Yesterday’s promised tomorrow is here today!
But first, an explanation for the name of this article:
It’s considered a faux-pas for critics to suggest other decisions the piece of art they’re evaluating could’ve made to be improved. These naysaying traditionalists assert that a critic’s job is to assess what works and what doesn’t, leaving it to the artists to figure out how they could’ve avoided those complaints. Critics aren’t supposed to provide alternative routes the art should’ve taken; they must focus solely on mentioning the problems with the route laid before them, leaving it to others to envision better roads.
But fuck that noise.
I’m an ardent-radical in opposing such arbitrarily-conventional dogmas. If I think I know ways a movie or play could’ve been better, then I’m damn well going to voice them.
As such, welcome to Revision Vision, a new series in which I’ll detail my visions for the revisions plays and movies could’ve made to raise their game. I’ve already engaged in such critical dramaturgy in my review of A Quiet Place. Consider that one the first unofficial post in this burgeoning series.
For our first official entry: Adrift.
Let’s pick up where we left off 24 hours ago: last we spoke about this survival yarn, I was discussing how its depiction of weed bears subtle resonance, the sort rarely on display throughout the rest of the movie. Instead of trusting the audience, the story starts by thrusting us into the moment right after shit hits the fan, when the stakes are highest and the characters’ knowledge of what’s happening is at its lowest, a convenient way to educate both them and the viewer.
Immediately launching the audience into the height of the action is a cheap device to grab the viewer by the collars and basically yell in their faces a reason to pay attention to the tale about to unfold.
Predictably and formulaically, we intermittently cut back in time to fill in the backstory, which we’re now supposed to care about more because we know the magnitude of the shit about to hit the characters’ fans. In this narrative structure, we’re supposed to care about them because of the gravity of what they’re about to go through. Personally, I’d rather just grow to care about them organically.
By starting at the beginning, with their first meet and greet, the audience would’ve been positioned to get to know these two people for who they are, not who they are in relation to how they cope with this tragedy, which unavoidably ends up defining them more than any other traits. When the worst strikes, the effect of the surprise would be that much greater, and our empathy — and thus emotional attachment — could be higher as well. Instead of being introduced as heroes in drastic circumstances, they would’ve been normal everyday people, reflections of us. When shit meets fan, we’d realize how quickly our ordinary lives can turn extraordinary, in the worst ways.
Orienting the audience’s relationship to the characters through the initial prism of the shipwreck almost “others” them. The power of the shipwreck would be greatly increased if, instead, they were developed as two of “us.”
But that, of course, would’ve required more trust in the material and the filmmakers’ skill at bringing it to life. Building to the previously-revealed disaster adds inherent intrigue to these early, quieter, intimate character scenes, which could be seen as more boring than the life-and-death action that occupies most of their time on the tenuous vessel. The ability for these scenes to stand on their own would’ve relied on two primary components: top-notch acting — Shailene Woodley: check; Sam Claflin: check — and resonant writing — bummer on that one.
At least Adrift gets the weed right.