As hard as filmmakers try to get their point across, sometimes people just don’t get it. A film being misunderstood is not indicative of its artistic value, as most talented artists usually incorporate an element of subtlety into their work. Subtlety is what makes a lot of movies great, but it has proven to be confusing to some people.
Some of the greatest films have been panned (or praised) due to the inability of the audience to understand exactly what the film/filmmaker was trying to say. Have no fear though, because we’re going to set the record straight, so put on your thinking cap. It’s time to get introspective.
‘Fight Club’ (1999)
David Fincher‘s black comedy adapted from Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel was a controversial film, to say the least. The reviews were generally pretty mixed, with some claiming the film was genius and others claiming it was crass, misogynistic, and promoted violence. While on the surface these criticisms might seem accurate, they are actually far from the truth. Fight Club is about the detriments of consumerism to the human soul. Creating a support group for troubled people to beat themselves back to life comes from the idea of self-destruction as a form of rebellion against a world that puts so much value on money, status, and power. Anyone who watches the film closely can see that Marla Singer (Helena Bonahm Carter) is the actual hero of the movie. The Narrator (Edward Norton) looks down on her due to her low status and “trashy” behavior, but also envies her, as her ability to walk through life without the slightest care in the world for public status or social decency is an extremely alluring idea to our protagonist caught in the trap of 9 to 5. In the end, The Narrator learns to respect Marla for what she is and cares deeply about her.
The argument that the film promotes toxic masculinity is an understandable one, but those who think this have completely missed the point. While Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and his gang of misfits may create a toxic energy, it is that very energy that becomes a problem for The Narrator, not a solution. The climax of the film sees The Narrator scrambling to undo the damage Tyler has done, and while he doesn’t necessarily “succeed”, he does find the middle ground between self-destruction and self-aggrandizement, and admits his true feelings for Marla in the process. It’s actually kind of wholesome.
‘A Wrinkle In Time’ (2018)
Adapting Madeleine L’Engle‘s beautifully fantastical novel that takes place outside the structure of space and time is no easy feat, and few people gave Ava DuVernay the credit she deserved in taking on such a difficult task. A Wrinkle in Time was universally panned by critics and audience alike, for reasons such as bad directing, bad acting, bad cinematography, and bad CGI all given. Funnily enough, few of these criticisms actually apply.
Many people claimed the film was a CGI trainwreck that didn’t incorporate any of Madeleine L’Engle’s themes, but that is far from accurate. The point of the novel is to love yourself for who are and to celebrate the differences that make you unique, and that point was represented perfectly in DuVernay’s vision. When insecure Meg (Storm Reid) is taken on an interdimensional journey to find her long-lost father, she ends up finding a piece of herself that went missing with her dad. By the end of her journey, Meg learns to appreciate herself and all her flaws in an extremely powerful sequence that has her defending herself against The IT, a darkness that corrupts the universe by drawing on feelings of hate, anger, jealousy, etc. Perhaps everyone was distracted by the glitter and the bright colors, but DuVernay’s film has so much beneath the surface, and few people seemed to recognize it. By the way, that glitter everyone claimed was so extra is symbolic for self-love, proven when Meg receives a miniature glitter makeover after defeating The IT and making the decision to love herself. Inner acceptance creates outer beauty.
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017)
While many critics appreciated this new and unique addition to the Star Wars saga, the fans were less than pleased. Many complained about character assassination when Luke (Mark Hamill) was portrayed as a grumpy and defeated old man who didn’t care to fight the good fight anymore, and others were even more upset by the lack of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) progression as a character.
Rian Johnson, who both directed and co-wrote The Last Jedi, created a fantastic new twist on the story, and Luke’s character was written to be much more interesting than he’s been in previous installments. While everyone appreciates the hopeful and naive Luke Skywalker of A New Hope, it’s extremely unrealistic to expect the same thing from an aged Luke 30 years later. Luke Skywalker had lost faith in the Jedi, but it is Rey who sets him straight and brings him back to the resistance, giving him a final moment of redemption near the end of the film. While the artistic choices that went into making the film were much more unique than your classic summer blockbuster, it didn’t change the fact that the story did actually follow in previous Star Wars footsteps, it just took a different route. The film stayed true to Star Wars while giving audiences something much more unique than previous installments had, and few people gave the film the credit it deserved.
Maimouna Doucoure’s film was so controversial when it was released that there was a petition to take it off Netflix for good. The controversy surrounding the French film had to do with young actresses acting hyper-sexual throughout, and many people accused it of sexualizing children. The movie tells the story of Amy (Fathia Youssouf), an 11-year-old girl who rebels against her religious family by joining a group of dancers at her school, and going to extreme lengths to showcase her femininity and her burgeoning sexuality in the process.
The entire point of Cuties was to bring attention to the constant sexualizing of children, something many societies have a huge issue with. The images of young girls dancing seductively and generally acting like adult women was supposed to be shocking, it was supposed to be disturbing, and it was supposed to promote outrage, but people focused their outrage on the wrong entity. Some recognized the point the film was trying to make, but disagreed with the execution, and that is an understandable concern. It should always be top priority in the film industry to protect child actors on set, but there was no evidence at all that any of the actresses suffered any emotional damages from the film, and reportedly there was a child psychologist on the set to ensure the young actresses felt okay with what they were doing and understood why they were doing it. All in all, Cuties is a beautiful coming of age film about finding yourself in a world that places such a huge value on women’s bodies and sexuality.
‘American Psycho’ (2000)
Ahh, the psychopathy of Wall Street. Few films have delivered that message as well as American Psycho, yet many people had that point fly undisturbed over their head. Mary Harron‘s gory masterpiece was criticized for depicting horrendous crimes against women and promoting violence, but that wasn’t the point of the film at all. Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho takes a look at yuppie culture through the eyes of Wall Street executive Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), an ax wielding psychopath who spends his free time working out, killing the skin care game, and dissecting young women (in his own words).
While it is a comedy, American Psycho in no way glorifies violence or Patrick Bateman’s character. It is a cold hard look at the effects of capitalism and the pressures of gaining and keeping a perfect social status. There are many subtle themes that pop up throughout the film but the biggest and most obvious one is this: capitalism, as well as money, power, and elite social status, are all psychopathic notions. This theme was presented through Patrick’s blatant disregard for other human beings, his obsession with social status and his own physical form, and his constant competitiveness with his equally vicious colleagues. Yes, the film is a black comedy, and it depicts disturbing and violent crimes in a nonchalant way, but that’s what R ratings are for. This isn’t a film for children, but it is a film for those who care to take an introspective journey through prominent aspects of American culture.
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