POLL: Do political or moral disagreements with a film’s message affect your ability to appreciate it?

Two weeks ago during our podcast discussion of Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs, Phil and I spent a lot of time talking about the message of the movie and whether it was misogynistic or not. It is not a new debate and actually has been raging for decades over Sam Peckinpah’s original 1971 version of the film. The question we were more interested in is not whether Straw Dogs is actually sexist, but does it matter? Does a potentially anti-feminine message make Straw Dogs a bad movie, or can it still be appreciated for the fantastic arc of Dustin Hoffman’s character and its unflinching nihilism?

This debate can be applied to any movie going back a century. Earlier this decade the American Film Institute relaunched their All-Time Top 100 Movies list and the new version did not include D.W. Griffith’s influential film The Birth of a Nation. Griffith’s film was undeniably influential to the progression of cinema, but it is frequently attacked because it presents a racist message and is sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan. Does this make it a bad movie, or at least unworthy of being recognized as great?

Modern movies that contain a conservative world view are often attacked by critics more than movies on the other end of the spectrum (with many exceptions). Does a movie that tells a compelling story deserve to be attacked because it promotes a morally disagreeable message? I suppose that depends on the issues contained within the film.

The question is not an easy one to answer, yet I am going to force you to provide a simple “Yes” or “No.” I’m more interested in hearing what you have to say on the matter, so please share some thoughts in the comments. We will be discussing this further on this week’s podcast.

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  • Alex – great poll.
    Its a tough question, but I fall into the camp that the movie should speak for itself. Kind of similar to my diary entry on Melancholia and Lars Von Trier’s comments. Will be interesting what all the readers think.

    I recently re-watched the original Straw Dogs and liked it quite a bit.
    I am wary about the remake – but will hold judgement until I see it. Loved your podcast on it.

  • i agree with Casey.

  • This is definitely a tough question, and one that does not really provoke quick responses all that easily (that means I have a looong response).

    I’ll ultimately vote no, if only because my options are limited. But I would like to think that if a work thoughtfully and/or artfully espouses a world view contrary to my own, I’ll embrace it nonetheless. That’s easy for me to say, I admit, because there are definitely a good number of filmmakers with whom I would likely align myself politically. I suppose an example worth discussing might be “The Incredibles.” Many people have written about it through an Objectivist lens. I can sort of see that, yet I still manage to appreciate the craft and wit behind the film, despite my general distaste for Ayn Rand’s theories.

    Still, I know I have ranted against plenty of movies because I find them ideologically repugnant (i.e., the patriarchy in Hot Tub Time Machine, the consumerism & ethnocentrism in Sex and the City or the jingoism in Transformers). But with movies like that, I find them problematic because I think they exploit those kinds of sensibilities for cynical ends (i.e., getting butts from a key demographic to buy tickets and merchandise). I also like to think I can recognize a terrible movie that tries shamelessly to appeal to my personal sensibilities in the most thoughtless way imaginable (i.e., Woody Allen’s loathsome ‘Whatever Works’).

    I guess the key word here is complacency. Even an “apolitical” film is political in some respects. If the film reflects a world view in a way that feels critically thought-out and well-conceived, it is easier for me to buy into the world the filmmaker is creating for me. But if I don’t detect intelligence or ambition of any kind on the world-building, and all it has to sell to me is lazy ideological to convey assumed truths, I’m more likely to dismiss it.

  • @Justin – I can honestly say that I’ve never heard an Objectivist perspective on ‘The Incredibles,’ but that sounds fascinating.

    I think I’m certainly a hypocrite on this subject. When I dislike a film that happens to disagree with my world view, I will often use its ideology as a reason why it didn’t work (like in your ‘Transformers’ example). When I dislike a film that agrees with my ideology, I speak more to the technical and storytelling elements.

  • Joseph Bridges

    It is very hard for someone with die hard beliefs to not let their bias tint their viewing of a film. The average person will always refuse to get out of a very small box and watch something that may offend them. It is for this reason that the average person will never learn to live with others in a varied culture through films, books, and other arts and instead be wrapped up in their own narcissism. This narcissism is a refusal of the learning process and these people will always be culturally void.

    I know this all sounds bleak, but it is the reason I seek out people who are not stagnant and are involved in life….like good podcasts that explore the meaning of various subjects that help us to be better people by enriching our learning and understanding of people different than ourselves.

  • Jose

    I voted No but I know a lot of people who would fall under the Yes category. A while back at this other website we were discussing this and if movies should have messeges and I was surprised to discover that people actually hated Wall-E. Apperantly they felt that the whole “Green” messege was being shoved down audience’s throats and stuff like that should not be seen in a kids movie because something about kids shouldn’t be getting their moral lessons from movies (even though we have gotten them from stories our parents and others have told us, and adults get them in movies so why can’t kids?) and they hated it for the political message because they don’t beleive in “being green”.

    Why couldn’t they get past it and see it for the beautiful love story and and the wonderful animation the film contains? Wall-E is a film close to my heart and I think that that’s a dumb reason to hate the film.

    They were also hating on Cars 2 for teaching kids to hate big oil by making them the villain, I didn’t mind that though. That people hated Cars 2.

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