Being a critic of anything is a thankless job (that’s critic in the formal sense, not in the Internet age “I’m brilliant because I have a computer” sense). The word “critic” comes from a Greek word (doesn’t everything?) that means “able to discern,” and that’s what the best critics do — they are discerning about what they’re watching (TV/movies) or eating (food) or listening to (classical music), and then they express what they discerned in a reasoned, hopefully entertaining, way.
But, as mentioned, in the Internet age, everyone’s a critic, because everyone has an opinion, and most think that an opinion is all it takes to be a critic. However, it takes much more to be a critic, and certainly to be a good one — it takes, well, discernment, it takes education (not necessarily formal) to be able to express yourself well, it takes experience in the chosen medium to be able to compare what you’ve experienced to other experiences your audience will be familiar with.
Roger Ebert is a critic in the best sense of the word. He is certainly a good critic. In some circles (including my own), he is considered an excellent critic. He makes me want to see movies I know I won’t like; he makes me want to re-watch movies I like to see them with more discerning eyes. His reviews border on brilliant most of the time; even when I disagree with him, he makes a much more reasoned (and certainly entertaining) argument for his position than I can make for my own. Even his one-star reviews are legendary (check out his thoughts on Deuce Bigalo: European Gigilo); however bad the movie is, it was worth being made if it elicits a column from the Man with the Golden Thumbs.
But, even the best have an off day. As part of my ongoing education about the sex trafficking industry (our church is partnering with IJM and another organization on this issue), I watched the movie Trade tonight. It is a movie based on a Peter Landesman article in the NY Times, and it is a mostly unflinching portrait of what happens with girls (and boys) who are kidnapped from their homes and sold as sex slaves. The movie doesn’t take place in Southeast Asia or India, however — the girl who is the focal point of the movie is kidnapped from Mexico, but her destination is New Jersey. The movie, and the article, point out that trafficking is just as much a U.S. problem as an international problem.
As I often do, I checked out IMDB after watching the movie, to see the names of some of the actors/actresses, and while I was there, I clicked on the link to Ebert’s review because… well, see above. And there I read the two most vacuous statements I’ve ever seen come out of Ebert’s typewriter. The last two sentences of the review state:
Anything that holds our interest can be entertaining, in a way, but the movie seems to have an unwholesome determination to show us the victims being terrified and threatened. When I left the screening, I just didn’t feel right.
Are you kidding me? It has an unwholesome determination to show the victims being terrified? You “didn’t feel right”? If you “didn’t feel right” after watching that movie, then it bloody well did its job. And not only did it not have an “unwholesome determination” to show the victims being terrified, it, if anything, turned away at a couple of junctures that it probably should have kept in view, as even a half-hearted reading of Landesman’s article would make clear.
This is a brutal business, and it’s brutal to a younger population every year; where once a 15-year old gave a pedophile a thrill, now it takes a 12-year old. Or a 10-year old. Or a 5-year old. This isn’t Pretty Woman (a movie I refuse to watch because of its glorification of prostitution), this is pre-teens being brutally raped multiple times a day and/or night, for months and years on end.
So, yes, the victims are terrified and threatened, and if ever we walk away from reading or seeing or hearing about this issue and we don’t “not feel right,” then either we weren’t listening or we don’t care or we’re numb. But if we don’t “feel right,” then something got through, and perhaps we can be moved to action, to be part of the solution instead part of the apathetic mass that is a huge part of the problem.
Watch, and read, at your own risk. And pray that you “don’t feel right” at the end.