have input into this and my point of view might be representing another equally valid point of view.

I have a harder time doing that with a writer/director like Johnson or Woody Allen or Ingmar Bergman.  These artists have more control over their work, and have a singular mindset, a point or point of view they want to express.  They are more like novelists, and when a novelist expresses an opinion about the meaning of their work, their view, while not completely authoritative, is certainly more authoritative than anyone else’s.   
I can express my point of view about Looper’s plot, and it might disagree with Rian Johnson,  and if anyone pointed out that it disagreed with the 90 percent creator, I would hang my head in shame.  I still think that I have the right to my point of view.  And it is as good as anyone else’s , unless I am proven otherwise.  But just because I like my interpretation better, the main creator of a work still gets first say.

All this is to say I wish writer/directors would just shut up about their work.  Just release the work and then let it go.  You’re stepping on my toes. L
(Just joking, Rian.  You are so cool, I like listening to you. But let us have some mystery, okay?)