Reality sucks; we need movies that balance the equation

Bas relief of Joker making a face at the viewer, from the facade of the old Jubilee Theatre at 235 Main Street, Vancouver, BCCommenting upon my previous post, the following observation was made by a Facebook friend:

“I was thinking about [The Mist] the other day and I suspect one of the reasons that picture didn’t do so great at the [box office] was because of the ending. It was a one[-]two punch of bleakness (and I loved it) at the end of a pretty dark film. Unfortunately, I think what many self[-]important indy films, Canadian and otherwise, suffer from is a disconnect from a general audience. They’re created in a vacuum and little thought is given to how the kid down the street might enjoy the story. Sure, the critics and fest audiences like them, but that doesn’t translate into the movies making their money back. My favourite writers and directors are able to get profound messages across in otherwise entertaining (aka optimistic) movies that work on several levels and for broad audiences. Oddly, directors like Hitchcock, Spielberg and Welles were poo[-]pooed by cineastes for their early fluffy entertainments and not celebrated until much later in their careers for those same popular works.”

I totally agree with this comment except for the part about festival audiences liking these films. While I think we often “like” these films, do we prefer them? Do we like them enough to recommend them to others? I found myself giving none of the dark, depressing films an “excellent” rating, yet did so for a few fabulous documentaries, all of which left me feeling uplifted (Lucky, When the Devil Knocks, and Marion Woodman: Dancing in the Flames). And if the VIFF award-winners are any indication, my reaction was indicative of the general festival audience: Waste Land, Kinshasa Symphony, Two Indians Talking, Leave Them Laughing, and Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie all tackled pertinent and usually difficult topics from a perspective of hope. Even the winner of the Best Canadian Feature Film, Incendies, which had a horrid reveal for its ending, was nevertheless paradoxically positive.

It’s a truism that conflict makes for a better story, and we like to explore the darker side of humanity in the safety of film, BUT we want hope or a positive resolution at the end of it. As the great detective novelist P.D. James remarked, the popularity of the murder mystery is that the murderer is always caught. In real life murderers sometimes get away with it, or get off on a technicality, or receive a lenient sentence, and we respond with outrage, indignation and despair. The murder mystery, on the other hand, provides relief and a sense of security.

Reality provides enough misery; we need movies that balance the equation.

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