WHAT 50/50 MEANS TO HULK

October 3, 2011

MOVIES ARE PERSONAL.

WE CAN DRESS IT UP ALL WE WANT. WE CAN TALK ABOUT FILM’S OBJECTIVE QUALITIES: THE DIFFICULTY OF EXECUTION.  MISE EN SCENE. BALANCE OF TONE. HEROIC PERFORMANCES. STORY STRUCTURE. LEVEL OF ASS-KICKERY. PICK YOUR TOPIC. THEY’RE ALL MORE THAN VALID, AS ENTIRE BOOKS ARE WRITTEN ABOUT THESE SUBJECTS. THEY CONSTITUTE WHOLE, FASCINATING WORLDS UNTO THEMSELVES. MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT’S THE CRITIC’S JOB TO CONVEY HOW THESE QUALITIES MAKE SENSE AND HOW THEY DO/DO NOT WORK IN A GIVEN MOVIE. AND HULK TAKES THAT JOB VERY SERIOUSLY.

BUT EVEN WITH THESE OBJECTIVE QUALITIES, MOVIES ARE STILL INEXORABLY ATTACHED TO OUR HEARTS AND MINDS. FOR ONE, THEY ARE FULLY DEPENDENT ON OUR OWN DEFINITION OF “OBJECTIVE.” BUT EVEN MORE, THEY ARE DEPENDENT ON OUR EXPERIENCES, FEELINGS, AND EMOTIONS. WE CAN STRETCH OUR NETS OF CINEMATIC INTEREST AS WIDE AS ONE CAN GO AND ARE CERTAINLY BETTER FOR IT. IT ENABLES US TO EXPRESS, CONVEY, SHARE, AND EDUCATE REGARDLESS OF WHO WE ARE. BUT THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF OBJECTIVELY GOOD MOVIES AND TO DECIDE WHAT IS TRULY SPECIAL, IT ULTIMATELY BECOMES A QUESTION NOT JUST OF WHAT ATTACHES, BUT TRULY RESONATES DOWN INTO OUR BONES.

IN THE END, MOVIES ARE PERSONAL.

AND 50/50 IS VERY, VERY PERSONAL TO HULK.

CANCER IS ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT HAS SEEMINGLY TOUCHED EVERYONE. YOU’VE PROBABLY HAD SOME LEVEL OF PROXIMITY TO IT. IF YOU HAVEN’T? WELL, HULK’S NOT RELIGIOUS OR ANYTHING BUT COUNT YOUR DARN BLESSINGS. THAT’S BECAUSE SOME OF US HAVE GOTTEN THE FRONT-ROW SEAT. SOME OF US HAVE EVEN HAD IT… AND SOME OF US HAVE HAD IT ALONG WITH MOST EVERYONE ELSE IN OUR FAMILIES (HOW TO PUT THIS? GAMMA RADIATION IS A BITCH).

YOU’VE ALL PROBABLY HEARD THIS IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER, BUT IN CASE IT’S NOT CLEAR: CANCER DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOUR BELIEFS, OR HEALTH, OR AGE, OR WHAT’S FAIR. FOR ALL HULK KNOWS, IT COULD BE SOME SORT OF KARMIC AGENT THAT THE UNIVERSE HAS DEVISED TO PREVENT HUMANS FROM OVERTAKING THE EARTH MORE THAN THEY ALREADY HAVE. NOW, THIS KIND OF THINKING IS OBVIOUSLY CYNICAL NONSENSE, BUT IT CERTAINLY CAN FEEL TRUE.

THAT’S BECAUSE CANCER TEARS PEOPLE AWAY. THAT’S WHAT IT DOES. AND HULK DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT HULK IS FOND OF PUNY HUMANS QUITE A BIT. NO ONE WANTS TO HAVE THEM TORN AWAY, PIECE BY PIECE INTO NOTHINGNESS.

PEOPLE USUALLY DIE IN MOVIES BECAUSE THEY DO BAD THINGS. BECAUSE THEY DESERVE IT. AND IF THEY DIDN’T DESERVE IT, WE USUALLY SPEND COPIOUS AMOUNTS WITH THE PARTY RESPONSIBLE AND LEARN ABOUT GUILT OR SOMETHING. OR WE SPEND ALSO COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF TIME WITH THE ONES WHO ARE BEING TAUGHT / HAVE TO LEARN TO “LET GO” OF SOMEONE WHO DIES. HECK, EVEN FATAL ACCIDENTS IN MOVIES SORT OF WORK THE SAME WAY. PEOPLE DIE BUT THE SEARCH GOES ON FOR SOME SORT OF MEANING. THESE MOVIES, AND THE PEOPLE WHO WRITE THEM, TRY TO TEACH US THESE THINGS.

