Do Audiences Enjoy Cerebral Movies Like 'Inception'?
Do Audiences like Cerebral Movies Like 'Inception'?
As this summer’s most critically anticipated film, Christopher Nolan’s Inception, looms on the horizon, many critics are asking whether or not Hollywood should have spent so much money on what is reportedly a mind-bending think piece. Nolan isn’t known for spoon-feeding audiences, and many are wondering if this big-budget gamble will pay off if audiences are left with the need to have the film explained to them afterward. As a result, Screenrant’s Mike Eisenberg opined, “Is it really too much to ask Hollywood for $100+ million movies that are not digestible in a single two-hour sitting?”
The answer is yes. It is too much to ask.
Mike’s thoughts on the issue are understandable, but impractical. Audiences resoundingly do not want to watch a movie that makes them feel dumb. Sure, there are many folks who love to watch movies they have to puzzle out and digest over time. Mike and I are clearly among that demographic. But it is a small demographic. There is a certain tone people take when they discuss a film they didn’t quite wrap their minds around: “Oh, that movie? I didn’t understand that at all!” They feel angry, cheated. Remember, Mike didn’t say he wanted his movies to not insult his intelligence; rather, he wants them to occasionally require more than one viewing. And that simply isn’t what audiences want.
The numbers back me up here. Intelligent, thoughtful films garner Oscars and do well over long periods of time (like Blade Runner, which he cites), but they do not make buckets of money at the box office. Nolan’s Dark Knight was a smartly crafted film, but it didn’t exactly require explaining or confuse audiences. Scan the top-grossing films of all time and you’ll find a void of intelligent filmmaking. Critics' chief complaint about Avatar was that it was too simple, but it, of course, made more money than anything else before it. Transformers 2, with all of its locker-room humor and bumbling characters, raked in a ridiculous sum of money. But critically acclaimed think pieces like Moon or District 9? Both proved solid alternatives for those of us who wanted a movie not necessarily digestible in one sitting – while requiring only modest budgets.
Mike’s idea isn’t new. Hell, a film wrestled with this idea nearly 70 years ago. Sullivan's Travels is the classic Veronica Lake movie about a young director (played by Joel McCrea) deadest on making his brilliant Depression-era epic on the suffering of the common man, and sets out to learn about…you know, the suffering of the common man. In his misadventures, he ends up learning what suffering really is, only to stumble upon a theater showing very simple comedies – something he’s come to abhor and dismiss as lowbrow tomfoolery. Instead he discovers why people go to the movies: to feel better about the world, themselves and life – quite simply, to laugh, to cry, to feel. While there is a marked demographic that loves to think, that’s not why most people drop $10 a head; they go because they want to feel entertained, not stupid.
Just today, in response to the sweeping federal assault on Internet movie piracy Web sites and their owners, someone parroted Mike’s argument from a different angle, arguing that maybe if Hollywood were forced to make fewer films, it would also be forced to make better films. This person is not alone in his thinking, but the sad truth is, as output approaches zero, so too does profitability. In order to make the most money, studios must make sure their films appeal to the largest possible audience – thus appealing to the lowest common denominator. Translation: The films have to be dumber.
On the upside to this, artists are just that – artists. And studios let them occasionally have their way to make brilliant, timeless films that appeal to those who want to puzzle it all out over a cup of coffee or a second viewing. However, these films are often made with smaller budgets and with the profits of a good old-fashioned blockbuster that appeals to the masses. So no, if you only make intelligent films, audiences will not rise up to meet them they’ll just stay home and watch television.