"Seven Pounds" trashed by critics for odd reasons

"Seven Pounds" trashed by critics for odd reasons
Thoughtless
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Posted Jan 5, 2009 - 4:53 AM:
Subject: "Seven Pounds" trashed by critics for odd reasons
WARNING: THIS POST CONTIANS MAJOR SPOILERS.


























In "Seven Pounds", Will Smith's new movie, the main character commits suicide so that his organs may go to people who desperately need them, an act of redemption for a past mistake which cost seven people their lives. The film has gotten horrible reviews, with critics lambasting it for being "emotionally manipulative", "predictable", "not believeable", et cetera. Arguments can be made for all three of those assessments. What's really interesting is one of the common threads that seems to run through many of these reviews: the critics don't believe that any human being would ever do such a thing, and to portray a human being who would is seen as laughable, absurd, even downright offensive.

One reviewer states:

James Berardinelli wrote:
Yes, guilt is a powerful motivator and the quest for redemption can be obsessive, but it would be helpful if the protagonist could pursue these objectives in a manner that's consistent with believable human behavior patterns.


Another reviewer has this to say:

Rafer Guzman wrote:
The script, by Grant Nieporte, seems to fundamentally misunderstand its moral themes. As Ben doles out salvation, choosing the righteous from the undeserving, he presumptuously plays God. He sees bravery in suicide, rather than in sticking around to do the hard work of living. And his seven victims are never humanized; they're mere abstractions, seven pounds of flesh that allow Ben to play the martyr and jerk our tears.


Other reviews echo similar sentiments.

What's fascinating to me about this reaction is that cinema, and storytelling in general, have always been filled with people heroicaly giving their lives to save others. There are only two differences between the self-sacrifice in Seven Pounds and the self-sacrifice that has long been a core theme in all stories: in most stories, the act of self-sacrifice is spontaneous, not pre-meditated; and the person sacrificing his or her life for another usually knows the other well.

Yet none of these self-sacrificing characters are ever received with the kind of disbelief and disapproval as was Ben (Tim) Thomas. Why not? Is it okay to sacrifice your life for someone you know, but not for a stranger? Is it okay to make the decision in a state of emergency, but not deliberately? If that were the case, these characters would be chastised in reviews, but given a pass for making such a silly decision because they made it in the grips of powerful emotion.

What's the difference between someone with heart failure who has no chance at receiving a transplant, and a child who is caught in front of a bus? Many people would not think twice about diving in front of the bus, giving their life for the child; but no one ever decides to give up their heart for someone else.

I don't know if anyone else finds this interesting, but I find it fascinating. These critics don't even seem to be aware of their contradictory attitudes.
swstephe
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Posted Jan 5, 2009 - 7:17 AM:

There may be several factors at work here. In American movies, audiences expect happy endings and utterly reject any positive acknowledgment of voluntary suicide. In other countries, the sentiment might be reversed. I remember seeing an old silent movie. Even then, there were two versions, one for American audiences, where the hero saves the girl, and one for Russian audiences, where the hero falls in and dies together with the girl. The other factor might be fear among the critics that accepting the moral argument might encourage others, or their audiences might think they are encouraging others, to follow their example.

I think it would be interesting to modify the reviews slightly, apply them the the New Testament "passion play", and post it in a conservative Christian forum. How would they defend their sacred scriptures which are in conflict with cultural values. The reviews you have posted seem especially fitting.
Thoughtless
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Posted Jan 5, 2009 - 3:58 PM:

Yes, I've noticed as well that American audiences seem unable to tolerate an unappy ending.

I think that another factor at work here is, absurdly enough, jealousy of Will Smith. The reviewers seem incredulous that he keeps casting himself as a character who is good in an exaggerated way. What's wrong with that? So he likes to play good guys, and he likes symbolic characters. What about John Wayne, or Christian Bale (Batman)? They're obviously full of themselves. shaking head
pfred
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Posted Jan 7, 2009 - 12:29 PM:

Thoughtless wrote:
Yes, I've noticed as well that American audiences seem unable to tolerate an unappy ending.
I too am annoyed by this fact, which is one of the reasons I liked "Boys Don't Cry", which, by the way received quite a few entertainment industry awards, was fairly successful financially, and had an unhappy ending.
janejones
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Posted Jan 7, 2009 - 2:22 PM:

I haven't seen the movie, so I may be off the mark a little, but I think it's not that he's donating organs, it's that he's parading around like a tool choosing who deserves said organs.

Regarding the intolerance of unhappy endings: some people see movies to see an interpretation of the way things are, others to see it as they think it should be. Nothing wrong with either preference.

There's an excellent movie about assisted suicide called the sea inside; watch that instead of trite Will Smith movies.

I think the real question is, why does Will Smith keep getting work?
Thoughtless
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Posted Jan 8, 2009 - 12:12 AM:

janejones wrote:
I haven't seen the movie, so I may be off the mark a little, but I think it's not that he's donating organs, it's that he's parading around like a tool choosing who deserves said organs.

Regarding the intolerance of unhappy endings: some people see movies to see an interpretation of the way things are, others to see it as they think it should be. Nothing wrong with either preference.

There's an excellent movie about assisted suicide called the sea inside; watch that instead of trite Will Smith movies.

I think the real question is, why does Will Smith keep getting work?


You are off the mark a little, if I understood the reviews correctly. While one review mentioned that Will Smith's character seemed to be "passing judgment" on people, that wasn't the main complaint. The main complaint was that his suicide was not believable, and even reprehensible.

As for him "parading around like a tool" choosing who deserves his organs: that's a fairly ridiculous assessment. The man is planning on sacrificing his life for strangers, and he should just pick them randomly? Surely it's his prerogative to choose who receives his organs; and it's his prerogative to determine how he chooses those people.

In any event, your characterization of Will Smith movies in general as "trite" does nothing to convince me that my suspicion of an odd bias against Will Smith in particular is mere paranoia. Your rhetorical question about the viability of Will Smith's career reveals your dislike of the actor. Imagine for a moment that the character in the movie was played by someone else: is your opinion of the character's sacrificial act changed?
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Posted Jan 10, 2009 - 1:39 AM:

I think two separate elements are at play in the critical and public reception of the film. First, America is seen as a symbol of opportunity and hope, stalwart and defiant to negativity and inhibition. Many of my countrymen enjoy films that reflect this romanticized view of our nation. Secondly, violent pride is almost inherent in Americans, pride in a viewed superiority, and pride in (comparative) exorbitance/excess. Influences, often in the form of art, that can be seen as negative confront this pride.

Additionally, the inherent ethical questions that accompany such a film are antagonistic to social stigmas and standards regarding the negative aspects of life.
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