DISEASE MAKES THIS A LITTLE MORE PROBLEMATIC. GENETIC RANDOMNESS DOESN’T REALLY ASCRIBE ITSELF TO ANY SORT OF MEANING, OTHER THAN EXISTENTIALISM HULK GUESS. BECAUSE WHEN IT’S YOUR LIFE ON THE LINE THE PESKY LITTLE MATTER OF HOW OTHER PEOPLE WILL GO ON AFTER YOU IS A NEAT AND IDEAL THOUGHT, BUT IT’S NOT NECESSARILY A REAL OR COHERENT THOUGHT (ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE YOUNGER). YET, WE SEE CANCER MOVIES ADDRESS THESE KINDS OF THINGS CONSTANTLY, EITHER WITH SOME WISTFUL NONSENSE OR SACCHARINE WHIMSY. WE’VE SEEN MOVIE AFTER MOVIE OF WELL-ADJUSTED CANCER CHILDREN TEACHING THEIR PARENTS AND FAMILY HOW TO “LET GO.” HECK, EVEN JAMES L. BROOKS A CERTIFIED WRITING GENIUS WHO KNOWS HOW TO ALTERNATE CUT THROAT/SUBLIME SAP AT A MOMENTS NOTICE, IS BASICALLY ENGAGING IN THOSE KIND OF IDEAS JUST IN A MUCH MORE ENTERTAINING WAY. MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THESE FILMS ARE WRITTEN ABOUT OUR ABILITY TO PROCESS WHAT “CAN” HAPPEN TO “SOMEONE ELSE.”

IT’S AN UNDERSTANDABLE INCLINATION IN ALL HONESTY, BUT HULK NOT SURE THAT’S NOT REALLY WHAT DISEASE IS ACTUALLY ABOUT. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH IS VERY DIFFICULT TO EXPRESS CLEARLY AND HULK DID HULK’S BEST:

HULK DOESN’T THINK CANCER STORIES SHOULD BE MADE “FOR OTHER PEOPLE.” IT SEEMS LIKE MUCH MORE CAN BE DONE IN TERMS OF UNDERSTANDING BY TRANSLATING THE EXPERIENCE OF THE PERSON WHO ACTUALLY HAS THE DISEASE, RATHER THAN MAKE SOMETHING THAT IS DESIGNED TO MAKE THE EXPERIENCE “OKAY” FOR THE REST OF US. BECAUSE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL, CANCER/DISEASE IS ABOUT THE SIMPLE AND HEARTBREAKING REALITY OF HOW ORDINARY IT ALL IS. WHEN YOU’RE YOUNGER, DISEASE ACTUALLY FORCES YOU TO STOP SEEING THE WORLD IN THESE GRAND TERMS OF “LEGACY” AND “MEANING.” WHY? BECAUSE THOSE THINGS ARE ABOUT THE PRESERVATION OF THE FUTURE SELF IN SOME WAY AND THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY FACING. NO, HULK ARGUES CANCER JUST FORCES YOU TO LOOK AT THE REGULAR LIFE AROUND YOU IN NON-GRAND TERMS. DISEASE DOES NOT PROVIDE SOME CRYSTALLINE, OMNISCIENT FOCUS. IT DOESN’T GIVE YOU THE SUPER POWER TO REALIZE WHAT LIFE IS REALLY ABOUT. YOU DON’T EVEN “CHERISH THE MOMENT” REALLY. YOU’RE TOLD THIS HAPPENS, BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS. WHAT DISEASE DOES IS THAT ACTUALLY CLARIFIES THE HEARTBREAKING REALITY OF THE ORDINARY PRESENT. MEANING, THERE IS NOTHING ALL THAT SPECIAL ABOUT IT. THERE IS JUST YOU, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FRIENDS AND WHATEVER THEY ACTUALLY ARE (SELFISH, LOVING, SMOTHERING, ETC), AND THEY ARE ALL NOW DEALING WITH FACT YOU ARE SICK.

HULK HOPES THIS MAKES SENSE. DISEASE DOES NOT GET YOU TO SEE “LIFE” BUT REALLY THE JUST ORDINARY NATURE OF “YOUR LIFE.” AND THAT’S WHY EVERYONE AROUND YOU FREAKS OUT SO BADLY, BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM SEE HOW IT’S ALL JUST SO IMPOSSIBLY REGULAR: CANCER/DISEASE IS SOMETHING HORRIBLE YOU HAVE TO LIVE WITH UNTIL YOU POSSIBLY DIE FROM IT… AND THAT’S IT.

50/50 IS THE FIRST MOVIE HULK’S EVER SEEN THAT UNDERSTANDS AND CONVEYS THAT.

AND THAT IS WHY THE FILM IS TRANSCENDENT.

