Yearning for God, Trying to Love My Neighbor, Making Theatre and Beauty, Building a Life...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Retreat of Cynicism

Colm Wilkinson and Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables
Perhaps it's a fluke. Perhaps it's a perfect storm. But I was very interested to see so many of the most popular films this year (and many of them Oscar contenders!)  to be so earnest, so lacking in snark, so... here comes that controversial word... uplifting. Les Miserables. Lincoln. The Hobbit. Even Argo. I adored all of these films, partially because they were inspiring films, hopeful films, even (dare I drop another controversial word?) moral films. Now I'm not talking some sort of Disney aesthetic or CleanFlix standard where film can't delve into controversy or conflict or complexity or subtlety. But, not unlike Jessie Christensen's recent post at the Association for Mormon Letters' blog, "A Mormon Goes to the Movies," I, too, have observed this pattern of moral stories lately and her post and my own observations have made me dwell on it more and more.

After all, Les Miserables deals with prostitution, class wars, and rebellion (and that's not even including the crass Thenadiers!). Lincoln shows Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward engage in some rather shady political deals to pass the 13th amendment. The Hobbit is quite violent. And Argo certainly has some "mature" language. But after watching each of these films, there was definitely a sense of uplift... a sense of a moral core. Whether or not the "content" was "clean" or not, there was no denying that these films championed the better part of our natures and were refreshingly spare on cynicism. And it hasn't been just this year. Other recent Academy Award winners, such as The King's Speech, have that same sensibility.

That moral sense, more than anything, is the common denominator in my favorite films and plays. Whether the show is ultimately tragic or has a happy ending, whether the film is rated G or rated R, whether the film is historical or fantastical, political or universal...I want to feel like the film wants me to be a better person for having watched it. I don't particularly care for nihilism or cynicism, and I don't want it to be shallow, even if it's a comedy or a relaxing piece of escapism.

When asked at a theatre conference what our favorite plays were by the presenter, I mentioned A Man For All Seasons, Shadowlands, and The Glass Menagerie. The speaker looked pleasantly stunned. "Those are all very moral plays," he said. Yes. Yes, they are. That is my taste, that is my style, that is my what I dig. Unapologetically so.

And after decades of post-modernism, cynicism, and snark, I'm glad to see a rise again in the kind of story I'm naturally attracted to. I'm glad to see that the mood might be changing.


  1. One of my NY resolutions is to focus far less on cynicism and be a builder rather than a critic.
    I think you mean The King's Speech, not English.
    I'm hesitant to call these films you mention (the which I have seen, I have loved)a rise or a change in taste. I think they are generally the righteous fair that we are dished at the most wonderful time of the year...but maybe I'm being cynical. (Dangit!) Some of my favorite plays by Miller and Ibsen. They certainly fall in the moral category. I also feel unapologetic about that.

    1. You're right, _The King's SPEECH_. That's not the first time I've made that mistake!

      Also a big fan of Ibsen and Miller. The Crucible and All My Sons had big impacts on me when I read them in high school, as well as A Doll's House and, later, The Master Builder.