The Invention of Lying (2009). I liked it. What does that prove?

I was on Ricky Gervais’ wavelength from frame one to fadeout of this film. I laughed when I was meant to laugh, I teared up when cued by the score. I sat imagining a movie starring Jennifer Garner and Hilary Swank playing sisters, but that’s just a jaw thing. I enjoyed the movie.

When it was over, it occurred to me to wonder whether there was any connection between my enjoyment of it and its artistic merit, if any. Does liking something make it art? Of course not. So is artistic merit 100% orthogonal to enjoyment? Or can there be some relative connection? If, for example, I like a movie but 99 others don’t, does that lessen the possibility that cinematic art has been created? What if all 100 of us like it? I mean, the director sets out, in many cases, to make something we’ll like; if he succeeds, doesn’t art play a part?

I suppose that questions like these reflect aspects of the larger “What is art?” question. I remember nothing from my art-history and aesthetics courses. A visit to Wikipedia would probably provide me with lots of answers, but I’d rather just think about it for a couple of minutes and then move on.

Because it does bother me a little that I could watch, laugh, cry, enjoy, knowing that my reactions may have nothing to do, probably have nothing to do, absolutely have nothing to do (which is it?) with the artishness of the thing. Doesn’t seem right.

I mean, could I love a movie that is absolutely devoid of artistic merit of any kind?

Later: ok, after a lot of thought on the matter, I have concluded that if I like a movie, it automatically has artistic merit, even if I watched it in an impaired state or at a time of severe mental disequilibrium. This would include Norbit and The Love Guru. If I don’t like a movie, I allow that it might still contain some artistic merit. This would include Metropolis and Sunrise. As I said to Roger Ebert the other night while explaining how all this works, if you like a movie and I don’t, then artistic merit is not automatically conferred upon it. Who knows what weird stuff you’re liable to like? But now if you can explain to me why a movie that I don’t like has artistic merit, and I buy your explanation, no matter how wrong-headed and tinfoil-hatted it may be, then that’s ok, unless I change my mind later and decide that your explanation is actually rubbish. I feel a lot better having cleared this up for myself.

You ask, what if I (me, not you) love a movie but decide in my heart and mind that it is trash, or at least trashy? Doesn’t matter. In that case it has artistic merit that I can’t see right off the bat, or I wouldn’t have loved it in the first place.

What if I have a love/hate thing going with some movie? That means artistic merit. Probably even more than I would ever be able to know.

Finally, if a movie has twelve tons of artistic merit but I’d hate it if I watched it, then you go watch it and report back. You’ll probably love it.

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