When I watch a movie for the first time, I try to experience it. I allow the colors and sounds to guide my thoughts. I set my brain to autopilot and repress the part of my mind that prides itself on analysis and critical thought. I forget about financial woes, annoying friends, and other daily stresses and immerse myself in whatever world is on the screen. My goal is to create memories, not brain wrinkles.
But that is the first time. If I watch the movie again, the gloves are off. My brain cracks its knuckles and prepares to pick apart the film. No scene, motif, or character escapes my analysis. My mind becomes a warrior of intellect, attacking ignorance and feeding on subtlety and nuance.
Some friends have told me that they don’t appreciate casual film analysis. “Chicago is not a social commentary.” “I don’t like to think of Aslan as Jesus.” “I don’t care if WALL-E wants me to save the planet.” But these friends are missing a crucial element of movie-watching. There is nothing wrong with intelligent responses to film.
Many films offer viewers guided tours through various philosophical musings and sociopolitical statements, and those messages demand critical thought. Like literature, music, and other forms of art, the burden of interpretation falls to the viewer. Films cannot easily be divided into groups based on the existence of a moral or social statement—those with messages and those without—and moviegoers who are only willing to analyze films that advertise as social commentaries (like FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Sicko) hide themselves from deeper understandings of their favorite movies. Analyzing film does not somehow ruin the simple pleasures of movie-watching, and thinking about the more profound aspects of a specific movie does not lessen the movie’s initial impact. Instead, injecting critical thought into the movie-watching experience enhances the adventure. The Lord of the Rings is better when considering Tolkien’s background. 30 Rock is funnier with an understanding of the show’s social commentary. And appreciating Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical as social satire brings the music to life.
So, the next time a friends tells you to stop analyzing movies, just remember that critical thought is film’s best friend. Feel free to tell your friend something like, “I’ll stop analyzing movies when you start paying for my movie tickets. Until then, I pay for these experiences, and I’m going to make the most of them.”
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