We all eventually turn – as the old maxim goes – into the people we despise the most in life, though whether or not we care to admit it is another matter entirely. Allow me to explain…
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a truly excoriating review of one of the very few films that I consider to be a genuine masterpiece of contemporary American cinema: David Lynch’s Lost Highway. In his vicious, half-star assault on one of the greatest films ever made, the reviewer declared Lynch’s unrivalled exploration (except, perhaps, by Lynch himself in one of his later films…) of human identity and sexuality to be little more than a “tragic excuse for a student film” that inspires nought but “pretentious, weightless” reactions from its audience; an audience he then went on to dismiss as “uninformed” with not one single hint of self-awareness or irony.
The exasperation that erupted within me as I devoured each line of the reviewer’s increasingly deranged gibberish was almost palpable. Were it not for the fact that I’m not a character from a Leon Schlesinger cartoon, steam would no doubt have been emanating from my ears as I took to my keyboard in a fit of righteous indignation. “How dare this so-called person use such slapdash generalisations to berate Lynch’s magnum opus?!” I thought as I took up the always perilous offer to “leave a comment below”, only stopping when the awful realisation of what I had written hit me like the onset of appendicitis.
“In your opinion”… what the fuck was I thinking? “In your opinion”; of course it’s his opinion, he wrote the bloody review! I quickly closed down the page and moved on, though I couldn’t escape the fact that in that solitary, unbridled second I had regressed into the sort of sanctimonious, know-all tosser I hate the most (yeah, make the obvious joke guys; I know you want to…). In my hasty bid to dismiss the reviewer’s perfectly valid view of a film he hates as “his opinion”, I’d momentarily forgotten what every review you, I or anyone else has ever written is; they’re our opinions, that’s all, just as much as this review – which I just happen to disagree with – was his opinion.
Now, you might wonder where I’m going with all of this but bear with me for a moment. So, I forgot all about this debacle until earlier this week when, in the midst of one of the most tedious Bank Holiday Mondays on record, my attention was brought to this article by Tim Robey, a renowned film critic for the Daily Telegraph. In his piece, entitled “10 most overrated films of all time”, Robey argues against films as popular and diverse as Network, Videodrome, Inception and The Departed, suggesting that they’ve all fallen victim to chronic overpraise since their release.
My initial reaction was one of reluctant agreement. Though I think that both Network and Videodrome are, if anything, underrated (inb4 anyone points out the contradiction of me using the word “underrated”, which more often than not just means “under-seen” anyway), I couldn’t fault Robey’s criticism of Inception, The Departed or Million Dollar Baby. “Yeah” I thought to myself. “Those films are definitely overrated”. I even took to Twitter to offer a few suggestions of my own; The Dark Knight, The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction all deserve a spot on that list too I opined, unbearably smug in the glow of my own loathsome contrarianism. Then, in an instant, I felt that fierce, curdling sensation in my stomach once more… “for fuck’s sake, I’ve done it again!”
Let’s think about it for a moment; what does “overrated” actually mean? To give you a recent example, I tend to dismiss Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as wildly overrated. Does that mean I think it’s a terrible film? No, far from it, I think it’s pretty good actually; I just happen to think that both Tim Burton’s Batman and Nolan’s own Batman Begins are better than it, and I disagree with those who proclaim it to be a masterpiece of the comic book genre. “In my opinion” then, to coin a superfluous turn of phrase, The Dark Knight is overrated.
Except, well… it’s not, is it? It’s impossible to square one’s use of the term “overrated” with the claim that it’s just your “opinion” because the term itself suggests that you or I are privy to knowledge that the rest of the audience lacks. To dismiss a film in such a manner is surely to dismiss everyone else’s opinions as incorrect. Now, while it’s true that – contrary to what the pluralists or the relativists might tell you – opinions can be just plain wrong, opinions on a matter as subjective as art rarely can. If I dismiss The Dark Knight as “overrated”, which I sometimes do because I’ve already turned into the type of person I hate the most, I’m effectively saying “I’m right and you’re all wrong!”, which isn’t what I think at all… well, not much anyway.
How should you respond when someone calls a film you love “overrated” then? Though I acknowledge there’s a certain compulsion to just hurl vile abuse at them, getting agitated – as we’ve already established – and attempting to eviscerate them with contemptible cries of “IN YOUR OPINION” gets you nowhere because the fact that it’s their opinion is a given. Similarly, asking them to explain themselves will just result in a debate on the merits, or lack thereof, of any given film, which still doesn’t get to the crux of the matter. However, asking them “alright, what does overrated mean then?” might get you somewhere because if it’ll force them to realise that all it means, deep down, is a film everyone else loves that you don’t, which is little more than a difference of opinion.
So here’s a plea; I know it’s easy to use the terms “in your/my opinion” and “overrated” in reviews, debates and general conversation – heck, I do it all the time – but let’s vow, here and now, to make a vague effort to stop ourselves from doing so. They’re redundant, they stifle discussions and they’re likely to give me an aneurysm at some point in the near future. No film is “overrated” and dismissing a review because it’s just someone’s “opinion” ignores the whole point of a review so for Christ’s sake James, just stop it alright!
Yes, I did mean to direct that last paragraph at myself because this article is basically a form of self-therapy… ahem, anyway, just one more thing; does anyone agree with me that The Godfather Part I is far better than Part II? I mean, maybe it’s just me but in my opinion Part II is terribly overrated…