Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I Don't Want to See "The Road"

Scanning the lists of upcoming DVD releases for any 2009 prestige pics I might have missed, I ran across a title that I've been trying to avoid: "The Road." There's one of these films every year, a title with a fair amount of acclaim behind it, but where the themes or story elements just turn me off completely. Now there are films that I've had to work myself up to watch because of intense subject matter, like "Precious," and "The White Ribbon," and certain genres like gross-out comedies and horror that I know don't usually enjoy. But this is something else at work, where seemingly innocuous movies, sight unseen, manage to repel me. Last year it was Clint Eastwood's "The Changeling," which makes no logical sense because I've liked all of Eastwood's recent films, and I generally have no problems with Angelina Jolie. I just couldn't bring myself to watch it. A few years before that it was "Dreamgirls," which was touted as having some of the best performances of the year, but had me cringing at the thought of a viewing. I'm still not sure why.

I expect that the marketing of these films has something to do with it. "Changeling" and "Dreamgirls" were both major awards contenders in their respective years and ran high-profile campaigns. It makes sense that aggressive sells or overexposure for films I had little initial interest might have had the opposite intended effect and left me cold. "Dreamgirls" was notorious for starting its advertising push almost a year in advance of its release date. Or it's also likely that the media blitz could have magnified negative perceptions I already had. Upon first glance both pictures have heavy, melodramatic, unhappy stories that can be a pain to sit through if they're not done well - "Changeling" is about a woman whose missing child is replaced by an imposter thanks to a corrupt police force, and "Dreamgirls" is about the contentious rise of a Motown singing group that involves in a lot of heartbreak. Most of the buzz around Angelina Jolie's and Jennifer Hudson's performances were backed up by the same few clips of them acting emotionally overwrought, which I never find appealing.

My aversion to "The Road" has more obvious roots. I've never handled doomsday films very well. I don't mean the action-adventure spectacles like "2012" or "I am Legend" where salvation is generally assured for the human race, even if the hero doesn't make it. I mean the films where human society is gone or in the final stages of disintegration, and any survivors left have only very bleak prospects for the future. Considering the multitude of global conflicts and environmental crises currently plaguing us today, these films tend to hit a little too close to home for me. "An Inconvenient Truth" left me with knots in my stomach for days. And I sat through the first hour of "WALL-E" in supreme discomfort, wracked with guilt and dismay at the vision of an empty, garbage-strewn planet Earth where humanity was only a memory. It's the only PIXAR film that I wouldn't watch again on my own. "The Road," based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy would appear to fall into the same category.

On the other hand there are some entries in this genre that I've enjoyed. "Songs from the Second Story," a Scandinavian film that chronicles the fall of society as black-humored farce, is a great piece of work. Ditto the criminally underseen "When the Wind Blows," a British animated film that follows two elderly pensioners in the wake of a nuclear attack. Both were dark, grim, often horrific, and everything I shouldn't have enjoyed. But I did. And it's experiences like these that keep me from writing off post-apocalypse films entirely. "The Road" has plenty that I might like, including reputedly solid performances, Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography, and of course the benefit of Cormac McCarthy's source material. But somehow, it's not enough.

I guess the big question is, why beat myself up over the fact that I don't want to watch particular films? Because I used to automatically dismiss foreign films, black-and-white films, documentaries, older films, and lots of other categories of film. And when I got over these mental blocks, one by one, I reaped the rewards. Once I put away those erroneous preconceptions and biases, my cinema world got exponentially bigger and more interesting. So the fact that there are still these films that rub me the wrong way every year, sight unseen, makes me think I've still got a ways to go.

"The Road" will be released on DVD on May 25th. I still don't want to see it, but I want to *want* to see it.

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