At the feast of movies, I’d like to leave gluttony, judgment and fear behind me. I know that I am free to eat almost anything, but I want to be strong and fit, disciplining myself to a diet of excellent, nourishing work.
Dessert? Alcohol? In moderation, on occasion.
As a critic, I feel more like the nutritionist—doing my best to counsel others on a balanced diet that serves their individual needs and respects their sensitivities. But I also want to be the kind of connoisseur who can speak knowledgeably about the culinary arts. I want to speak with eloquence about Sophia Coppola’s sauces, the exquisite wines of Eric Rohmer and the finer point of Martin Scorsese’s pasta.
But the more I learn, the more I’m in danger of becoming another character at the table—the snob. It would be easy for me to leave behind enjoyment of the simpler sorts of films and demand only the most sophisticated work, sneering at those who don’t understand or appreciate it. I have, at times, ranted against the ignorance of others, forgetting that I was once at their place in the journey.
If my enthusiasm for films as cerebral as Russian Ark or Werckmeister Harmonies makes me pretentious or condescending to those in line for blockbusters, then I have lost my perspective on the purpose of art. The goal is not to see the most obscure movies or even to be the greatest interpreter. If these experiences aren’t strengthening my conscience as well as my intellect, what good are they?
Henry Miller once wrote, “Art is only a means to live, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself.”
If dining at the table of movies becomes my primary focus, I am forgetting the purpose of the meal. It is served to give me strength so that I can return to my life stronger, healthier and closer to being whole.
Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies