No, I’m not some joyless prude. I was once like you, even. Remember when we were sitting around your apartment and decided to watch the trailer online? How we laughed! Someone had tried to adapt early 90s Trapper Keepers® for the screen! And they’d spent a small nation’s GDP to make it happen! If, some months from that point, James Cameron Trips Over A Fanboy Wishlist Into The Uncanny Valley wasn’t going to be the flop of our young century, jeez, it really should’ve been.
Then we went about our admittedly terrestrial lives.
Oh, we saw the commercials flit by while fastforwarding on our DVRs, and glanced at those posters in the subway. But it would take more than a shitty Papyrus font and skin colors by Van Gogh to get us on the bandwagon-otherwise we’d be going to stuff like free first guitar lessons and Blue Man Group on a regular basis.
Eventually a co-worker or blogger clued us into the nation’s metastasizing fervor, and we didn’t begrudge anyone this eager attitude: Obviously an epic 3D sci-fable would appeal to someone. It just wouldn’t-by unspoken agreement-be us. Finally, the week it opened, you made an announcement that took my breath away.
“Welp,” you said. “Gonna see Avatar. You in?”
When I asked why, you gave me a look of sternness and pity, as if we both knew this day was coming and my put-on ignorance couldn’t stop it. As if IMAX theatres were wells of cultural gravity that we had no right to resist. As if you’d said, “Scientology’s definitely a sham, but we’ve all got to join sooner or later. Wanna come?”
How the hell this sense of duty originated is a mystery in its own right, but it’s only half as scary as what came next.
Here’s a thought experiment. I’m aware that you’ve undergone a quantum cinematic evolution, so this may be difficult for you to imagine, but: try to envision a world in which you have experienced Avatar solely through hearsay. Through friends’ reactions and zeitgeist-fondling articles. Through self-congratulatory Hollywoodese. Welcome to the surreal tangent universe I’ve inhabited for the past two months. Every day, someone gently prods me to see a movie I have no interest in seeing. I sense a blanket consciousness I cannot access. People are waiting for me to cave. There are times when, so help me Ebert, I feel like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, trying to blend in with a converted humanity, wondering whether that’s better or worse than being converted, and keeping my outbursts bottled up lest I be pointed and howled at.
“There were flying dragon-things…” “…dude, the colors… “ “…my heart was racing nonstop for two-and-a-half hours…” “…so intense.” It doesn’t sound like you’re recommending a film; it sounds like you’re walking me through a night on iffy designer drugs. Moreover, almost nobody actually seems to think this film is any good; most unwittingly describe it as an audiovisual colonoscopy, a firehose treatment that leaves your mind sparkling and evacuated.
And I can’t name a single other instance of someone arguing, “Look, it’s stupid, it’s lame, but you hafta,” except when it came to wearing a name tag at a catering job. From what stems this word-of-mouth obligation to a product that you acknowledge as inferior? Was the fact of your attendance so overdetermined that you must spend all of Oscar® limbo season finding stubborn Avavirgins to sacrifice upon the altar of steroidal and abused CGI?
I’m betting you didn’t have to sign a street marketing agreement with 20th Century Fox to get those special glasses. The issue is probably a bit more personal, and even cute, albeit perversely. My poor, sad friend: You want to paint Avatar as too Big ’n’ Important to ignore, because that’s what you were convinced of when you bought that fateful ticket and ferried yourself across the digitally-painted Rubicon. When you realized, amid the explosions and allegory, that this Big Importance was a promotional fiction, and that you would’ve been better off watching old worn-out Disney VHS tapes with good company and good beer, you panicked.
You couldn’t admit that you’d been had, not after this investment, this 180º, this surrender, because there was no way to rejoin the ever-thinning chorus of people murmuring “who cares.” Because you cared, God damn it.
Look, I’m sorry it happened to you. This thing sounded bruising and disappointing and dumb. I certainly didn’t expect you, of all people, to fall victim to it. One day, through arduous work, you will reclaim your dignity as a moviegoer. Just don’t expect me to shed mine so easy.
Miles Klee really isn’t going to see Avatar but he knows you’re just going to ask him about it again tomorrow.