"If everybody likes it -- which, of course, is great -- it's the same thing as everybody hating it."
-- Director Nicholas Winding Refn, on dismal reviews for "Only God Forgives"
No. It's not.
It's not even close to "the same thing." It's only the same thing if by, "the same thing," what you actually mean is that it's totally different. The opposite.
There certainly are overlapping similarities, that you got an emotional reaction. But there are similarities in pretty much everything. This posting has words and letters, just like The Brothers Karamzov. And if people hate my opinion here, it's not the same as them loving Dostoyevsky's masterpiece.
Mr. Refn's twisting attempt at trying to justify a 33-rating on Rotten Tomatoes sound similar to one of the great rationalizations I've ever heard. It came about 10 years ago after the Little League World Series final game. The U.S. team lost, something like 7-2, when they gave up five runs in the fourth inning. After the game, a little kid on the American team said, "If it wasn't for the fourth inning, the score was a tie."
Yes. Exactly. And if wasn't for all those people who absolutely, gnawingly hated Only God Forgives, it was like they loved it.
Actually, the director's full quote on HuffPost Live was even more convoluted, if that's possible.
"When people love or hate your films, it's the only time you've actually penetrated. That was like the whole point of making films: You're meant to react to it. If everybody likes it -- which, of course, is great -- it's the same thing as everybody hating it. Of course it's more pleasurable if everybody likes it -- because being degraded and hated by everyone is a terrible emotion -- but it's the same [thing]. It only becomes interesting if people love it or hate it for the same reason."
I'm not going to break down this quote sentence-by-sentence. It's too empty. But the "whole point" of making films is not to react to it. There are a lot of points behind making films. A big one is to make something that speaks to audiences in a way they understand and learn something from that makes the experience richer and helps make life more comprehensible. Or you want to make people laugh. Or cry. Or enthrall them, or make them scared. Not just "react." Not just "penetrate." (Forgetting the pompous creepiness of that thought...)
It's easy to "penetrate." It's a piece of cake to get people to just react. Punch someone in the face, they'll react. Have them step in cow poop, they'll react. Kick a puppy, they'll react. Spit on somebody -- they'll not only react, they'll probably spit back, and punch you in the face.
If Mr. Refn set out to annoy people or just get a visceral reaction, that's one thing. It would be odd, but still, his choice. And he'd have apparently succeeded. But that's still not "the same thing" as people liking what he did.
And while it might indeed be interesting if people loved or hated his film "for the same reason," there's no evidence here that they did. People seem to hate the movie because they find it very, very bad. Or to be more accurate, they found it "a shit macho fantasy -- hyperviolent, ethically repulsive, sad, nonsensical, deathly dull, snail-paced, idiotic, possibly woman-hating, visually suffocating, pretentious," as Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere wrote. And while Peter Debruge of Variety hated it because, "The wallpaper emotes more than Ryan Gosling does," it's hard to imagine that many others loved it for that same reason."
Not having seen the movie, I have no idea if it's wonderful and teeth-aching. That's a separate matter. But saying that everybody liking something is "the same thing" as everybody hating it is infantile. It's the type of quote that gives all filmmakers a bad name. It's close to the type of quote that when people say "Hollywood" derisively, they thing of tripe like this.
But then, if only but for the fourth inning, it would have been a tie...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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