Imagine going to see “The Hangover” and having the theater manager tell the audience beforehand that the plot may seem confusing but not to worry because a photo montage at the end will explain everything. Or going to see “Bambi” and being told that something terrible happens to Bambi’s mother but everything turns out fine because Bambi becomes king of the forest. Or being told before “Black Swan” that the lead character is really hallucinating and… well, you get the point.
Something akin to that happened to me Friday night when I saw “The Tree of Life” at an out of town movie theater. First, our small group was warned by the ticket seller that the movie was abstract, long and an art movie (this, at an art movie theater.) Then, just before the movie started, the manager walked in and addressed the movie-goers reiterating that the movie was abstract and an art movie. But then he went on to tell us a key detail about the movie as a form of reassurance! (Spoiler alert: I will give you that detail below, should you choose to read it.)
My reaction: say what???!!! Did you just tell us something essential about the film that the movie-maker wanted us to experience and put it into context for ourselves??? I was flabbergasted and too stunned to say what I was thinking: we aren’t children, we can figure things out on our own, let us encounter the movie with no preconceptions.
I was irritated, but the movie was so strong, engaging and moving that the irritation dissipated. After the movie, I looked for the manager to give him some feedback but couldn’t find him.
Clearly, there must have been some complaints from movie-goers that the staff was trying to anticipate. The movie isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And Brad Pitt fans will be disappointed if they’re looking for a sequel to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” But there’s got to be a better way to defuse complaints than by generating a new batch.
SPOILER ALERT: MY RECOLLECTION OF WHAT THE MANAGER SAID
“The first half hour of this movie is very abstract. It’s got a lot of confusing images. But don’t worry, the rest of the movie is about a family and more or less what you’d expect.”
Reality: the first half hour of the movie was anything but abstract. It was direct, literal and gave necessary context to what followed. Secondly, I had no expectations of what the rest of the movie would be like, but the manager’s comment made me think I should have had. In other words, his comments played with my head and temporarily clouded full engagement with the movie. But fortunately, art prevails and that which is strong can withstand thoughtless comments, foolish criticism and even too much praise.