The Death of Gods

The loss of a certain kind of innocence… That’s always sort of fertile ground for a story.

— Paul Thomas Anderson

She hates when I do this and so do I, but things get twisted around in here. To say anything is to pretend like this sulking has some legitimate source; to say nothing is to continue sulking. She has asked if I’m O.K., which the answer is yeah, but the interrogative offspring are “what is O.K?” and “wait, am I even feeling anything right now?” which despite their facileness take up rather too much headspace and leave me quiet and only barely nodding. What has happened is simple and unimportant: I have seen a movie, one I expected to like, but one which, when it came right down to it, I didn’t, in fact, like. This event’s monumental lack of significance is a part of the problem. “Stop caring about it, right now.” To say this is to care, and round and round it goes.

I thought I would like Inherent Vice because I’ve always liked Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies. Or, I have since a high school media studies professor accidentally described Magnolia with a whole bunch of superlatives I’ve forgotten but which provided ample encouragement to pirate and watch,1 this high school teacher thus being in the awkward position of having told a sixteen year-old boy to watch a movie in which a sweaty Tom Cruise yells “TAME THE CUNT!” on more than one occasion. I have nothing but thanks for this recommendation. My reasons for this appreciation are either complex or else not very coherent: I tend to give a different answer every time I’m asked. Once, I said it eroded my preconceptions about Tom Cruise, John C. Reilly, and William H. Macy,2 and so therefore about actors in general, opening me up to a world of possibilities beyond my petty celebrity grievances. Another time I said I didn’t realize it wasn’t a standard two hours in length until a few minutes after it finished, at which point I realized bedtime had long since gone by. Some poor soul got an earful of me describing how it’s singularly effective at painting a broken and pained world and yet it still maintains—well perhaps not a happy ending, but some sort of hope. Someone else pretended to listen while I went on and on about whip-pans. One, some, or all of these explanations is or are probably true, but what’s most important in this context is that, whatever the reason(s), Magnolia made me feel something very particular, something that spurred me to watch the remainder of what was then Anderson’s filmography.3

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  1. Plus buy a blu-ray, but that came later.

  2. Wild Hogs was still a somewhat recent phenomenon.

  3. Except, like everyone else on the planet, Hard Eight.

If I Disagree with You in a Forest, Is It Still Wrong?


How can a movie review be written in the third person, as if it were an account of facts? If it isn’t subjective, there’s something false about it.

— Roger Ebert, Life Itself

Introduction

I had powered through my blue cheese burger, always being something of a fast eater by virtue of my single-minded focus on the eating process over and above any conversational maxims, particularly when my food is slathered in blue cheese, and was halfway through a side of fries that seemed to be trying to make up in seasoning what it lacked in overall size—a blatantly profit-motivated technique that would have been roundly criticized by all five of us if the joint hadn’t been so trendy (a basically pointless and image obsessed social concession that irked me even as it reassured me that I’d finally reached adulthood). The server had performed the ritual of asking “how is everything?” and, as per usual, my mouth was full, and on this night it seemed of great importance that I let this server know that I was on to her pesky routine, and so, mouth full, I looked her square in the eye, brow furrowed, eyes dead, and slowly nodded until she backed away. Comments were made regarding how that always happens, with the food in the mouth and everything. No comments were made regarding the obvious point that, if a time is selected at random for a question to be asked of a diner, it is quite likely, given that the diner is here to eat, that he or she will have food in her mouth, and so you can’t really blame the server. Instead the conversation had turned to the Oscars, and I didn’t feel I’d be able to turn it away without invoking the Streisand Effect, so I kept mostly silent as my friends mutually agreed that yes, there had been some good movies last year, and yes, there will probably be some good ones this year, too. The conversation was unprofitable, then, shall we say, as it offered little in the way of new information or individual expression, but it was enlivened by a sense of good cheer (at least one other person had gotten the blue cheese burger, and there was chipotle enough to last the night), and the intelligent and gracious conversation of good friends.

Someone, it may well have been me, said the words American Sniper. Cue much discussion of the possibility of a special effects supervisor who had never seen an actual, live baby, or else a supervisor who was in fact himself a baby, followed by discussions of Eastwood’s personal life and historical political leanings which through later research I learned were incorrect, and dramatically so, and five people all trying not to ask what we really thought of the moral implications of warrior glorification, since none of us had an answer. Cue the comment which, unbeknownst to me or anyone else, would lead me to ruin the evening for everyone involved: “Yeah, I haven’t seen it, but my friend did and she said it was the worst movie ever made.” Continue reading