Movies with Mikey lets us know — on no uncertain terms — that The Fountain, the mind-bending Darren Aronofsky film from 2006, has been misunderstood:
I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I remember a sort of poetic ambiguity that recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick understood that a certain amount of ambiguity in the interpretation of a film left room for the audience to write some of the story:
I didn’t have to try for ambiguity; it was inevitable. And I think in a film like 2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to “fill in” the visual experience themselves. In any case, once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting — you don’t need written instructions by the composer or painter accompanying such works to “explain” them. “Explaining” them contributes nothing but a superficial “cultural” value which has no value except for critics and teachers who have to earn a living. Reactions to art are always different because they are always deeply personal.
Not that a filmmaker shouldn’t always have a clear idea of what the movie means. But being open to the audience having other interpretations is one storytelling strategy. It certainly works for filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky or Terrence Malick.
In this past year, a movie like Ex Machina might be a good example. The story is seemingly simple, but the amount of interpretations it has generated is enormous. What other films do you feel have been misunderstood? What do you think about the use of ambiguity in cinematic storytelling?