This is a simple thesis:
Social media are ruining the movies.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medium—I don’t know, what else are the kids using these days? Kik? (What IS that?) Flink? Blung? Flump?
They are ruining movies the same way the museums ruined Art—by insisting, in the most self-vaunting and even self-righteous way, that Art isn’t really there to be experienced, you see.
It’s there to be talked about.
And when you talk about movies, you must be sure to let people know how important this talk is, how much in our shared political and moral life, the very fabric that holds our national, or ethnic, or spiritual community together, must be found in the films we view—and yet more urgently, in the opinions we insist we can discern in the film’s messages, coded or overt, and the filmmakers’ intentions.
For weeks now, my “friends”—the people I know only through social media—have been up in arms over Call Me By Your Name. People I know who care deeply about movies, and people I know who are totally gay—Will it surprise you to know there’s a pretty big overlap there?—are divided. Either it is the most beautiful film ever made and they will rob Timothée Chalamet of his deserved Oscar™ and if you don’t agree, you’re not only heartless, but a Self-Hating Gay and worse yet, pretentious since you’re only refusing to recognize the Greatness of this Historic Film because you think you’re better than us with your fancy critical terminology and your rancid, boring analysis; OR you haven’t grasped how this innocent-seeming story of young love—like most seemingly innocent things in this rotting, pustulant carcass of a culture, really serves the program of neo-liberal economic hegemonism through the means of selective desublimation of erotic impulses without the all-important channeling of the Outsider status of the Sexual Other into a truly revolutionary collective identity. (That is: Oliver and Elio aren’t really, really gay, they’re just adorable little human bunnies that Do It.)
By the way, that whole riff there is actually a coherent, defendable statement about the film. I just think it’s kind of dumb.
I think The Post is a really good movie. It’s an interesting dramatization of a pivotal moment in the relations of the American presidency, judiciary, press, and public. But it’s also a really good movie: I probably saw, in one viewing, maybe 87 directorial choices that worked, subtly or not, but mostly unconsciously, on the viewer’s emotional, intellectual, and even physical response, in ways far beyond the capacities of all but a handful of filmmakers in the general class of Steven Spielberg’s talents and technical mastery of screen narrative. It’s probably a very good film to see at this time when the press and the legislature openly collude in extending the power of the president far beyond the norms of American democracy. But it’s not the Declaration of Independence, folks; or the Letter from Birmingham Jail; or the Gettysburg Address. It’s a really good movie, and some of my friends sneer at it because it’s not experimental, or because it will make a lot of money, or because it validates the very flawed existing political system, even to the point of suggesting that it would be tragic and scary if it were all brought down by venal, power-mad men. Which, I mean . . . I mean, aren’t all politicians alike? Isn’t the press just serving economic interests anyway? Can we just . . . die now, please?
I’ve just seen Phantom Thread for the second time in ten days. I can’t tell you anything about it because if you haven’t seen it, it’d be a shame for you to get even the slightest hints about it, because almost every succeeding moment in it is a wonderful, breath-taking surprise. (At one quiet but crucial moment I had to restrain myself from screaming in the theater and beating my knees forcefully with my fists.)
My friends are arguing about whether they can believe the love affair in Call Me By Your Name, or the heroics of the central characters in The Post.
Phantom Thread creates a world you have never seen before, but one that tells us volumes about the world we inhabit daily.
Call Me By Your Name is charming. The Post is a rousing, great-hearted spectacle.
Phantom Thread is a miracle.