Watching a film is sometimes a frustrating, disappointing experience. I guess there are frustrating, disappointing films. When I watch something like “Mimic” – Mira Sorvino vs. mutant cockroaches – I am not disappointed. Good B-movies are still a pleasure to watch, a silly pleasure – no, don’t go in there, why are you going in there alone?! Eradicating mutant cockroaches is a great endeavour, and Mira Sorvino is pretty and sometimes wears a negligee. It’s Friday night and we are switching off for a while; fondling the child in us that likes monster stories. But there are other films – masterly done films, cream of the craft – that feel totally pointless, in a different way that Mimic is pointless. I feel used, tottered around, and finally left alone with my emptiness. I felt like this after “Grand Budapest Hotel”. And more so after “Tamara Drew” last night.
These experiences deepen my ongoing crisis of faith. Faith in screen stories, I mean. I sometimes picture the torrents of episodes in the endless supply of series and movies and screen fiction being offered today. I picture the millions of people sitting in front of a screen right now. Why do we create and consume all of this? I recall my own experience of emptiness after watching perfectly respectable films. I rarely feel that way with a book. Sometimes I am dissatisfied, and put it down after some pages. But a film uses its formidable user-friendliness and my inertia to plunge into my heart and sadden it with its pyrotechnical void.
The world seems to be thirsty and thirstier for screen stories. I do not want to moralize; let the world be. I just wonder what that means about human nature. Some posts below I was proclaiming the centrality of stories in human existence; of course I cannot invalidate this, but all stories are not the same. Some are revelation, transformation; some are just noise. And their nature isn’t within; it depends on the reader/spectator, of course. And some of us just enjoy the noise; probably, all of us enjoy the noise. We are looking for meaning and, given its scarcity, are happy to find noise instead of nothing. Maybe we are happy that the noise muffles the roaring nothing. We are more pointless than the most pointless of films. Which takes me to some lines by Blaise Pascal, whose Pensées are bright with lucidity about mankind:
Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now, the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and its end.
Now, of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king and what to be a man. (…)
Thus passes away all man’s life. Men seek rest in a struggle against difficulties; and when they have conquered these, rest becomes insufferable. For we think either of the misfortunes we have or of those which threaten us. And even if we should see ourselves sufficiently sheltered on all sides, weariness of its own accord would not fail to arise from the depths of the heart wherein it has its natural roots, and to fill the mind with its poison.
Thus so wretched is man that he would weary even without any cause for weariness from the peculiar state of his disposition; and so frivolous is he, that, though full of a thousand reasons for weariness, the least thing, such as playing billiards or hitting a ball, is sufficient to amuse him.
For the wealthy, secure societies that we are, weariness is a danger, and Netflix the solution. Ok, I admit it sounds like I am moralizing. Pascal would probably say that we should be praying instead of seeking diversion. I have nothing to advocate for. I just recognize myself in Pascal’s description: a sheltered Westerner feeling restless, looking for purpose and often settling for oblivion.
The fact that a lot of screen fiction feels vain or pointless to me doesn’t mean I have to give it up entirely. There are many films that really go there, deep into our splendid human mess. Haneke, Seidl (both Austrians like a certain someone I share my life with). But – I am a scriptwriter. Am I capable of something like that? Is that really what I want to do? Creating a good story – not necessarily one that scraps humanity’s bottom – sounds good enough; but then what do you get? Just another movie. Do I care for another movie? Sure, why not? And here we are, as cold as yesterday’s mashed potatoes (we should be like a couple of hot tomatoes, Ella Fitzgerald sings).
Of course, writing a story is a big personal adventure. I am glad and grateful I had the chance to write a few. Writing is hard, it requires perseverance and resilience. Writing is meaningful in itself. But sometimes the futility of it all just strikes me: here I am, struggling to compose a story, living a personal adventure, and then this film never gets made, or it does but it’s just another film. I am engaging with nobody but myself. I am alone, and nobody cares. (*sniff*)
I guess the conclusion is (and I have known this for a while): writing films is not enough and is not necessarily forever; watching films must become a frugal and intentional practice. I must find a way to engage with people and nature in a more fundamental way.