What Are Critics, Really?
December 24, 2013

What Are Critics, Really?

I finally got to finish Cloud Atlas the other day and for some reason the film sparked an urge in me to talk about movie critics. Why? About an hour into the movie, Timothy Cavendesh (played by Jim Broadbent) asks a question of Dermott Hoggins (Tom Hanks) that I think everyone should consider. “What is a critic but one who reads quickly, arrogantly, and never wisely?”

I was baffled.

He’s got a point; what is the job of a critic, really?

I don’t read movie reviews for fear that I won’t enjoy the movie afterwards, so I always do it the other way around. I find that reading everyone’s opinion after I’ve allowed mine to settle in gives me a wider perspective on how to appreciate a movie. Sometimes I don’t get that appreciation because of the different types of movie critics.

Do you read a review to be told that you shouldn’t see a movie or play a game? Maybe you feel that a professional opinion from a like-minded gamer or moviegoer will give you some insight on how you may feel about the end product? That’s fair.

So what does the critic strive for?

In some, I see that the purpose of a critic is to show true appreciation for the genre of material they talk about. Sometimes they are so negative towards a movie or game that they hardly have any redeeming quality to speak of, and that makes me feel like their sole goal is to bash whatever they’re reviewing. Other times I can see a bit of my own interest and state of mind in the words that they use to describe the piece.

Are they out to get you?

Critics and artists of all kinds have a dark relationship because no one wants to be told that their work sucks. Likewise, no one wants to be told that they have no right to offer professional criticism on topics that they know nothing about. One side attacks the other and it gets to be impossible to create true works of art for the sake of wanting them to exist.

A prime example of this is the Wachowskis. I think Cloud Atlas is the greatest film ever made, at least in my lifetime. The Wachowskis would appreciate my praise, but they don’t let criticism — good or bad — get to them. As Lana Wachowski put it, some people would call the movie downright awful, just a three-hour-long pile of crap. This is fine, because others think it’s the greatest thing ever made.

That’s the cool thing about art, she said. Everyone has their own interpretation of how something can be viewed.

Image Credit: Cloud Atlas Productions

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