Artists have always had a complicated relationship with critics, but that’s gotten immeasurably worse in a culture where a) everybody now has a public platform and b) everybody has a direct line to the artist. Despite getting mostly positive notices for The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, for example, has seen his movie (and his cast) relentlessly pilloried by a whiny portion of their fanbase that didn’t get exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, Hollywood’s welcome attempts at greater diversity and inclusion have found some films praised for ideological reasons divorced from the films themselves; to criticize them, in the eyes of some, diminishes those ideological advances, which can create a pickle for a critic trying to examine a film’s nooks and crannies. The online maelstrom created by the collision of these two scenarios has made the field of criticism a shockingly precarious one, leading to reactionary criticisms that sometimes manifest in personal attacks.
It’s helpful, then, to return to the artist’s own interpretation of what’s helpful and what’s not when it comes to criticism. Prompted by a (fairly leading) fan question on Twitter, Mission Impossible: Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie shared some thoughts and one particularly revealing anecdote on the topic.
Of course, even the most measured responses will eventually summon the trolls, one of whom seems to posit to McQuarrie that bullying is part and parcel of criticism. Spoiler alert: It’s not.
Interestingly, Johnson then hopped in to share his own differing opinions. Where McQuarrie finds a critic’s constructive criticism helpful, Johnson disagrees, saying “there’s so much sticky simultaneous self loathing and defensiveness tied up in reading it.” He does, however, value reviews as documents of unique perspectives and interpretations.
The spiraling conversations prompted some wonderful insight from a number of fellow Twitterers, as well as an affecting story from McQuarrie about how he handled some abusive criticism he received from his hometown paper on his first directorial effort, 2000's The Way of the Gun.
The takeaway is simple: If you want an artist to care about your opinion, don’t be a dick about it.