The Pursuit of “Great Art”
Shaurya Shingru talks about cinema and asking ourselves where a movie is coming from, what it’s trying to be and do, and whether it has been successful in doing so.
As humans, it is most natural for us to quantify and chase the “best” in everything. And this approach makes sense for anything objective ranging from test marks to the wealth of entire nations. Our modern lifestyles and conveniences are testament to the relevance of this approach owing to years of scientific achievements made by us. Yet, there are certain areas where it is more than wrong to follow this approach. And one of such areas is Art critique and understanding.
Art is fundamentally subjective and immeasurable as it is essentially an expression or a reaction of a person to his/her perspective of the world. In the grand, objective scheme of the Universe, the beauty we see in nature, people, ideas, or in anything for that matter is a meaningless entity because it’s just a psychological reaction in our heads. And because of that reason, we are generally allowed to have our individual reactions without them having to be right, wrong, good, or bad.
Thus, saying “X is the best movie” or “Y is a really boring song” is far from the best way of critique. A better approach would be to opine on why you liked the film so much or zoned out of that song. And this has been the primary motive of reviews and ratings: to make more people aware of art, create conversations, and promote new perspectives. Yet the average person has the habit of taking these reviews, ratings, and Top 10 lists too seriously and judging the merit of a movie, song, etc., by the same.
When the lockdown started, I was driven to watch all the “great” movies I could download and stream off the internet. The more I watched and researched about movies, the more I realised the futility and the restriction of watching films that are deemed “great” by the internet. I went through the aforementioned stream of thoughts and realised that a much better way of measuring merit of movies is by judging their “purposefulness”.
Each movie is made with a vision of its director; generally a series of audience reactions that he/she wishes to gauge from the viewers. If the audience learns something new, cries, laughs, or any feels other emotion that the director intended, then that director has fulfilled in his/her purpose and that movie would generally be considered good. What we should be doing as audiences is asking ourselves where the movie is coming from, what it’s trying to be and do, and whether it has been successful in doing so. It is sometimes also important to take the scope of ambition into consideration; Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (which attempts to picture the entire evolution of mankind) as opposed to Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ (which tells the story of an ordinary cab driver trying to carve out his life in 1970s New York).
It was around the time I realised these things that I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Upon watching, you’ll see that it wasn’t shot by the best cameras available at its time of filming, since the visuals of the film are oftentimes grainy, blurry, and improperly exposed. The actors in the film are no Marlon Brando, and the score isn’t considered the most amazing piece of music ever composed. And while the script is unique and well-written, one wouldn’t call the story the most mind-bending story they’ve ever heard. But what’s interesting is that all these choices were deliberately made by the director. These aspects might not be the greatest versions of themselves, but they come together and attempt to tell you a story that, in my opinion, couldn’t have been told in a more effective way. Even with its little share of flaws and holes, it more than compensates for them in the purposefulness of telling this story.
And for that reason, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in an amateur critic’s words, is one the greatest films ever made.