A theatre critic who can’t find joy in the theatre… now who’s a fraud

This is a line from a movie I saw this year, which made me question the value of criticism. We all hate it, yet we all do it all the time. ‘If only…’ is the usual word used.

When The Greatest Showman was aired, there were a lot of negative buzz about how it wasn’t historically accurate, how the side characters were cardboards without depth, etc. but as the show continued its run, the audiences grew. Word of mouth translated into more crowds despite bad reviews by movie critics. What happened?

Intellectually, the critics were not wrong, they were comparing the movie to something else, some other movie written better, some scenes shot better, some direction directed better, etc. In dissecting the movie down to its components and analyzing its disparate parts, the movie has lost its life for them; movie watching has become an exercise in comparison; a movie critic who can’t enjoy movies.

Intellectually, some critics were practicing ‘If only…’ on an internal scale. The movie in their imagination was better than the one they saw on the screen. ‘If only the movie was written like this, if only the movie was shot like this, if only this scene has this, that actor that, etc. ‘ Every single film put on screen has its own unique core, ‘If only…’ as a criticism destroy the possibility of seeing the film as it is, supplanting it with the one playing in our heads. When audiences disagree with the critic, it is not because the critic is intellectually superior, it is because he/she has lost touch with humanity.

This is the trap of the intellect, on one hand it appears we are able to discern if something is ‘better’ and work ourselves up towards striving for something ‘more’. On the other hand, it will cause us to not appreciate things right in front of us. How many times have we done it, appreciating something only after we’ve lost it.

This is the problem with ‘If Only…’ criticism, if only the movie was like this, if only my boss was like this, if only the book was like that, if only the person didn’t say something… . If only we stopped living in our heads and see with clarity what is in front of us, we will see Life in joy and wonder instead of the tired curmudgeon we carry.

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