What does it mean to hate a film? What does it take to change that opinion?
The first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, I was a freshman in high school. Already a burgeoning film lover, I had nothing but high expectations for what I had been told by countless film historians was a key film in the pantheon of great movies, a movie that defined an entire genre, a movie that was the Rosetta-stone for entire generations of film craft. I wanted my first viewing to be truly special, so I set aside plenty of time so I would not be interrupted by the oh-so-stressful daily concerns of a fourteen-year old. I found a quiet room in my house, turned all the lights down and closed the blinds.
It was just me, and the film. And I hated it with the white-hot fury of ten thousand suns. The kind of fury you can only really summon when you’re young and really, really need to be right about everything.
It was long. It was boring. It made no sense. It didn’t explain anything. It was boring. It was dated. It was boring. It was slower than molasses. The characters were flat. It was boring. *sigh*
This opinion was held for years. For years, I yielded my dislike for the film like a cudgel. No one could actually like a movie that boring and nonsensical. People were just being pretentious, or saying that they liked it because it was expected of them. They didn’t have the courage to admit how bad the movie really was. They just didn’t have the kind of bold, courageous rebellion in them like I did, the sheer moxy to insult the powers-that-be and tell it like it was.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I revisited the film. It was sitting in a used DVD bin, an old DVD going for only three dollars. It went into the DVD collection and sat unwatched until a fit of pique finally put it back into the DVD player for a second viewing.
Needless to say, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is a fantastic film, one of the greatest ever made. It is, almost indisputably, the greatest science fiction film ever made. On this second viewing, and in the many, many viewings since, 2001 was an overwhelmingly emotional experience. It was a film that told a huge, complete, cosmic tale that encapsulated the entirety of human existence, and it did so without ever once spoon-feeding the audience, never once insulting the viewer by laying on the exposition or stopping to explain the “rules” or “mythology”. 2001 now sits as one of my personal favorites, a film I go back to again and again when I need a refresher on what an incredible medium film really is when it’s used by artists, as opposed to the million clowning hacks out for the quickest buck.
All of which is a long run-up to this central idea: Perspective is a funny thing. Where a fourteen year old is confused by something, is insecure about what that confusion says about his cognitive abilities and then lashes out (albeit in the dweebiest way possible) an eighteen year old is moved and transfixed. As we grow and change, so do our perspectives. What was once boring becomes captivating. What was once pretentious becomes intelligent and layered.
This cuts both ways, of course, and making peace with one aspect of this journey (that you may have been wrong to dislike something) necessitates accepting of the flip side. Something you once loved may in fact not hold up. Could, in fact, be wretched.
Embracing these changes is increasingly hard to find in modern communication. So many of our discussions of movies, TV, music or video games take place in a completely binary fashion. Something either “sucks” or “owns”. It increasingly feels like there is no room for considered opinion or discussion. And once you have staked your claim in one side or the other, there is no room to adapt or reconsider.
Hence an entire generation founded on reliving the same pop culture fixations over and over and over again. Now we have to listen to endlessly looping conversations, always pitched at screaming volume, about the ‘proper’ way to adapt such masterworks as the He-Man half hour toy commercial or the Transformers half-hour toy commercial.
If it was good when we were eight, it must be good now that we’re in our twenties, thirties or (God help us all) forties.
This is not just frustrating on a micro-level of these conversation about those particular properties. It’s incredibly limiting on a macro-cultural level. When you close yourself off to second-viewings and reappraisals, you close yourself off to all-new levels of insights and entertainments. Even if a re-review yields no better results, it opens the viewer up to a better understanding of why the film in question doesn’t work, where it goes wrong, what doesn’t mesh properly with the viewer.
Conversely, refusing to re-evaluate a property, refusing to be open to new maturity or new criticisms? All that does is devalue all of media. If everything you ever saw as a child is perfect, than there is no room for growth, no room for new things to inspire and entertain.
And there’s so much amazing stuff waiting to be found in the past, or to be made in the future. It just requires effort, maturity, and a willingness to look beyond where we’ve been and towards where we might go.