A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

(Almost) All You Need Is Love

After I posted about Heroes last night, I realized that what I really meant to say is that I feel that the creators of TV shows like it demonstrate a kind of commitment to the material that I often don't sense from the creators of Hollywood action movies. The commitment you sense in such movies almost always seems to come from the actors -- I think especially Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean series -- who succeed when they manifest a love of the character. But too often the directors either don't share this love or give their actors the room to show it off. In Heroes I sense a commitment on the part of actors, directors, and especially writers -- that they really love these absurd, improbable characters they're creating.

The artist's love for his or her creation is what makes, for example, Dickens superior to Thackeray: Dickens loved his characters; Thackeray treated them -- even referred to them -- as puppets. You can feel this kind of love at work in the movies of Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, John Ford, Steven Spielberg and (at his best, as in Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) Clint Eastwood. In Hitchcock's movies it's often a perverse love -- but it's still love.

When it's not there, the movie or the TV show or the novel feels mechanical and inert. It may amuse or entertain nevertheless, but it doesn't get at the essence of art. Which is not to say that loving your characters automatically produces great art. Sometimes it devolves into sentimentality, which is what some people fault Dickens for -- and what I fault, say, Frank Capra for. Sometimes the creators love the characters well but not wisely, which produces a sloppy mess of a show like Grey's Anatomy.

And of course I wouldn't call Heroes great art, but the feeling of affection for the characters that I get from the show lifts it above the routine. It helps me get over the show's often loopy exposition. How the hell, for example, did Hiro ever get Adam into that casket? Maybe we'll find out when the show resumes, though I suspect the explanation will be less than satisfactory.

Meanwhile, I don't believe for a moment that Nathan is really dead. The show loves him too much. Maybe Matt made him wear a Kevlar undershirt.