THE MOVIE SHRINK

- Understanding significant films

The Movie Shrink is a cinema commentary site that focuses on films that have something particularly meaningful to say to us about our contemporary world and the societies within it.

Concentrating on a few dozen carefully chosen films a year from all over the planet, two each month, the site begins by offering an informed analysis and interpretation of what these significant films tell us about what it is to be living in our times.

The approach taken to better understand these significant films is based on the tradition of hermeneutics.

Stated broadly, hermeneutics concerns the art and method of interpretation. It has of course many dimensions and applications. Its application to films is part of the larger tradition of applying hermeneutics to artistic creations. Seen in this light, art is not only a question of aesthetics, but it participates in the search for knowledge. More specifically, in our case, knowledge about society and its many contemporary dimensions.

MORE ABOUT US

After viewing certain films, we often are left with some questions and the feeling that there was more to the story than its script told us: was there a lesson to be learned; what did the film director want to tell us, or is that relevant; or, was there no message or meaning at all?

Sometimes we would like to share those questions and our understanding of the film with those of others. Alas, more often than not, our friends, family, or colleagues have not viewed that specific film, and have seen other films that we, ourselves, have not seen. Film critics will often judge the artistic merits of the movie, and give it a comparative ranking, sometimes recommending it, but that does not always enlighten us with a fuller understanding of the film we have seen.

So, with whom should we compare notes?

The Movie Shrink constitutes a partial but specific answer to these questions. It is a meeting place, a forum for initiating a conversation, a dialogue for the understanding of particularly significant and complex films of the world.

All conversation or dialogue must begin with a specific statement. The Movie Shrink thus begins, in this site, with an opening statement on a particular film, in the form of a specific understanding and interpretation of the film that is under scrutiny. It gets, as it were, the ball rolling.

Once an interpretation has been offered on this site, readers can join the conversation at The Movie Shrink's Forum, to read comments coming from others who have viewed that film, and eventually participate in the exchanges by offering an understanding or interpretations of their own. Of course, viewers that want to view a film from scratch, without being influenced by the interpretation and understanding offered on this site, could read our comments only after having viewed the movie. In our capsules analyzing specific films, there are, to this end, spoiler alerts to remind the reader.

In offering a specific interpretation for a film, to get the ball rolling, as suggested earlier, we need some guidelines that are explicit and methodical, yet flexible enough to adapt to the understanding of the specific film under study. With these guidelines, we try to avoid the risk that our analysis, understanding, and interpretation become only wild speculation or a uniquely personal view of the film that has been viewed.

And so, the next question becomes: is there a discipline, a tradition of sorts, that helps us navigate towards a better understanding of the film under scrutiny? We believe to have found such explicit yet flexible guidelines in the tradition of hermeneutics, as suggested at the outset.

The Movie Shrink proposes to begin the exchanges by using the hermeneutic approach, applied to films, to reach a better understanding of what can be considered as the larger story behind the specific and more limited story in the film. More can be read on hermeneutics by going to hermeneutics on this site.

The underlying assumption of this site, as stated earlier, is that art and films, in particular, say a lot about where we are, today, in the human story. They can be seen, indeed, as chapters in the human story.

Hermeneutics is involved in the search for understanding when a work of art (in our case, a film) tells us something about where we are today, collectively, but says it in an indirect and understated way. The object of this site is to follow this hermeneutic road to understand films that present some intriguing and challenging elements which demand interpretation for a fuller understanding. The 1653 painting of Rembrandt, “Aristotle contemplating a bust of Homer”, represents a visual model of what we want to achieve in this site: the poet (Homer or, in our case, the filmmaker) tells a story, but the philosopher (Aristotle or, in our case the interpreter or analyst of the film) offers an understanding that may go beyond the story that is told in the film and beyond the intentions of the creator (or the filmmaker).

This site is not about the aesthetics of a film or its artistic merit. Again, taking Rembrandt’s painting as an example and inspiration (see the painting shown on this site), Aristotle is not presumed to comment critically on Homer’s style of writing. In keeping with this spirit, not once will we comment on the artistic or creative aspects of a film (its photography or acting for example). This is why this site is definitely not film criticism.

ABOUT JEAN-CHARLES MERCIER

Jean-Charles Mercier (a.k.a. Jean Mercier) is a professor of political science at Université Laval in Québec City, Canada, where he taught for several decades on politics, institutional economics, environmental policies, and interpretative methods. He started writing on cinema in different Canadian reviews in the 1990’s. More is available on his overall activities at jean-mercier.com

WHAT THIS FILM SITE IS NOT

Before going further in describing what this site, The Movie Shrink, is about, let us say a few words about what it is not.

Although the title of our film site could suggest that we are looking at the artist’s psychological makeup, The Movie Shrink is not about individual psychology at all, but about collective and social elements that are present in specific significant films. It is not, consequently, about the inner-world or intention of the author, screenwriter, filmmaker, or director. There is indeed no search about the intentions of the artist, of the writer, or the creator. We are interested in the outcome, the film itself, and believe that the film has a meaning beyond its creator, as the artists are not necessarily conscious of the richness of their creation. We are, on the other hand, very much interested in the opinion of the artist or filmmaker concerning his creation, but we are not tied by it. In this spirit, we want to draw, again, the reader’s attention to Rembrandts’ painting of 1653 “ Aristotle contemplating a bust of Homer”, where the Greek philosopher Aristotle puts his hands on the head of Homer, suggesting that Aristotle will interpret and add to Homer’s rendition of Greek history. Aristotle, in the view taken here, is interested above all in shedding light on the story and not so much in Homer’s inner world. The film’s analyst- interpreter plays the role of Aristotle trying to understand more fully what Homer- the artist-creator- is expressing. In the view taken here, the ultimate creator of the work of art, or story, can be seen as society itself, and that story needs deciphering, beyond the work of the creator-artist.

Second, this site is not, as stated elsewhere, about the aesthetic dimension of films. Not once, will there be comments about the aesthetic qualities or weaknesses of the film, the quality of its photography, or the work of its actors, for example. There are many sites that address these important dimensions, but that will not be the focus here. We of course recognize that there are significant links between the style and the content of a film, but those links will not be the focus here.

Thirdly, there is no attempt here to analyze a film through some sort of explicit and pre-established formal procedure, whether semiotics or some other formal method. Hermeneutics is essentially a general guide and inspiration, not a detailed technique. In our daily lives, we are all shrinks of sorts, we interpret all the time, searching for the small and larger meanings around us, and so we all are interpreters. The Movie Shrink applies this normal activity systematically to better understand particularly significant and complex films.

No attempt, either, to espouse some militant or politically charged sub-text, conscious or not, criticizing or supporting capitalism or globalization for example. Such partisan approaches will not be part of our comments, at least not consciously, although we may touch upon those and other sensitive subjects in what we believe is an analytical and reflective way. There are other venues for overtly political analyses of cinema production and many of them are quite enlightening.

After identifying some of the elements our site is not about, the reader is invited to go to other sections of this site.