In 1976 Martin Scorsese released his timeless classic, Taxi Driver. Arguably one of his greatest films, it’s wonderfully written, beautifully shot, and impeccably acted by Robert Deniro. My first experience seeing this masterpiece was when I was eighteen.
I’ve never had it in me to see it a second time.
Everything I said earlier I truly believe. Taxi Driver is a masterpiece, but man did it take a ton out of me. For me, Taxi Driver is like when I ran cross country in high school. I have fond memories of it, I’m proud that I finished those races, but even the thought of trying to do that again starts to give me heart palpitations.
Much like running those races depleted me of all energy, after watching Taxi Driver I remember being emotionally drained of all happiness. It’s tough to watch Travis Bickle descend further and further into madness, yet still desire him to right the wrongs of society, while also questioning whether he’s just as bad as the criminals he’s trying to bring to justice. It’s much like a rollercoaster except it’s your heart in the front seat and by the end of it it’s puked out any remaining faith in humanity.
It should also be noted that I hate rollercoasters.
Society as a whole can, at times, be a cruel companion that will tear you down at the first sight of unconformity. Want to see this in action? Next time you’re at a party conversing with a group of people, casually mention that you don’t like Star Wars. Even if you adore it (odds are you do), try it anyway, for the sake of science. I guarantee you at least 85% of that group will go slack jawed and demand an explanation, but don’t bother, there isn’t one. You might as well say you hate puppies or Tom Hanks. It’s a taboo of the highest order and in some cases the punishment for even hinting at it is nothing short of social extradition.
But the truth is there are plenty of reasons why a person wouldn’t like Star Wars, yet still acknowledge that it’s a well made film. Maybe you don’t relate to any of the characters, maybe science fiction isn’t your thing, or maybe (like myself with Taxi Driver) you just don’t like the emotions it elicits. These are all perfectly reasonable, if perhaps solely personal, excuses to dislike a film.
Battleship Potemkin is considered one of the most influential films of all time and is routinely shown to film students as an example of the fundamental uses of the montage. The impact this film had on history is undeniable, but by today’s standards it’s a tough watch to say the least. I don’t think I’ve ever ran into a film buff who has even casually listed it among their favorite films of all time.
The fact is, a film’s exceptional qualities are mutually exclusive to the enjoyment you get from watching it. You can outright hate a film, yet still recognize that it might have expert level visual qualities or spot-on sound design. Take Transformers, a film most serious film fans will say they despise, but suggest to them that Michael Bay has mastered the explosion and they’ll be forced to reluctantly nod in agreement. He should have by now, there hasn’t been a movie he’s made without a minimum of ten. I’m pretty sure he even managed to sneak in twelve small explosions in the background of Pain or Gain.
There is no rule that states that great films need to be enjoyed, no Amendment to the Constitution that makes it unlawful for you to personally dislike a widely accepted pièce de résistance. Just like it’s possible to accept that Michael Jordan is a great basketball player without ever taking a liking to the game, it’s perfectly fine to dislike Unforgiven if you can’t stand Westerns. It’s important as a film lover to acknowledge when greatness has been achieved, but that doesn’t mean you should have to wire your eyelids open through repeated views of a film like Alex from A Clockwork Orange to prove it.