Monday, July 28, 2014


So, I recently saw “Lucy” in the theater. I was pretty intrigued by the trailer, and I was looking forward to it. But, I left the theater disappointed. It seemed like a rather shallow movie with a very limited view of the world attempting to sound profound by saying vague, profound-ish things. However, by the end of that day, I wanted to see it again. I wanted to see it again so much that I was tempted to pay the outrageous price of admission a second time. This transformation of my state of mind was caused by conversation.

Two very important things were said during that conversation, and they should be kept in mind when attempting to critique works of art. First, classics are being written right now, but no one has called them out yet. And, second, when trying to judge a work of art, you should begin by assuming the work is a great one, and only change that assumption when given a reason to; then you should assume it’s a merely good work, until given a reason to think otherwise.

The first point is the reason for the second, and the argument is simple. Great works of art require careful thought and attention to understand. That means that, to a person who isn’t giving them the attention they require, they will look as meaningless, repetitive, and boring as bad works of art. The difference is that a bad one will always appear that way, no matter how carefully you consider it, while a good work only looks ugly in the eye of a faulty beholder.

So, clearly, if we’re going to find the classics in our midst, we have to give everything the benefit of assuming it’s great. We look carefully, we pay close attention, and we assume there could be hidden and subtle significance behind each word, gesture, and image. We think through the plot, the presentation, consider who said what and when, what events caused other events. Then, if it is great, we discover the subtlety and significance that’s really there. And, if it isn’t great, we know for sure. Otherwise, we won’t be able to tell whose fault the apparent faults are.

I did see “Lucy” again in the theater, the next day. And I’ll tell you, it is a very interesting movie: subtle, significant, beautiful, striking. It flows like music (music at a French discotheque of course, as it is written by Luc Besson), it hints at and intimates, it uses images juxtaposed as silent metaphor.

I wouldn’t have noticed these things, however, if I’d continued in the jaded, prejudiced vein in which I’d started. This kind of openness and care in consideration may not be easy, because there are a whole set of things we’ve been conditioned to expect from films and literature: ways characters should be introduced, acceptable and unacceptable levels of realism (and lack thereof), show don’t tell, etc. Some of these expectations might have firm foundation, and may be rooted in what really makes a good story, or a good telling of one. But, they might also be fads, or just what we’re used to, and what we’re used to just might not be as good as it gets.

© 2014 John Hiner III


  1. That's a very interesting point about movies, and I don't think I had ever considered it before.

    I recently saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and it has some very heady and interesting images and ideas, but I'm not sure what to make of it. If you are ever able to see it, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

  2. The article makes a good point. The recommended approach greatly increases one’s intellectual pleasure. It is much more exciting to be at the vanguard of discovering “new classics” than to be in the dull business of disparaging works that one has scarcely considered.

    Even the sad conclusion that a work is not great or even good has its benefits under this approach. One becomes more and more adept at making the examinations. Exercising the creativity and rigor required is a good in itself. It strengthens and makes one more and more intellectually awake and alive.