So I went to see The Dark Knight yesterday after work. Did I like it? That I did, though at times it seemed like a strange fusion of The Wire and The Long Halloween — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my book. It Batman Begins factored in an homage to the character’s pulp roots, this film incorporated more the feeling of more modern takes on the character — everything from the aforementioned Long Halloween to the overtly philosophical take Grant Morrison expanded on in Arkham Asylum. (And also, this.) And in some ways, it felt much more like Christopher Nolan‘s followup to The Prestige, thematically, than it did to his previous take on these characters. Did I think the film was perfect? Not really: while some of the action setpieces worked very well, others felt rushed or repetitive. And I’m still working out my feelings on the film’s — not politics per se, but at the very least, the implications of some of the questions it raises. (Spencer Ackerman offers up one interpretation.)
As I generally do once I’ve seen a film, I went back to take a look at the critical reaction. What I saw, honestly, rattled me a lot more than any amount of onscreen sociopaths. I’m not talking about the reviews — I’m referring to the reactions that reviews that didn’t argue that the film was the greatest thing ever received. Specifically, to those written by David Edelstein and Keith Uhlich — neither one exactly positive, but each one a lengthy response to the themes and imagery of the film. The amount of hostile, anti-intellectual vitriol embedded in the comments for each is unsettling.
It’s also strangely contradictory. To quote Edelstein, from his response to said vitriol:
They attack you for snobbery, for treating films like The Dark Knight as unworthy of serious discussion; then they call you a pretentious for engaging with those films beyond the level of “Wow!”
The question of the role of critics is a perennially ongoing one, as newspapers cut reviewers and pundits wax on the role of the internet on criticism. Something else that bothers me from this glut of angered commentary, though, is the question of just how many people are seeking a simple echo chamber from commentary — essentially, a one-to-one correlation between the films they like and the reviews they read. (A common theme in both comment threads involves disparaging the critics in question for films that they’ve liked, which is likewise problematic for any number of reasons.)
All of which raises the question: why exactly are the people responding so insecure about their taste in films that they feel the need to lash out at anyone who might question that. I don’t know that there’s any film that’s universally beloved by critics: hell, you can probably find an intelligent takedown of Citizen Kane if you look hard enough. My favorite film critics are Edelstein and The New Republic‘s Christopher Orr, and I try to seek out everything they’ve written. Does that mean that I agree with everything they write? No. Neither does it mean that if I enjoy a film one of them pans (for instance, The Prestige), I’m going to lie awake at night attempting to reconcile my feelings about said film with someone else’s less-than-glowing response to it.
Positive reviews by critics I trust have turned me on to films like Reprise and Kings and Queen that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise and that have, at their best, changed the way I think. But at the same time: it’s pretty essential to have enough faith in your own ability to watch and appreciate a film (or any other creative work) that you can feel secure in your own take on things.