Reaction Time

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Darren Aronofsky’s highly anticipated ‘Mother!’ has finally been released into cinemas and it has recieved a very polarising response. Some have loved it, some have hated it: a marmite response if you will. Just before the film opened last Friday, as I regularly do, I watched Mark Kermode’s ‘Kermode Uncut’ blog where he talks about his reaction to the film, or rather how he comes to it. (Watch here) Kermode discusses how an initial response to a film may not be a genuine response and that a film needs time to process. In the case of ‘Mother!’ which he hadn’t reviewed yet when posting this article, Kermode explains how he had seen it a week prior and was still mulling over his reaction before reviewing the film in full last Friday on his regular Kermode and Mayo Film Review slot on 5Live. He also explains how before the film, PR representatives had explained to the critics that there was no embargo for reviews but also they wouldn’t ask for their reactions straight after the film instead allowing the film to settle before deciding on a verdict. This is a very interesting piece of marketing and I certainly have a lot of respect for the film, regardless of its quality (I haven’t seen it yet), for this tactic. We have become accustomed to the culture of quick responses, Rotten Tomatoes scores and whatnot and for a film to be concerned with achieving genuine responses is a good thing. In particular, a film that supposedly demand questions and has multiple interpretations.

Let’s have a look at the notion of a genuine response. In my opinion, a genuine response to a film is one that has been considered and thought about for a couple of days before putting pen to paper. This is partly a reason why my reviews aren’t released instantly on a film’s release. I would much rather post my true response rather than haphazardly come to a verdict just to get a review out on time. I read a comment on Kermode’s blog that belittled him for having to take a week to think about the film. I thought this was rather unfair as if the film really is as labyrinthine as it has made out to be and it challenges genre codes and conventions, it is certainly something that one would need to think about. A week doesn’t sound that unreasonable to me.

This notion of a genuine response doesn’t take into account the factor of rewatching. I’m sure this is true for many but I can think of a number of films where my opinion has changed of a film over time after rewatching it multiple times. You don’t always notice little details and intricacies on first viewing and you can pay attention to different aspects of the film when rewatching. In an ideal world, there are a number of films that I have reviewed here that would have benefitted from me rewatching it again just to solidify my opinion. A couple of examples to prove my point include ‘The Hateful Eight’, ‘Hell Or High Water’ and ‘Dunkirk’. This also begs into question the notion of star rating – if you are a regular reader, you have noticed that I virtually never give a film 5-stars. How is one to judge if a film is perfect on first viewing? With the benefit of hindsight, if I could re-review some of the films that I have watched, 5-stars would be more regular as I know the film better.

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Going back to my examples, I will start with ‘The Hateful Eight‘ first. My initial response and review to the film was extremely positive and I gave it a 4-star rating. I have rewatched the film many times since my first viewing and for me, it is a film that improves on each viewing as I notice a lot more going on in the film, little details and its script. If I could re-review it, I’d give it 5-stars and I would actually rate it above ‘Room‘ which I gave my very rare 5-star rating to on first viewing. Ironically, in my original review of ‘The Hateful Eight’, I thought it wouldn’t hold up as well as some of Quentin Tarantino’s other works and mentioned in my review that it doesn’t seem to “have as much of a rewatchablity factor as perhaps some of his other films”. How wrong was this?!

‘Hell Or High Water’ is another example of a film that has elevated and another film I’d give 5-stars. It took me a couple of watches to really appreciate it and to be honest, if I were to rewrite my favourite films of 2016 list, I’d probably rank it even higher. With ‘Dunkirk‘, my response was very mixed and I found the inital first watch rather empty in emotion. I haven’t had a chance to rewatch the film but this is certainly a film where my opinion could change either way.

Reading these confessions, one might question the credibility of my reviews. I would too, with the notion of the passing of time. But then, surely everyone (not just film critics) is entitled to change their mind over time. Do we have to wait for a year for a reviewer to have watched the film multiple times to come up with their opinion? Certainly not and if that were the case, reviews wouldn’t be credible – how are we able to accurately gauge if someone likes a film without reading their review or their verbal opinion? Perhaps we need to read more reviews of people coming back to films and updating and developing their initial responses?

Looking at another aspect to this difficult question would be the job of a film critic. Quite often, critics need to watch multiple films a day in order to have enough content and to meet the needs of the publisher. How do we know their true response if they’ve immediately finished watching the film and then heading off to watch the next film in their schedule? I have done this too a couple of times and I feel as if my reviews and I’m sure others think this too aren’t quite as strong as you’re trying to juggle your opinions on multiple films on the same day. How can we truly get a genuine opinion?

An example would include ‘It‘, Andres Muschiett’s imagining of Stephen King’s novel which released earlier on this month. I was asked to review it for a newspaper and my deadline was a Sunday when the film only released two days prior. I luckily managed to watch the film on the Friday but I very quickly had to come to a verdict and write something meaningful about it in such a short amount of time.

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More extreme would be just last night when ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ had its premiere and reviews for it which were embargoed until 10pm UK time were almost instantaneous. Robbie Collin, a stand-in Wittertainee and film critic for The Telegraph, tweeted that he was about to watch the premiere and less than 12 hours later, had a full review of the film, admittedly a very coherent one and well-developed. Even though he thoroughly disliked the film, did he really have time to process it between leaving the press screening and publishing his review?

I suppose the conclusion that I’ve come to is the main point of reading a review is to try and gauge more of a general response and if they enjoyed it, rather than looking too deeply into the film. At least the reader knows if the film is likely to be an enjoyable experience based on the star-rating and the main opinion to see if it is worth their time.

I’m not trying to give answers to Kermode’s article or to my own questions. I’m just trying to pose more questions and if you’re reading this article, getting you to consider this fundamental aspect of reviews. This isn’t strictly limited to film, this applies to literature, music and any form of media. But try to bear the notion of initial responses and genuine responses and read between the lines. It can only help to enrich your experience and get you to pose questions and challenge opinions.

‘Mother!’ is out now in UK cinemas. ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ will be released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 20th September. 


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