Out of a few topics I was considering blogging about today, none captured my attention quite like this impassioned email from a young reader who strongly disagrees with my review of Alice in Wonderland, and the issues suggested by the email, at least in my mind.
Dear Mr. Greydanus,
I am 15 years old and my family receives the National Catholic Register every week, and we are a very avid film-watching family! We’d like to comment on one of your reviews.
That review being Alice in Wonderland. We highly doubt you saw it or that you were even paying attention to what was actually on screen. In fact, your scathing review made us want to see the movie more!
You mentioned that Alice was practically naked through the entire movie, yet when we watched it, she was no more naked then Anna in her ball gown in The King and I. Even though you put Alice down for showing her shoulders, this week’s paper informs me that you gave “Justice League” a thumbs up, yet never mentioned the immodest apparel of Wonder Woman who wears little more than a one piece strapless swimsuit. Where’s your consistency!!!!
Also, you ridiculed the fact that Alice broke away from society and wanted to make her own decisions! If you had daughters, would you force them to marry the man that Alice was expected to? If so, I pity your daughters!
Lastly, you highly made fun of the fact that Alice donned armor for the last battle; and even went as far as to make fun of Eowyn in The Lord Of The Rings when she slew the Witch King. Does Joan of Arc ring a bell!!!!! Have you not seem the similarity between the three that they were all defending their kingdom?! Are you so blind not to see that one of the our most courageous heroines donned armor to defend her country in the name of God????!!!!!! Maybe you should read up on the Old Testament beginning with Judith chapter 13, verses 6-10.
Thank you for your time, I hope you’ve read this far and haven’t deleted this email before you finished reading. Just to let you know, your review on Robin Hood only makes us want to see it more! You’ll most likely be hearing from me soon once I watch it!
I enjoyed your email. It’s always nice to hear from a fellow Catholic who feels as strongly about movies as you evidently do. And I’m always happy to hear from a fellow Register subscriber. (We were subscribers before I joined the paper.)
I’m glad your family enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, as many families have. (You might enjoy reading some of the Alice-related mail I’ve received at Decent Films; scroll down to the bottom of the review.)
Perhaps you will enjoy Robin Hood. I wouldn’t wish to prevent you, even if I could, from enjoying either. I also would not take back one syllable of my reviews. I’ll have more to say about this in a moment. First, though, some general thoughts.
You are fifteen (the same age, as it happens, as my oldest daughter). You probably realize that by the time you are, say, 30, or 45, the world will look different to you. Not everything, but some things. Many of the movies that you enjoy today (the same applies to books, music, television, etc.), you will still enjoy in fifteen or thirty years—though you may enjoy them, to one extent or another, in different ways, or for different reasons. Perhaps Alice will be among the movies you still enjoy at 30 or 45; certainly plenty of thirtysomethings and fortysomethings have enjoyed it. Likewise, many of the movies, books and so forth you dislike today you may still dislike at 45, though again possibly with a different perspective.
But more than likely some of the movies and such that you will most appreciate in your forties would bore you to tears today, and movies that you enjoy today you will find, in your forties, boring or worse. I’m absolutely not saying that a teenager is wrong and a fortysomething is right. But the experience of changing your mind over time may perhaps offer some perspective on different points of view.
You may come to appreciate that it is quite possible for someone who has attentively watched a movie to come to a thoughtful and worthwhile opinion of it that is different from your own present opinion. You may find this to be the case regardless whether or not your older self still thinks that your younger self had a point. If your younger self did have a point, then people may hold different points of view, and each may have a point. If your younger self didn’t have a point, then it is possible to think that one has a point and the other person doesn’t, and to be wrong.
This experience may make you less likely to conclude that a person who disagrees with you about a movie probably didn’t see the movie, or wasn’t paying attention—particularly when it’s that person’s job to watch the movie attentively. (You may not have realized that I would be breaking both the seventh and eighth commandments if I reviewed and rated a movie I hadn’t watched attentively. By the way, the eighth commandment also urges us to avoid “rash judgment,” i.e., to “be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (CCC 2478).)
A day may come when you appreciate reading reviews that you disagree with. Sometimes another point of view prods us to think through why we disagree, and so come to a better appreciation of our own point of view. (Perhaps that has even happened here.) Sometimes we can learn from another point of view, even if we still disagree. (I know I do.) Sometimes, without sacrificing our original views, we come to a larger understanding of the film, which may be more complicated than we originally thought. And sometimes we may come to see that, in fact, we were wrong. (It’s happened to me.)
Getting back to your comments about my review:
1. I said Alice “repeatedly winds up nearly or even entirely naked, and spends much of the film in ill-fitting, rather revealing makeshift garb,” which is accurate. My “DVD Picks” snippet on “Justice League” is two sentences long, plus content advisory. In two sentences, I should mention Wonder Woman’s outfit? I did mention “innuendo, oblique allusions to a live-in relationship. Teens and up.” In a brief blurb on an animated TV series, I think that’s complete enough, don’t you?
2. While I did ridicule many things in the movie, that “Alice broke away from society and wanted to make her own decisions” is not among them. My complaint is not so much with Alice as with the way the movie pits society against Alice. Alice is oppressed and squelched by a ridiculously hostile social environment that forces young women into hideously inappropriate marriages—a plight I called “Squelched Girl Syndrome.” Feminists write about this in books with names like Reviving Ophelia. This movie could have been called Reviving Alice. You saw something else. Perhaps we were both paying attention, but to different things.
3. Why did you think I was ridiculing Éowyn? I mentioned her, I certainly didn’t ridicule her. She is a wonderful character, and I wish Tolkien had done more with her. Nor did I ridicule the idea of a woman warrior as such. I love Joan of Arc; I love Judith; I even love Wonder Woman. What I think is ridiculous is turning Lewis Carroll’s protagonist into a martial heroine like Éowyn. No one who loved Carroll’s creation would do that, and the writer who did seems to have been motivated by other concerns, as my review hints.
4. As my review mentions, I have three daughters. (Why do you say “If you had daughters”? You read the review, I assume.) The angry feminist narrative of society out to squelch girls is not one I care to see my daughter exposed to over and over, and I think many other parents will feel the same way. I consider this important enough to alert readers about, no matter how many families may enjoy the movie and disagree with my take. It’s up to readers to decide how helpful or unhelpful my comments are.
5. Same goes for Robin Hood, with its bleak, hostile picture of the Middle Ages, the Crusades and the medieval Church. Some readers may enjoy it, but I can’t turn a blind eye to these issues. I’d be no use to readers if I did.
P.S. Your email is well structured, with a thesis statement, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. My only advice is to make more judicious use of punctuation. If you do see Robin Hood, feel free to write again.