January 13, 2006

Purposely kept vague  

Both before and after I saw Syriana a couple weeks ago, friends (and reviewers) have been telling me what a confusing and difficult movie it is. And I've been wondering about this, because I didn't find it confusing in the least. At first I thought maybe I was missing something, because several of the people who were "confused" were people whose readings I generally respect ("great deference" seems to be the term of the moment). But when I realized most of the complaints centered around the plot, with its variously interwoven and indirectly connected strands, I was kind of taken aback, because everything I needed to understand what was going on was right on the surface -- it's not as though a lot of guesswork was required to tease out the subtleties of who was doing what and why. Maybe the plot wasn't perfectly predictable, and maybe the characters weren't as one-dimensional as the caricatures on Fox News, but Syriana is hardly what you'd call high modernist.

All of this is even more baffling when you consider the critical response to Traffic, which was pretty much universal adoration even though the plot in that case was similarly constructed and the subject matter even more controversial (although perhaps less timely). I guess Syriana ends on a far less hopeful note and engages the audience more directly (basically as antagonist), but as far as understanding the plot is concerned, I don't see the difference.


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