Last week in this space, I floated the argument that certain recent movies–The Matrix, The Truman Show, The Game, The Thirteenth Floor, Bulworth, etc.–reflect, however unintentionally, modern society’s anxiety about the way technology and the media have called into question what real life is and express the worry that whatever it is, it’s in danger. These films wonder, in a subliminal way, whether our lives may be turning into shows or programs, and even without realizing they’re in a pulpit, they preach against the subversion of human nature that they see in computers, communications, and celebrity-centered culture. Notting Hill hits this nail of existential anxiety squarely on the head because it is a movie that deplores and pities movie stars and the life of being in the movies and the utter falsity of every aspect of international celebrity, which reproduces images of stars by the billion while it erodes the substance of their real personalities.
What I forgot to do last week was extend this argument to its ultimate conclusion–that Notting Hill and these other movies essentially hate themselves, hate movies, are objects that contain their own self-loathing. Many of them, especially the more technological, effects-ridden ones (Armageddon, The Matrix) use very high technology in their production to cast scathing aspersions on technology. Armageddon, bristling with special effects, despises in its story line the technology that almost apocalyptically interferes with real human communication and action. And Notting Hill is a movie that uses its very own nature–its Dasein–as a lash of self-flagellation.
Strange. All these films that say Get Real or Get Back to Being Real or Beware of the Unreal are themselves paradigmatically unreal. It’s as if their makers–directors, producers, screenwriters, executives–are expressing their shame about what they do and telling themselves to stop making movies and their audiences to stop going to them. The Simpsons has been administering the television version of this lesson for years–going so far as to insult its own network, Fox. The difference, the brilliant difference, is that The Simpsons knows exactly what it’s doing. The movies in question, and many others like them, appear to have not a single clue about what’s really on their little minds and how antagonistic it is to the very idea of movies.