On loving a film that others hate
Instead of going to the cinema yesterday, I stayed in with my flatmate to watch a film I really like, High Fidelity (2000). How to describe the 'oh shit' moment when you realize a film you recommended is going down really badly with the other person? Following the ending, my flatmate spoke of it as if emerging from trauma, the film's protagonist (played by John Cusack) representing all the shit-men-in-need-of-saving narratives that have been made a million times already. When I gave my flatmate £1.50 this morning (the film had cost £3 to rent online), I felt as if I had made her part with £1.50 of her soul.
Well, those are the risks of committing to a film, I guess. Watching a 'friend's-favourite-film' is like meeting a friend's-close-friend. You know it should go well, there's no reason why it shouldn't. But when you meet the friend-of-a-friend, or watch the friend's-favourite-film, you can be left with the weird trauma not only of how bad it was, but what it says about your friend, and whether your friendship can ever recover from this new perspective of them.
To reflect on the film, I realize the gender politics of High Fidelity can be construed as problematic. Cusack's protagonist addresses the viewer about his top five most devastating break-ups and the way he was sometimes complicit in using the women only for sex (examples 2, 4 and to some degree 5). With his current relationship, he's guilty of being in an early middle-age rut (Cusack was 34 when he played the character) and, from what little we know, of taking his girlfriend for granted. She is beautiful and wants to enjoy life; she wants him to enjoy it too, but his failing record store represents his own mental state. She leaves him temporarily, hence his reflections on his other most devastating break-ups. From my flatmate's hatred of the film, I am left wondering if I'm too lenient towards men, and not caring enough about the women who consort with them.
I do maintain there are some wonderful moments in this film, including the comedic shenanigans of his record-shop assistant played by a brilliantly over-the-top Jack Black. There are also some poignant middle-age meditations which perhaps are why I like this film so much.
Because I underwent my own middle-age re-boot back in 2015-16, when I quit a meandering career and came to Edinburgh University, where I also came out as transgender. At one point, Cusack's protagonist talks about always waiting for something to happen, and never committing to anything, with echoes of what Lacan talks about in terms of desire: of how we always circle but never commit to the thing we want, because when you get close to it, you fear it won't be special any more. But as Cusack's protagonist says, you can't live your life forever keeping your options open. At some point, perhaps through exhaustion, you finally commit because it's more tiring not to.
Because I only ever used to fantasize, and drifted from adolescence into my 30s in a way not dissimilar to Cusack's protagonist, I relate to this film, and to Cusack's record-store assistants, who obsessively care about certain pop cultural trash in the way that I can. And while I didn't need an angel like the protagonist's girlfriend to save me, I have been blessed with one or two friends entering my life at the right time, and the right place, to give me the gentle support that I needed.Ultimately, I love High Fidelity because whether you're cisgender or trans, male or female or somewhere in between, it's nice to believe there are people out there who will reach down to you in your rut, and with a smile, help you out of it when you realize you've hit rock bottom. This has been the story of my life as it has Cusack's protagonist, and watching people emerge from their low with the support of others is the cool transformation that I love this film for.