Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The capitalist's movie critic

It seems my "V for Vendetta" movie review has sparked a rather lengthy discussion thread at Objectivism Online. Of those critical of my review, their disagreement seems to stem from my claim that "V" supported anarchy, while others seem to disagree with my attempt to judge a work of art according to objective standards.

When I write movie or art reviews for CAC's weblog, it's usually because I am struck by an explicit political or ethical claim (or in the case of Crash, an epistemological claim). After all, this organization's mission is argue for Ayn Rand's political and ethical philosophy. Accordingly, I seek reasons to talk about these principles to a wide audience.

For example, when I reviewed Saving Private Ryan, I was struck by its altruistic portrayal of a solider who dies in the name of those who do not deserve it. As a movie that sought to honor WWII soliders though its portrayal, Saving Private Ryan's naturalistic depiction of the Normandy invasion excised a key motive that would explain why these soldiers risked their lives to defeat America's enemies. Saving Private Ryan excised self-interest, removing it as a motive of its heroes, and instead using it to describe the motive of the movie's coward--a man who betrays his comrades and hides in battle, lest he be killed by the enemy.

As such, I deeply disagreed with Saving Private Ryan's theme and I made my disagreement public, especially after all the praise that was heaped upon the film for its portrayal of the life of a solider.

Much was the same with my review of Jarhead, which unlike Saving Private Ryan did not hide its contempt for the men in our military. I was struck with how so many of my fellow Marine veterans were responding favorably to a movie that portrayed Marines as whiny, sexually frustrated, whim-worshiping wimps. Hence, you have my review of Jarhead, which I am proud to say was published by both Leatherneck Magazine and the Marine Corps Gazette.

Now when it comes to my review of "V," I continue to stand by my article without modification. "V" had plenty to fight against, but his character was never able to articulate what he ought to be to fighting for, unless raw revenge has now replaced justice as a worthy goal. Enough said.

Yet I think it is interesting to note that one of the critics of my criticism referred to my position as the "orthodox Objectivist" view (as if that is a bad thing). Yes, Objectivism is my tool for evaluating art, including an artwork's moral and political claims. Does that mean I shouldn't fault artwork that portrays bad premises, even if it is masterfully produced? Of course not. While I enjoy contemplating art for its own sake, I also have my values and I fight for them. Yes, "V" had stylistic elements that were interesting to me, but it also offended my moral code, and since the movie has been praised for its morality, it became fair game for my brand of criticism.

Unfortunately, there's a lot to examine in art that the criticism I write for my audience here does not explore. I'll give you one example: There are several movies that I think are appalling thematically, and yet I was drawn to them nevertheless, such as Titanic.

Why could I find someting to like in an awful film like Titanic? Simple. I liked the soundtrack despite the movie. So then, the question in my mind is what is the role of music in communicating a film's message, and can a soundtrack contradict and surpass the film it seeks to highlight? Interesting, but not a good topic for debate on the weblog of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism.

Accordingly, I stick to my focus. Should you not see "V" based on my review here? That obviously depends on you. If I were you, I'd be intrigued to see the movie simply on the grounds that there have been arguments both for and against it, and as a work of art, it is enjoyable to contemplate these things for one's self and arrive at one's own critical evaluation.

At the same time, if you tire of bad premises in art and prefer art that is uplifting, my review would serve to warn you away from a film that will likely leave you empty and uninspired.

No comments: