We all had that moment, roughly 30 – 45 minutes into Inception: the one where we were sitting in the theatre (likely IMAX, maybe 3-D); watching the Dream Team falling ever-so-slowly off that bridge; waiting … wondering … When is this thing going to become intellectual? Well, at least I did. For months preceding the release of (what was to be) the first truly metaphysical crime thriller, the advertisements and reviews touted the uber-intellectual quality of this Warner Brothers blockbuster; only to fall flat on their faces shortly after release. Indeed, Inception was a great film – the storyline, the acting, the nature of its graphic effects and action sequences – all rendered it a must-see. But to call it “intellectual” is categorically false. As an intellectual film, Inception failed; this being in the simple fact that it did not pose any questions, only answers. Thus, walking out of the theatres, we all shook our fists and said “never again! Never again will we go to a film believing that we would leave thinking deeply! Never again will we fall for this guise of independent ideas coming out of a big-name company!!” We vowed to keep pseudo-intellectualism for independent films we see at obscure screenings, or happen upon on the Sundance channel. Never again would we fall for it and go in with expectations that a major blockbuster would challenge us to think for ourselves, or at least just pose questions to us without giving us all the answers.
And then (only a few, short months later) we fell flat on our own faces by going to see Black Swan.
Again, with Black Swan, we fell for the same guise that we did with Inception: this was it, this was going to be big; this was going to make us think, pose questions with no answers. And in some senses, we were fooled – the film was in limited release, at first; only some (major) theatres played it. Limited release must mean there is hope. Come on! – it was a modern version of Swan Lake (for God’s sakes)! How could one not go in expecting at least some layer of intellectualism? But while the thought-provoking quality of Inception was promised, with Black Swan it was only implied. We did not get what we assumed, though – for (similar to Inception), Black Swan showed us everything point, blank. Everyone knew that Portman’s character was insane; from the blatant hallucinations, to the crazy mom saying “not again!!” When we left the theatre, my first words were “I am sick of these films where the character does not realize they are crazy” – this, simply put, is getting old. But it is only getting old, for we know what is going on the entire time; and Black Swan was no exception. Thus, whereas we previously left the theatre shaking our fists at the big box media who fooled us into believing Inception was to be a thinker, with Black Swan we left slapping our own foreheads for being so stupid and gullible.
The only conclusion we can arrive at, then, is this: In the Age of Technology and Smartphones, where you are only as “smart” as your phone is, only as capable as the number of “G”s you have; where if there is something we cannot do there is an app for that – Intellectualism as we formerly knew it no longer exists.
No longer do we live in a world where there is not something or someone available to do for us what we cannot or will not do. In other words, everything has been made so simple for us, that all we really need to do is loosely exist and still have wonderful, prosperous lives. Smartphones are the pinnacle of this, for in the smartphone, you find that everything is made so simple that you do not even have to think – it is all out here for you, ready to go and do things for you. This is one of the largest criticisms of the Apple company, actually – that it is too simple, that people no longer have to do anything to set up their Apple products (be it Macbook, iPad, iPhone, etc.) – it is just done for them. But Apple is not the culprit of this new do-it-for-me-technology; it is us (who demand such luxury) that drive this industry. By buying in to the do-it-for-me, we in essence fuel it.
Thus, our collective definition of intellectualism has morphed into something that intellectualism never was. Traditionally, it was thought that for something to be intellectual meant it had to leave one thinking. Yet, in the case of Inception, Black Swan, smartphones – and just about every other pseudo-intellectual thing produced today, the thinking is done for us. It is out there already – we are told the answers in Inception; we are shown the truth in Black Swan. The examples could go on forever, from film to art; cell phones to computers: collectively, we have changed our idea of critical thought, and in essence completely redefined what it is to think. The entire paradigm of how we live our lives has shifted to an implicit expectation that we should no longer have to do things for ourselves; everything should be put out there for us, including our thoughts and beliefs.
Really, there are two possibilities: either (1) we have done as I said, which is completely change what it means to be intellectual, think, and do things for ourselves; or, (2) we have accepted the path of non-thinking, and just swallow anything that is put before us as the way things are. Either way you look at it, though, Intellectualism (at least as we knew it) is dead.