A few local cinemas near me put on films from a few months ago that people may have missed. Earlier this year, saw ‘A Ghost Story’ and it got me thinking about something; Is it a good or bad thing if my opinion of a film fluctuates constantly during the runtime? It may seem like an odd question, as surely if a film isn’t great the whole way through it spoils it? That was something I’d have probably agreed with but ‘A Ghost Story’ is the second film I’ve seen in the last year that’s changed my opinion on that.
When it started, I instantly hated it. I know you really should allow films a chance to breathe, but I just couldn’t get on board with it. Casey Affleck’s mumbling was an issue, I wasn’t keen on the extremely long shots of seemingly nothing and then before you know it Affleck’s C is lying dead on a table. I just wasn’t into it. I was pretty set on my dislike when I was watching C’s body under a cover for over a minute. Then he rose. He left his bed and, in his sheet, left the hospital and went home. From here, my attention peaked. In a matter of minutes, similar scenes were happening and I wasn’t finding myself annoyed anymore, I found myself intrigued and in awe. Take the pie scene for example. If someone said to you, “Wanna watch Rooney Mara eat a pie for over five minutes in a single take?” you’d laugh in their face. Yet the scene is rather beautiful. It tells so much by doing so little. You see the grief Mara’s M is going through and rather than having a few sad scenes pieced together, we see a realistic, unrelenting take on dealing with loss. And despite being under a sheet, you understand every emotion C is going through. It really was incredible that my opinion changed so quickly after being pretty firmly in one camp.
When it started, I instantly hated it. I know you really should allow films a chance to breathe, but I just couldn’t get on board with it.
As the film progressed, I could sense others hating it as I once did. I can understand completely why a lot of people felt this way. Some members of a cinematic audience want a film that goes from A to B to C in a safe way. But when a film decides to skip over B and head straight to F before going back to C, people don’t like it. ‘A Ghost Story’ seems to ignore any kind of structure, even going into a bizarre final act that really adds to the confusion. But once you get on board with its peculiarity, you start to see something truly beautiful.
Some…want a film that goes from A to B to C in a safe way. But when a film decides to skip over B and head straight to F before going back to C, people don’t like it.
The bizarre final act brings me back to the idea of fluctuating moods. Once the story changes focus from C and M, we go on a journey of multiple stories, each with a different themes and all very loosely connected. My mood didn’t go back to hatred, more a sense of confusion and disappointment. It seemed like the film had completely changed, just with the same central character. All that investment I had in the story seemed to have been pushed to one side as we went on a brand new journey and suddenly reaching what seemed like the final scene, and it would’ve been a hell of an ending. Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Now, this film is only 92 minutes, but by this point had felt a lot longer so even another 10 or so minutes would feel like the typical art-house indie drag. Instead, the last few moments are what stuck out as the most memorable.
if a mediocre film has a very memorable or epic ending, you come out with a real spring in your step and a buzz of positivity.
There’s always the argument that if a mediocre film has a very memorable or epic ending, you come out with a real spring in your step and a buzz of positivity. Take ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ for example. I came out of that thinking it was as good as the original, only to discover on a re-watch the film was just good with a truly brilliant finale. ‘A Ghost Story’s’ final few moments affected my negative attitude the film had given me in the previous 20 minutes. It’s rather beautiful final 5 minutes made the previous 20 of confusion and disappointment vanish. As I left the auditorium, my feelings about the film were mainly positive, despite having such a strong hatred for parts of it. Two days before I’d seen Darkest Hour and came out disappointed, yet I didn’t dislike any of it too the extent of certain scenes in this. So how comes I will praise ‘A Ghost Story’ but not ‘Darkest Hour’? It’s a tricky conundrum and on my way home reminded me of a similar situation from last year: ‘mother!’
As I left the auditorium, my feelings about the film were mainly positive, despite having such a strong hatred for parts of it.
