Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ego: Anton Ego and yours.

When I think about which Pixar movie is my favourite - and believe me, as a clear lover of everything Pixar, I think about this often enough - Ratatouille usually isn't at the top of my list (though it is never at the bottom). But that isn't because I don't love it - I truly do. Ratatouille was a grand experience - my first real foray into appreciating animated "kids" movies as, well, not an adult, but a seventeen-year-old, who might normally think they're too good for an animated movie and fully capable of seeing every movie at that age (three years later, I still get thrown off when I get carded 'cause I'm just so used to seeing everything regardless of rating, something my thirteen-year-old self would be jealous of). I'd seen most of the other Pixar movies, I'd lived through the Disney renaissance, but not like this.

The main thing I take away from Ratatouille is not the beautiful main message of the film, the one whose slogan rings throughout - "anyone can cook" - and translates into a tale of rising above one's circumstances based on talent and drive. The most beautiful and meaningful message any film has given me is also the most grounding of them - Anton Ego's stunning review of his meal at Remy's hands.

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more."

One reason I admire film critics and all people who love film is how they love finding something new to share with everyone else. It's such a pleasure to ask a friend, "have you seen ___?" and to hear them reply in the negative. Then, you are granted the opportunity to open their eyes to that world.

But it is that same admirable quality that I also can't stand in film critics, people who love films, and oftentimes even in myself. Because, as much as I love film myself, most people do not care nearly as much as people like me and people who dedicate themselves to a life of loving, understanding, and analyzing film.

We all have different opinions. Like everyone else, I fall prey to being upset when someone disagrees with something I feel so strongly about - people who refuse to see Star Wars or people who avoid animated movies because they're "for kids" or people who are too stuck up to appreciate the badassery of Death Race or people who are too bored with film to listen to my recommendations. But all of those people exist and I'd be a fool to hate all of them for those reasons. I love film, but people who only like it or don't like it at all are not any worse or better than me by that mere characteristic.

Ego's speech from Ratatouille, particularly the first few sentences, often give me the swift kick in the rear I think everyone involved in film (other fields too, I'm sure, but the entertainment and art fields in particular fall prey to this most, I feel) really needs. We all need a reminder that our opinions, what we say and what we write and all the time and energy we dedicate to our field isn't the be all and end all. So many people simply do not care about what we have to say or what we do. Saying that one movie sucks or one movie is awesome doesn't really matter at all, because we're all going to make up our own minds, and so many people won't even bother to do as much as they simply don't care enough to see the movie. You might praise some obscure title non-stop, but that won't it an instant classic. You might get a few more viewers, but there's no guarantee, no matter how influential your position is. Even Oprah doesn't reach everyone.

Our dedication and love for our craft matters to us, but not to everyone, so we shouldn't get frustrated or try to change the world to fit our style. I would never discourage anyone from doing what they love - considering my life as a film student, this is not news - but I would recommend not obsessing over it to the point where you simply cannot accept a contrary point of view.

Now, where does this all come from? Of course, it comes from a combination of Ego's speech always being with me and from the few negative reviews Toy Story 3, which I previously reported brought me to crazy-ass tears. There are two ways I can spin this little speech of my own. Firstly, I can say that it is totally the opinion of the reviewers to say what they will. As much as I may be prejudiced against and frustrated by the reviews, they're just opinions and they don't change how the movie made me feel.

The other thing to take away, though, is where the reviews are coming from. I won't dare to presume that these couple reviews come from anyplace unnatural or forced, but I know there are critics in the world who do enjoy being mean or contrary for the sake of their own enjoyment and to be different in some way or another. Or they choose to only look at a movie or other work of entertainment/art from a certain perspective so as to find the negative angles. To those critics, I say shame on you. Let your opinions come from your heart as well as your head. We can praise the technical achievements or complain about ordinary dialogue, but what really matters is what the film does for you, personally, and that's all we can take away. Each review is individual to the person who writes it and we might agree or we might not. We all appreciate different works for different reasons, and that's fine by me. I mean, my love for Toy Story 3 comes from somewhere deep in my heart, though I'd also defend most other aspects of the film. Other films, though intelligent and well-made and good in so many respects, may still leave me wanting more or totally emotionless.

I want to be involved in a movie I watch, not detached and watching it for the sake of observing it. As a film student, I do plenty of observing and, though it's useful, it's also work. Some films take work and it pays off, but others don't give me anything. And I like films that can absorb me and fill me up - there are good films that give and good films that take.

Anyway, I'm rambling. My point, simply enough, is that first and foremost, no man is an island and no one should ever assume that what they love would capture anyone else in the same way. As a film major with so few film major friends, I am reminded again and again that my friends really don't want to talk about movies 24/7, although I most certainly could. We lovers of cinema shouldn't be so full of ourselves... and believe me, plenty of us are that full of ourselves.

Second and final point: Within that larger scope of life on Earth in general, there is the smaller scope of the film world. Within it, none of us are the same. There are those who make film for entertainment and those who make it for art. There is plenty of success and plenty of failure in both categories. Let's not be snooty or untrue to our own tastes. I won't pretend I like something because other people do, but I also won't trash on something other people like just to be different. I wish more people lived by that.


  1. THIS = Fantastic and so relevant to all forms of art. I might just send this to people if you don't mind, and might rec it on my blog (which currently has nothing in it).

  2. Thanks! And feel free - I mean, it's a blog so it's my somewhat disorganized thoughts, but I put them out here for the purpose of sharing, so please share! :)