WHAT’S SORT OF WEIRD IS THAT HULK WAS GOING INTO IT NOT WITH ANY SORT OF GRAND EXPECTATION, GIVEN THE NATURE OF ANY PERSONAL ATTACHMENTS. HULK WASN’T REALLY ANTICIPATING TO CONNECT LIKE THAT AT ALL. HECK, HULK ALMOST DECIDED TO SPEND THE NIGHT IN.  HULK JUST THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A FUNNY FILM THAT TRIED TO STAY AWAY FROM SAPPY, TRITE STUFF WE HAVE SEEN BEFORE. ONE THAT TRIED TO DISPLACE THAT STUFF WITH COMEDY. HULK EVEN KNEW FROM PAST MOVIES THAT DIRECTOR JONATHAN LEVINE WOULD BE ABLE TO CREATE SOMETHING THAT FELT LIVED IN AND IMMEDIATE. AND FOR MOST PEOPLE THAT MAY BE ALL 50/50 ACTUALLY IS… WHICH AGAIN, IS FINE.

BUT FOR HULK IT WAS SOMETHING MORE. HULK MELTED INTO THE MOVIE AND EXPERIENCED IT WHOLLY AS IF IT WAS HAPPENING RIGHT THEN AND THERE, AS IF HULK WAS DIRECTLY INVOLVED. FOR MOST CRITICS THIS HAPPENS ALL TOO RARELY. SO OFTEN THEY WATCH A MOVIE TO PROCESS HOW IT IS “WORKING” WITHOUT REALLY EXPERIENCING. THOUGH IT SHOULD NOT THAT MOST GOOD CRITICS ARE ACTUALLY PROCESSING THE EXPERIENCE AND THUS EFFECTIVELY DOING BOTH AT ONCE, BUT SOMETIMES IT’S DICEY. AND CRITICS OFTEN FORGET THAT MOST PEOPLE JUST EXPERIENCE MOVIES IN SOME SORT OF CHILDLIKE STATE OF TRANSIENCE. IT’S THE REASON A LOT OF PEOPLE CAN’T EXPLAIN MOVIES, TAKE THEM SO PERSONALLY, AND ARE SO DAMN SUSCEPTIBLE TO TONE CHANGES (AND MAYBE ARE EVEN BETTER FOR IT).YES  FOR THE AVERAGE MOVIE-GOER, FILMS ARE HYPER-PERSONAL BECAUSE THEY ARE an EXPERIENCE. SO WHEN A CRITIC CAN ENJOY A MOVIE THIS WAY? IT IS A GIFT.

STILL, “OBJECTIVELY” SPEAKING HULK THOUGHT 50/50 WAS FANTASTIC. THE PERFORMANCES ARE ALL STANDOUTS AND THERE ARE MANY REASONS WHY (MOSTLY BECAUSE THEY KEEP THINGS GROUNDED). BUT HULK WOULD BE REMISS NOT TO MENTION JOSEPH GORDON LEVITT’S ABILITY TO PLAY HIS QUIET TROUBLES OFF OF EVERYONE ELSE’S LEVELS OF RELATIVE SADNESS AND HYSTERIA. IT FEEDS DIRECTLY INTO THE VERY THING THAT ENABLES THE FILM TO SUCCEED: THE TONE.

LEVINE DEFTLY WEAVES SCENES TOGETHER TURNING A FILM THAT ALTERNATES BETWEEN COMEDY AND SOMBERNESS INTO A SINGULAR, COHERENT REALITY. YOU LIKELY HAVE NO IDEA HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO PULL THAT OFF, BUT LEVINE DOES SO ADMIRABLY. ONE OF THE KEYS TO THAT IS TAHT THE FILM IS GENUINELY FUNNY WITHOUT FEELING LIKE IT IS STRIVING TO DO SO. IT IS WHOLLY COMFORTABLE GOING WHOLE SCENES WITHOUT ANY JOKING WHATSOEVER AND THIS ALLOWS THE FILM TO PUNCTUATE ITS MOMENTS. IT CHOOSES REALITY AS A MORE IMPORTANT GOAL THAN THE JOKE, GIVING THE TONE FLEXIBILITY. THE SUM TOTAL OF THESE DECISIONS IS THAT IT MEANS LEVINE MADE ONE OF THOSE RARE MOVIES WHERE EVERYTHING SIMPLY “IS.”

