by Alexander Huls Monday October 17, 2011

In the Comapny of Men

I’m not exactly starting an intellectual revolution when I point out that generally if you think something is great then chances are you’ll like it. After all, if you think a meal or a book or a song is good, you’re not likely to then tell someone “I didn’t like it.”

Or are you? Lately I’ve been considering how there might be exceptions to that bit of common sense – specifically when it comes to movies. I’ve been toying with this conundrum ever since I saw Blue Valentine, but the other day I was watching Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men again and it reminded me of the question I was wrangling with back when I saw Derek Cianfrance’s bleak relationship drama.

If you think a movie is great, does that necessarily mean that you like it?

Chances are your basic common sense is kicking in right about now and balking at that statement, while simultaneously preparing to lob a big fat “Duh!” my way, but bear with me.

For me, liking something is synonymous with enjoying something. When you say you like something what you’re effectively saying is: “I enjoyed experiencing it. It felt good experiencing it. Now I have affection for it because it made me feel this way. So, I like it.”  In other words, liking something is an emotional response, not always a rational one.

How else do we explain guilty pleasures? Who of us doesn’t have some movie we know is mediocre but we love of it anyway? That’s why I can say I love Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea and find it fun even though it’s a ridiculous movie. So, isn’t my inability to say I like Blue Valentine even though it’s a fantastic movie just the flip-side of that?

Because if liking something is all about emotion and enjoyment, I can confidently say I did not feel good or enjoy experiencing Blue Valentine. Or In the Company of Men. The same goes for movies like The Magdalene Sisters, Mysterious Skin and Paddy Considine’s recent Tyrannosaur to name a few.

Don’t get me wrong, every one of those movies is fantastic, and represent some of the best cinema has had to offer over the last decade or more. As a lover of movies, I appreciate those films. I appreciate how remarkable they are, how well they’re made, how powerful they are, but that has nothing to do with how they make me feel – during and after.  

Perhaps it’s my own limitations, but on an emotional level I can’t get any pleasure from those films because of what they put me through. It’s hard for me to say I enjoy watching two men treat a woman like a disposable toy, to see a dysfunctional couple implode, to see young Catholic girls terrorized by their keepers, to see two young boys struggle with their sexual abuse, or to see a man brutally murder his own dog (among other awful things). To me saying I like those movies seems like I’m saying I enjoyed being put through and exposed to those scenarios. I can’t say that. Hopefully no one can.

Maybe I should be a better film buff who can derive enjoyment simply by watching a good movie – no matter how it makes me feel. Maybe I should be able to convert appreciation into enjoyment, to love a movie not for its subject matter but its quality. Maybe I should not get hung up on what some might argue is semantics. But I just can’t help myself. I can’t walk out of watching Blue Valentine or In The Company of Men and say I like them in the way the term means to me – like how I love sushi, Indiana Jones or mini-eggs. It just doesn’t feel right.

How do you feel fair readers? If a movie is great – even if it’s uncomfortable to watch – can you easily say you like it? Do you too distinguish between what is a good movie and what is a movie you like? Or do you think I’m being ridiculous and a good movie buff should like quality cinema no matter how it might make you feel?

Film    Society & Culture