At lunch today at SXSW, I had a fascinating discussion with the VR artist Isaac Cohen. At one point our conversation turned to the subject of art, and the difference between authentic and inauthentic artistic expression. He argued that authentic art needs to retain some of the messiness found in real life.
He used an example from the animator Miyazaki. In “Swept Away”, he pointed out, there is a hopping lantern. The lantern itself is a fairly random thing — a lantern that hops around. Yet that lantern, and myriad other random things, contribute to a film that ends up forming a cohesive whole, and in fact achieves greatness. The very messiness of such apparently random elements lends authenticity to the result.
I replied that his thought reminded me of the difference between Moonlight and La La Land. Moonlight wone the Academy Award for best picture, I argued, because of its emotional messiness.
La La Land was fairly cut and dried from a character level. The two main characters were just quirky enough to serve the plot, and no more. While the result was entertaining, it didn’t go very deep, because the characters themselves were not allowed to go very deep.
Moonligh, in contrast, is a roller coaster ride of apparently random moments. “People are messy,” is one of its take-away messages. We are highly complex and messy creatures, each of us containing layers upon layers of identity.
The resolution at the end of the film arises directly from this very messiness of the psyche and the spirit. It is this ability to tie the apparently random fragments of life experience into a meaningful whole that elevates the movie to become more than mere entertainment.
What more can you ask for in a work of art?