when movies become rituals
February 12, 2016
I’ve been noodling around with this idea for awhile. Especially two months after The Force Awakens, and watching how the fanfic, the memes, the theories, and the love show no sign of slowing down. Especially after grappling with my own difficulties in figuring out how to approach reviewing the movie. How can I possibly separate my love of the world and judge the movie simply as a movie? And now, there’s an amazing fever pitch surrounding the release of Deadpool. All the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies of the last couple of years have had this immense hype and love around them, and as I mentioned in my review of Ant-Man, I’ve pretty much given up approaching these movies with any kind of objective detachment. Moreover, the movies don’t actually care about being considered as movies. They don’t really stand alone. They’re chock full of inside jokes and easter eggs. They have a laser focus on their audience, and in giving that audience what it wants: a really good time in the worlds that they love.
Star Wars, the MCU, Harry Potter, maybe a couple of others but those are the ones that stand out for me: these aren’t really movies anymore. They’re communities. The movies have become the periodic rituals that these communities celebrate.
There are lots of media fandoms and fannish communities. The phenomenon’s been going on since at least the first Star Trek conventions in the early 70’s. And in most cases the communities persist even if no more movies or episodes are forthcoming. (Captain Power is 25+ years gone but there’s still a small group of us who can’t stop talking about it.)
But this is something else. Something different. Something spawned and fueled by the internet, huge and pervasive. These franchises seem to have reached a tipping point where these aren’t just movies that we’re excited to see. They’re events. The anticipation is part of the experience. We’re not just looking for entertainment, we’re looking for new information to add to what we know, to fuel more fan theories and musings that will go on long after the film is out of theaters. It helps that so far these movies have generally been good by most standards. But I’d argue: they don’t stand alone, really. They wouldn’t exist without the fervent devotion of these tremendous communities.
And it’s a feedback loop: the communities support the movies; the movies fuel the communities. That loop generates power.
There’s more thinking to be done with this idea, but for me it’s helping provide a framework for why my critical approaches to Star Wars and the MCU have been changing, becoming different than my approach to other movies. I love these worlds and characters, I consider myself part of the communities that are bound by them, and that changes my thinking about them.
Must ponder some more.