Keeping Your (Emotional) Distance

Filmbrain raises an essential issue:

“I have noticed a trend in the film blogosphere of critics who, while talented writers, are so damn clinical in their criticism that I find myself wondering if they actually enjoy film.

“Yet at the same time, I feel that even openly subjective critics are less than willing to go all the way — to admit that their reaction is purely emotional ... .”

The post is cast as the eternal battle between “objective” and “subjective” criticism, but I think the above excerpt states the conflict more accurately. Because criticism is by its nature subjective, the question becomes to what degree we allow our emotional reactions, particularly those that might be unique and rooted in personal context, to seep into our criticism, and to what degree we acknowledge them.

One commenter was particularly astute in adding this wrinkle to the discussion:

“An emotional reaction doesn’t necessarily have to be subjective. If a film is well-made, its form, narrative, etc. ellicit [sic] specific emotions; not everyone will feel these emotions, but that doesn’t entirely mean that the film’s emotional content is subjective.”
I’m guessing Filmbrain would put me in the “clinical” category, although we have similar experiences related to the death of a father.

Fundamentally, though, the distinction is more academic than real. Subjectivity is a given in any sort of criticism. Critics run into trouble only when they claim objectivity, in the sense that their personal opinion or argument represents an authoritative truth that cannot be questioned. A perspective, analysis, or judgment may be informed and brilliantly argued, but it’s still only an opinion.

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