Earlier this week, I was afforded the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite films of 2009 – a Japanese import that screened at a few festivals last year by the name of Fish Story – as it made its American debut on Netflix (kind of – Netflix linked to the wrong film and, as of this writing, has yet to fix the error.) But buried within the comments of that article, titled “Massawyrm rejoices as his 2nd favorite film of last year, Fish Story, makes its way to Netflix Streaming!” was this little gem: “and whats massa favorite? last exorcism? expendables? it surely isnt Inception because he didnt want to get it”. I decided not to correct the grammar (or the fact that these are all movies from THIS YEAR) here, not just to mock its writer, but because I find it indicative of what many of us film critics are struggling with as of late.
You see, as it turns out, Christopher Nolan’s fans are jerks. At least many of the vocal ones are.
As critics, we are often the subject of ridicule for our opinion. We’re used to it. Not only does it serve to temper us in the flames of the Socratic Method, making us better writers and thinkers, but it also separates the wheat from the chaff. Everyone loves movies and most people believe they are qualified to write about them. After all, it’s just opinion right? But after spending six months to a year in the trenches of internet criticism, most newbies call it quits and move on. It’s how the system works, and it churns out some really great writers.
But this is different than the usual criticism. This is downright strange – and sometimes scary.
It all started with The Dark Knight. Many of us were Nolan fans already and were thrilled by the movie. But not everyone loved it. Critics who rated the movie poorly were inundated with harsh criticism, and some, as with a local Austin newspaper critic, received death threats for the sin of giving this work of genius 2 ½ out of 4 stars. Death threats. Most of us chalked this up to angry comic nerds and rabid Batman fans. But as the Inception reviews began pouring in, those chock full of praise received high traffic, thousands of positive comments and links from all over the net. The negative ones, on the other hand, received hate the likes of which few of us have ever seen.
My review was incredibly positive. I dared to criticize one (and only one) shot in the film – the final shot. I felt that Nolan had woven a masterpiece of subtlety, only to pull out a sledgehammer at the very end to bludgeon the audience to death with his ideas – *forcing* them to think about it and analyze it rather than simply *inviting* them to. And admittedly, I wrote 1850 words on that single shot. But the response was insanity. Every day for a month I received upwards of a dozen e-mails (yes, a day) taking the time to “explain” the movie to me, because I clearly didn’t understand it. Rather than challenging my resolve however, this strengthened it. Every e-mail explained a different film, ranging from simple explanations to some downright insanity involving clearly invented and entirely unsubstantiated plotlines conjured entirely in the head of the writers. Rarely, if ever, did two writers share similar theories on the film. And while I respect Nolan’s ability to do this to an audience, I felt that it weakened a brilliant narrative and prevented it from being truly genius.
But the fans would have none of that, and I would be railed on still, nearly two months later, for only loving the movie and not recognizing its brilliance in the pantheon of filmmaking. And I’m not alone. My good friend Harry Knowles was pestered on AICN for a solid month to write a review of the film – with comments on almost every single story posted until he did – that when he finally published one, shrugging it off as good but unimaginative, the vitriolic response was unbelievable. Rather than shrugging off a month late, middling review from someone many of them referred to as a “bloated sellout”, they instead wheeled out the hate machine and began inundating him with e-mails and comments that persist today.
What is it about Nolan’s fanbase that drives them crazy and makes them so obsessed about discussing his work with such unbridled fervor? One critic mentioned to me privately that these were “a bunch of really smart young guys who have been exposed to really good science fiction, but haven’t discovered Kurt Vonnegut yet, and so they think this is the pinnacle of science fiction.” It’s a strange group. And they all seem to be coming from the same place. They’re usually between the ages of 15 and 24, highly educated, smart but not yet worldly. But angry, really angry, when someone criticizes a film they love.
At the same time, their zealotry excuses even their own occasional hypocrisy. These same angry commentators and bloggers who will rail against the remaking of a film like Let The Right One In, will in turn retroactively declare Nolan’s Insomnia a masterpiece, without ever having watched the original foreign version it butchered. Again, it’s a strange group. And never before in the blogosphere has a group like it risen to such negative prominence. Right now they are being regarded poorly by the critic set – and they are only recently being shrugged off and disrespected by other commentators in the chatrooms and boards with an “Oh, you’re one of those,” kind of responses. I fully expect it to worsen over time.
As much as we film lovers and critics eagerly await Nolan’s next film with bated breath, I assure you that we’re not as eager to write about it. This is not a community we enjoy interacting with. Oh sure, the webmasters love the traffic the Nolan fans bring – so expect plenty of stories running up to his next films, but only in the same way they love the Twilight fans and post stories about it that revel in the run-up but play it very guarded in the actual criticism.
So seriously, guys. Cut it out. You’re not doing Nolan, or the film, any favors.