BUT THAT ACHIEVEMENT ALL STARTS WITH WILL REISER’S SCRIPT, WHICH FLOWS BEAUTIFULLY, SHIFTING FROM EXPERIENCE TO EXPERIENCE WITH A QUIET, PROPULSIVE FOCUS. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN EXACTLY? IT MEANS SCENES ARE WRITTEN TO BUILD THE RELATIONSHIPS, BUT NO SINGULAR SCENE IS TRYING TO DESPERATELY DRIVE HOME A SINGULAR POINT, JUST TO CONVEY THE PERSPECTIVE. AND THAT IS BECAUSE THE PERSPECTIVE IS THE POINT. THE FACT THAT THIS IS REISER’S PERSONAL STORY IS WELL-PUBLICIZED, BUT HULK WANTS TO REMIND YOU JUST BECAUSE IT “HAPPENED” DOESN’T MEAN SHIT WHEN IT COMES TO WRITING. IT’S ABOUT THE ABILITY TO MAKE IT RESONATE. AND REISER SHOWCASES HIS ABILITY TO WRITE THROUGH THE SHEER DETERMINATION TO EXPRESS THE INNATE REALITY OF DISEASE, NOT BY TRYING TO OVERTLY TURN IT INTO “A MOVIE.” THIS IS NOT SAY THE FILM IS SOME EXERCISE IN VERITE, NOTHING OF THE SORT. BUT LIKE THE WAY LEVINE BALANCES THE TONE, REISER BALANCES THE GOAL OF INNATE REALITY WITH THE DESIRE TO ENTERTAIN AND MOVIE-FY THE EXPERIENCE.

BUT AGAIN, THIS WAS HOW IT AFFECTED HULK.

SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THIS CHOICE OR THAT CHOICE, OR THIS PERSON OR THAT PERSON AND THAT’S FINE. HONESTLY, HULK DOESN’T REALLY CARE. FOR EXAMPLE, THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF TALK OF THE TERRIBLE TITLE, ONE DOWNGRADED FROM THE ADMITTEDLY FAR-MORE-EFFECTIVE “I’M WITH CANCER.” SAY WHAT YOU WILL, BUT THE TITLE 50/50 IS STILL SOMETHING THAT AT LEAST MEANS SOMETHING TO HULK. FOR ONE, IT SPEAKS TO IMPLICIT NATURE OF THE RESULTS: YOU EITHER DIE, OR YOU DON’T. TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, THOSE ARE EVERYONE’S CANCER ODDS. AND EITHER WAY YOU HAVE TO GO ON LIVING WITH THAT REALITY. GOING EVEN FURTHER WITH THE TITLE, OF ALL THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE WHO HAD CANCER IN HULK’S LIFE. HALF DIED. THE OTHER HALF SURVIVED. SIMPLE MATH. AGAIN, A RANDOM PROCESS WITH TWO POSSIBLE RESULTS. THAT’S WHAT THE MOVIE MEANS. SO THAT’S WHAT THE TITLE CAN MEAN TOO.

OBJECTIVELY SPEAKING 50/50 IS A MOVIE WORTH SEEING. IT IS A WELL-MADE, FUNNY, EMOTIONAL WITHOUT NECESSARILY BEING SAD, AND CHANCES ARE YOU WILL ENJOY IT.

UN-OBJECTIVELY SPEAKING, THIS WAS A MOVIE HULK NEEDED IN HULK’S LIFE.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

MOVIES ARE PERSONAL.

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8 Responses to “WHAT 50/50 MEANS TO HULK”

  1. I’ve wanted to see this, but I feel like I need to devote a day to it. Thanks for the (always) brilliant reflections, Hulk.

  2. [...] SEEN THAT UNDERSTANDS AND CONVEYS THAT.AND THAT IS WHY THE FILM IS TRANSCENDENT.Read the full post here.[FilmCritHulk] About admin – Leave a comment Click here to cancel [...]

  3. not eb said

    Not to dismiss your attachment to the subject matter, but I came away thinking ‘boring guy gets cancer, continues to be boring.’ I came away not liking Joseph Gordan-Levitt as an actor. I think if you could grab ’50/50′ in one hand and ‘Funny People’ in another and smash them together like clay Hot Wheelz, you’d have something great. (ie, replace the second half of ‘Funny People’ with the second half of ’50/50,’ and put the Adam Sandler of that movie with the Seth Rogen of this movie.)

  4. Bryan Parrill said

    This wasn’t nearly as personal for me, but I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.

    Check out my review when you get a chance…http://shootingthescript.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/fallout-boy-5050-review/

  5. zebrasnake said

    hulk make good review. me go see movie when possible. hulk wanna be my movie partner? hulk can eat all the popcorn.

  6. JONAH KEEL said

    This Geek Brother found the film to be a breath of fresh air. SO many dramas and comedies press us for the full run time with one or the other. The light touch of this film allowed both the moments of weight and brevity to REALLY hit.

    Best film I’ve seen all year.

  7. Charming Charlie said

    It’s a roller coaster. The biggest dip is the four guys taking in some THC outside, and 5 minutes later Mitch is dead. Reality broke through the levity and character drama like a truck.

    The only aspect of cancer not depicted in the movie is the financial side. It probably would have been considered uneconomical for the script, but a scene discussing the insurance situation would have been educational/

  8. [...] 50/50 MEANS TO HULK – MOVIES ARE PERSONAL [...]

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