Anyone’s who seen ‘mother!’ will probably have their opinion, but I would wager many of you didn’t know whether you liked it or not as the credits rolled. Like ‘A Ghost Story’, I found myself loving certain parts and cringing at others. One key difference is that the slow building atmosphere in ‘mother!’ is paid off in a huge way. It’s such a rewarding final act, as well as a breath-taking piece of cinematograpy, that one the chaos has seized, you begin to forget all the stuff you hated within the build up. It took me around a week to finally come out and say I was a fan of the film, even though my mood fluctuated so much during its runtime, as well as after the film had finished. Some criticism came down to one single scene (If you don’t know what I’m on about, go watch ‘mother!’ and you’ll know it when it happens). I wasn’t one of the people who hated that infamous moment. I thought it was brave. But, if I had hated it, would it really be fair to judge a film based one scene, and one scene alone? If it was unnecessarily sexist or racist, maybe you’d be inclined to, but just because it pushed the boundaries of modern, mainstream cinema? Seems harsh to me.
…would it really be fair to judge a film based one scene, and one scene alone?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and that’s something that should never change with audiences, I just found it odd that two films released very closely to each other had similar effects on me. I would recommend both of them, but only to certain people (e.g. not my friend who’s favourite film is ‘Don’t Mess with the Zohan’ or my Aunt who sees one film a year) with a warning to go in with an open mind and to stick with it. This alone would probably put others off. Both had long spells that I absolutely adored as well as scenes I truly detested. As the credits rolled for each one, my mind wasn’t made up as to my opinion of it. Both had final acts that, for me, made the bad parts worth the wait. One other thing I noticed was that of all the films I’ve seen at the cinema this decade, these were the only two with people actively walking out. You always hear about people saying they were tempted to leave but stuck with it, but to see over half the audience of ‘mother!’ walk out was quite a sight.
…to see over half the audience of ‘mother!’ walk out was quite a sight.
So what are the key elements that lead us to like a film, despite knowing parts of it weren’t all that? The argument of a ending being much stronger than the rest of the film has already been said, so what about the opposite: an opening that really disinterests you, then once something different happens you’re more on board? This could be due to the fact you are happy it is moving away from ‘the boring bit’ and not based on whether it’s actually any better. Then there’s the case for not being prepared for how the film is actually presented. Maybe when I re-watch ‘A Ghost Story’ knowing about the 1.33 aspect ratio and the extremely long and silent takes, the first few minutes won’t be as bad as I recall? Because as the film progressed, I got on board with it and enjoyed it’s cinematography; so perhaps that initial hatred was due to the overbearing and difference of its presentation, something I wasn’t ready for?
Maybe when I re-watch ‘A Ghost Story’ knowing about the 1.33 aspect ratio and the extremely long and silent takes, the first few minutes won’t be as bad as I recall?
Trailers can play a big part too. ‘mother!’ was billed as a home invasion thriller. However, twenty minutes in and it’s clear that was all bull to get an audience in. Altering the audience’s expectations can be very harmful for a film’s public reception, one thing ‘mother!’ found out. Both directors (David Lowery and Darren Aronofsky respectively) also present their films in such a unique and different way, it’s impossible for every technique to have the same effect on everyone. A film which spends around 66 minutes (over half the runtime) on Jennifer Lawrence’s face is bound to have its critics. I did begin to get agitated at every shot feeling similar before realising what Aronofsky was aiming for. Lowery’s shots on the other hand loved putting us in uncomfortable situation, and simply staying in them. It would get to the point when we’d actually push pass the awkwardness and just be lost on the simple visuals in front of us.
Altering the audience’s expectations can be very harmful for a film’s public reception, one thing ‘mother!’ found out.
So which of these are the key points to my original question? I think it comes down to two in particular. The first is that a brilliant ending can change your perception of a film. To put it in simple terms, if you had a god-awful journey toward the Grand Canyon, I’d wager once your eyes beheld the sight of it, you wouldn’t care how you got there, just glad you saw it through to the end. ‘mother!’ was a huge drag at times, but I was rewarded with one of my favourite cinematic experiences of 2017 because I didn’t give up, unlike many who left my screen. I think the other main reason a film doesn’t have to have a positive effect for its entire runtime is that sometime we want to feel different emotions during a film. We don’t just want the generic happy or sad moments. We want moments that shake us to our core. We want scenes that are poetic while also dragging on for way too long. We want films that get more people talking about film in general. Both of my prime examples have caused people to rave about certain scenes, whilst others complain about the exact scenes others loved. Perhaps some of us do like a bit of controversy in our films? Maybe we enjoy something taking a risk and somewhat paying off as it’s brave enough to try it? Or maybe it’s as simple as being open minded enough to admit something has flaws but there’s still greatness within.