Does Film Analysis Take the Magic out of Movies?
Sometimes, the blue curtains in a character's room aren't a symbol of their depression and inescapable ennui. Sometimes, they're just blue curtains.
My ability to enjoy movies died on a blustery autumn day in 2008. I was sitting in my very first college film class when my professor walked into the room, set down her leather satchel and bottle of Sprite, and told the lot of us: "If you want to continue to enjoy watching movies, then drop this course because I'm about to ruin movies for all of you."
It was a film analysis class and she wasn't lying.
For the last decade, I've dedicated the lion's share of my personal free time and professional exertions on analyzing films. And it's true, I don't enjoy watching movies anymore—I enjoy studying them: breaking down the narrative, dissecting the visuals, hoping to uncover the "hidden meaning" behind every single one of their cinematic elements.
The funny thing, though, is that for all the hours I've spent poring over scholarly essays by the likes of David Bordwell and Laura Mulvey, or examining the "obvious" metaphors in my favorite films (like the white snow in Sam Raimi's 1998 thriller A Simple Plan), I've come across, countless times, interviews with the filmmakers themselves that directly refute my findings.
Video essayist Jack Nugent of Now You See It actually talks about this in his latest video entitled The Art of Overanalyzing Movies.
There's nothing wrong with analyzing movies to find deeper meanings behind the narrative and visual elements. In fact, not only can those findings be quite accurate but they can also reveal patterns, qualities, and other pieces of information that help us all understand cinema, as a whole, in a more profound way.
However, many times we treat films like magic tricks and we're constantly peeking behind the curtain to feel the rush of knowing how they're done instead of just enjoying the prestige. Maybe instead of obsessing over the "blue curtains" and concerning ourselves with assigning them with their "true meaning," we could learn to recognize the emotions the narrative and visuals evoke.
I'll probably never enjoy watching movies the same way I did ten years ago, but Nugent reminds me that, while it's fun and exciting to learn a magic trick, nothing compares to the magic of how movies make me feel.