More Questions Than Answers

Critics? What are they good for?

I broached this subject with my friends before, so please forgive me, because I can’t help myself. It’s like I have some kind of sick addiction, some overwhelming inability to contain myself, but every time I see a critic lambaste a movie because it fails to reach any conclusions or provide any real answers, I want to retch.

I’m not kidding either, I get seriously ill, especially when it’s a big time critic from a national publication such as USA Today. How some of these critics land a job, let alone keep one, escapes me.

Now I don’t care what type of movie it is, comedy, drama, low budget, big budget, what have you, there are certain items that warrant criticism. Crappy acting is one. A confusing story is another. Believe me, the list goes on and on.

I understand that criticism is nothing more than a bloated, self-important opinion, and like an asshole, everybody’s got one. Myself included. And I also understand that opinions vary widely from person to person. So to some, an actor’s performance may be Oscar worthy, but to others may not pass muster at your local dinner theater. All of which is fine.

The problem I have however, is that there are some things that shouldn’t be criticized. At least not by a so-called “informed” opinion. It’s like getting into a pissing match over which color is better, red, white, or blue. And as far as I’m concerned, at the top of that list should be criticism that questions a film’s intended ambiguity.

I hear this from my friends all the time, bitching and moaning that a movie didn’t explain everything they wanted to know. And you know what, coming from my friends that’s fine, because for the most part, God bless them, they are uninformed and lazy. They want everything to be easy. They want everything handed to them on a silver platter, and to some extent I can understand that.

But a movie critic shouldn’t be like that. A movie critic should know better and shouldn’t be looking for easy answers. Questioning a film’s artistic merit because it doesn’t spell everything out is silly and simple-minded.

Isn’t at least part of the greatness of the Mona Lisa due in part to the ambiguity of the woman’s smile? Would it hold the same allure and magic if we knew why she was smiling?

I think not. And I also think any critic who argued otherwise would be thought a fool.

So why is it different with movies? Why can’t we take the movie for what it is, and explore and discuss the ambiguities that arise and the questions left unanswered? Have we become so lazy as a society that anything beyond a second grade mentality is too difficult to handle? If not, then why aren’t critics taken to task for such lapses in judgment?

Now I don’t mind singling out critics, and I’m not afraid to say when I think they’re flat out wrong. So I don’t mind saying that the impetus for this article stems from Claudia Puig’s review of K-PAX in USA Today.

Now I admit, I haven’t seen the movie, and I have no idea if it’s good, it sucks, or it’s somewhere in between. But what I do know is Puig’s review of the movie borders on ridiculous.

She basically takes the movie to task because as she so deftly puts it “one walks out of the movie with more questions than answers.” I must admit, I was left scratching my head at that one. Isn’t that a good thing? Or at the very least, not bad. Doesn’t that basically imply that it makes you think about the answers yourself? Or that the film sparks discussion and debate about its meaning? I don’t know about you, but that’s the type of film I would love to make.

The funny thing is, this type of criticism runs rampant, and it’s been going on for years and years. I recently read some criticism of Bob Dylan, specifically some criticism of his early work, as providing no real answers to the problems he attacks.

One song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” was singled out as particularly guilty for the series of questions it raised, while failing to provide any answers except to say they were “blowing in the wind.”

I found this particularly funny. I mean, isn’t that half the battle, asking the questions in the first place? It’s not an algebra test is it? Or am I missing something? If these critics are so damn smart, why don’t they answer the questions themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to imply all film critics are idiots. Just the vast majority. There are some good ones out there, Peter Travers, Joe Leydon, and even Roger Ebert included. And I really don’t care if I agree with the reviewers or not. What I do care about is if their reasons for praise or criticism are valid.

But when they start criticizing a movie because it doesn’t answer all their questions, I know they’re a lousy critic. How do I know this? Because if it was a really valid criticism there would be two sides to the coin. After all, you’ve never heard anyone praise a movie for explaining too much, have you?

Joe Catoe

Joe Catoe, from Cincinnati, Ohio, is both a filmmaker and film critic who cannot be held responsible for his own opinions. Joe welcomes opposing views and promises to both publicly and privately disagree.

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