Anghus Houvouras on the liberation of admitting “I didn’t get it…”
There’s an episode of Community where affable idiot Troy Barnes, after being dosed with truth serum, goes into a series of confessions that include “I use comparisons to Hitler to win arguments on the internet at the drop of a hat” and “I’m more turned on by women in pyjamas than lingerie”. As he becomes more emotional, he gets to the crescendo of his revelations where he tearfully admits “I didn’t get Inception” before crumpling into the foetal position.
This moment perfectly captures the anxiety that people experience when it comes to cinematic ignorance. Feelings of shame for not understanding something that other people were able to comprehend. Admitting “I didn’t get it” feels unfathomable in an online world where we have an infinite amount of information at our disposal but our egos prevent us from seeing ignorance as anything other than an insult.
Influencer Logan Paul slammed head first into this phenomenon when he posted a review of Jordan Peele’s new film Nope on Twitter, calling the movie “awful” before elaborating on his thesis in multiple posts. The internet mob arrived to both praise Paul for his take while others tried to explain exactly what Logan didn’t get about the themes of Jordan Peele’s multi-layered movie.
“NOPE” is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time.
I love Jordan Peele and Keke Palmer can act her ass off, but this movie is objectively slow and confusing with stretched themes that don’t justify the pace (a thread)
— Logan Paul (@LoganPaul) July 24, 2022
Logan Paul didn’t get it. But the mistake he made wasn’t his ignorance, but the way he frames his bewilderment as a dictatorial edict.
I’ve spent the better part of two decades writing movie reviews and film columns. Looking back, I can a number of times where I ‘didn’t get it’ and took to the offensive, blaming the film and filmmakers for making something that was beyond my ability to understand or comprehend during an initial viewing. I can recall not putting together that the beings who show up at the end of Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence were evolved synthetic beings and not otherworldly aliens. Charlie Kauffman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things soared over my head like a frisbee hurled by a child. Alex Garland’s Annihilation was a film that I struggled to find the central theme and a level of cinematic coherency.
As someone who writes about movies, it feels like there’s an added level of shame when you ‘don’t get it’. As someone who consumes all this content and writes about them on a regular basis, shouldn’t I be more observant and capable of understanding? I can still recall the embarrassment I felt when discussing A.I. with other film fans and having them explain that my perception of the ending was wrong. That everything I had discounted what had been laid out in the film and it all added up to an incorrect answer. I recoiled from the keyboard in shame, the humiliation leaving me in a state of disbelief.
Fortunately, the internet has brought us an infinite reservoir to dive into after seeing a movie. From brief opinions on social media to long-form video essays breaking down creative endeavors to a molecular level. And even then, there can be a diverse array of thoughts on films and the intentions of the filmmaker.
Thanks to Dan Olsen and his Folding Ideas YouTube channel, I was able to take a deep dive into Annihilation and see all the seeds planted by Alex Garland throughout the film that eventually would bear fruit in a conclusion that many people didn’t get (myself included). Thanks to the YouTube channel Your Movie Sucks (aka YMS), I was able to watch an incredibly detailed and brilliant analysis of I’m Thinking of Ending Things that made me want to go back and watch the film again.
The Socratic Paradox teaches us that “all I know is I know nothing”. This is what film fans need to embrace: humility. Rather than steadfastly stating your thoughts as a declaration of absolute certainty, accept the fact that there may be more to the movie than you were able to initially understand. Good cinema and great filmmakers use the medium in ways that might lead to different interpretations.
Logan, don’t let the idea of “I didn’t get it” be the end of your exploration into a film that you didn’t understand. Let it be the beginning.