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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Viewers determine merits of film through personal narrative depth

There’s a part from Stephen Chbosky’s novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” that I often think about, wherein the main character Charlie and his girlfriend go to see a movie. After it ends, Charlie comments that it is a decent film, but he doesn’t like the film because it didn’t make him feel any differently. Although this scene isn’t a pertinent moment in the novel—so much so that it didn’t even make into the movie adaptation—it always stuck with me, because it introduced a different way to evaluate film.

Before, during and after we see a film, we wrestle with how best to judge it’s quality. We could read early reviews, judge the performances and direction, look at box office results or just ask friends what they think. All of these resources exist for a reason, but what if we stripped all of that away for a moment? What if we just asked ourselves what Charlie asked himself after he saw left the theater—“Did it make me feel any differently?”

This scale is a subjective one, and might make judging a film just as difficult as any of the other resources, but there are some films that stick with us more than others. I still remember the way I felt 15 years ago when I saw “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” in theaters. I can remember that I was completely captivated by Harry’s fantastical world, just as I can remember how sad I felt watching Andy gives away Woody and the rest of his toys in “Toy Story 3.” These films grabbed my attention on a level that extends beyond the story.

While I have seen well-made and well-received films, not all of those films made me feel differently at the end. When I saw “Star Trek Beyond” this summer, I enjoyed the story and action sequences, but it didn’t inspire anything new for me. I’ve encountered the same thing with high-profile blockbusters like “Thor.” They are good movies, but much like Charlie, I can’t put them on my list of favorites because there isn’t enough depth.

There are also films I’ve seen that are not highly praised, but still resonate with me. Back in 2011, I went with a friend to see Sean McNamara’s “Soul Surfer,” a bio-pic about pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton and her life after being attacked by a shark. The acting is a little cheesy and the narrative does fall into some familiar “comeback story” cliches, but the message of persevering in the face of obstacles, came to me at a time in my own life when I really needed to hear it, and ultimately made me feel different after watching. Even more lighthearted movies can have this effect.

I recently watched “10 Things I hate About You” for the first time. It wasn’t overly praised by critics, but it is a perfect example of why the 90s is so admired. Heath Ledger is as charming as ever, and he and Julia Stiles played off each other in an adorably and surprisingly emotional way. Films like these dig deeper than I expect them to, which is why they leave more of a mark.

I don’t think there is a particular rhyme or reason as to why certain films speak to an individual while others don’t, but I do think it has to do with the emotional potency of film. The main reason I watch films is to experience a different world than my own, to explore the lives of characters I have never met and places I have never been. I watch films because I want to feel something, to exit the theater with a different feeling than I did when I entered. It’s not always the mark of a perfect movie, but it does create a powerful viewing experience, which is all I can ask of a film.

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