Flix Fix: The Generality of Genres

In bruges

by James

When I was trying to recommend the film In Bruges to my brother, I came across some problems. The conversation ran something like this: “Jake,” (my brother’s name is Jake) “you should really check out this film. It’s like a dark comedy, but it isn’t really a funny movie, and it has some action parts, but it really isn’t an action movie, and there is some drama, but it isn’t like a real dramatic movie. Umm. It’s about Bruges. No really, you should check it out.”

When I try to talk about a film, the first thing that comes to mind is the genre. Inevitably, the first words out of my mouth are “It’s a horror movie,” or “It’s an action movie.” The human mind naturally categorizes things into a collection. The easiest way to describe something new is to start with something old. Only after the category is established does the explanation come out. “It’s a horror movie, but the serial killer is a puppet.” “It’s an adventure movie, but the main character is actually a cyborg dog. How awesome is that?” For the most part, these films are easily categorized. Hollywood knows what the markets are looking for, and tend to produce to the specifications. People want comedies? Give them a wacky setup, and send Kevin James in. People want a horror movie? Send in the teenagers and give somebody a knife and a mask. Most movies fit into this category, but from time to time, there comes a movie that doesn’t really fit into this mold.

Some of the most innovative movies are the ones that lack the boundaries imposed by genres. Adaptation, my favorite movie, is an example of a movie whose value increases due to its lack of restrictions. Adaptation is a movie about a man trying to adapt a screenplay. There is comedy, but the movie isn’t a comedy. There is drama, but the movie isn’t a drama. There is crime, but the movie is not a crime movie. The idea behind the movie is simple, but the writing by Charlie Kauffman brings out a complex look at the nature of change in many different forms. If it was forced into having more drama, or more crime, or comedy, the tone of the movie would change substantially. The focus would no longer rest on the ideas that the movie tries to convey, but instead the attention would be drawn away by the tropes of the genre.

I’m not saying that movies that are easily classified are bad. I enjoy watching comedies and action movies. However, the movies that stay with me are movies that contain ideas. Oftentimes, movies are so filled with tropes that there is little time for innovation. Was Lockout a fun movie? Of course it was, but I will never remember the movie as more than what it was: an action movie set in space.

Of course there will always be conventional Hollywood standbys. People will watch, and people will enjoy. Those are tried and true classic methods, and there is no reason to change it. But when I am looking for a movie to really speak to me, I’ll be looking for the film that nobody can describe.

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