Howard Jacobson: Thrillers always sell you a pup. As with sex, the delivery never lives up to the promise

Homeland: so well-made, well-acted, but in the end, at the mercy of the unsubtlety of its form

Share
Related Topics

Last week, we began with Mozart, this week we begin with Queen. Can anybody find me somebody to love? Except love's not our problem, moving pictures are. Oh Lord/Something – something/Can anybody find me something to watch?

All right, there's Mad Men, better since it ditched the existential hokum of Don Draper's past, and there are repeats of The Sopranos and The West Wing and Family Guy, but apart from those – and don't mutter to me in Swedish – what has television ever done for us? For weeks, Homeland has kept whoever doesn't watch talent-show pap in a state of educated, nervous tension; but it sold us a pup finally, as it was inevitable it would. Thrillers always sell you a pup. It's in their essential nature. As with sex with a dozen painted, athletic courtesans, the delivery never lives up to the promise.

And with Homeland, there wasn't only the crude melodrama of the bad-faced and, therefore, obviously ill-principled American Vice-President, there was also the shonky politics of passing off Stockholm Syndrome impressionability as idealism. The minute that prayer mat was rolled out... Don't get me wrong: it's not converting to Islam that bothers me, it's converting to anything. After the age of 16, the only viable alternative to your own belief system is atheism, not someone else's belief system. Disagree with me if you care to, but it was all flattering unction to the souls of liberals, and a faulty trigger.

So well-made, well-acted, often well-written, but, in the end, at the mercy of the unsubtlety of its form. What was missing was some smart-scepticism, not only of the political and theological sort, but genre scepticism, a degree of self-suspiciousness – in a word, play. The trouble is, you can play too much as well as too little. As witness The Artist and now – a curse on all film critics for persuading me to see either – The Cabin In The Woods.

Let me make my position on The Artist clear. I belong to a small, underground movement – call us a fifth column – dedicated to sharing, not a hostility to The Artist exactly, but a burning indifference to it. I say it's a small, underground movement, but I happen to know there are many more such groups out there. Some simply get together to talk about everything but The Artist; others go around to one anothers' homes expressly not to watch the DVD, the fact of its not having been released yet adding to the frisson of meeting in one another's homes not to watch it; and one group devotes itself to lamenting the condition of the movie industry, caught between the cacophony of special effects and silence.

My suspicion is that while most people enjoyed The Artist a bit – Bérénice Bejo's teeth, the dog, the tap dancing (how could a writer not have liked the tap dancing, when writing is a species of tap dancing on a keyboard?) – only film critics enjoyed it a lot. It is easy to see why. The film critic's lot is not a happy one. He has to watch acres of dross, he has to pretend there are good directors other than Michael Haneke out there, he has to stay serious in a trivial world, and hold his nerve in the face of that tide of uneducated opinion that is the internet. So when a playfully referential film comes along, he is under more than usual pressure to demonstrate: a) he has a sense of fun; and b) that not a single reference is lost on him. The Artist is a film critic's film – about nothing but film itself, allusive in ways that reward recognition with self-delight. Thus, five stars for the film is actually five stars for the critic's acuity.

Few demurrals from them, then, when the film Dysoned up all the Oscars and Baftas going. But I would wish them to have spoken up, in the name of their profession, against its winning a best screenplay award. Yes, I know a screenplay is more than dialogue, but is it not an act of vandalism against language to give the word award to a film that has none? Or do I miss the joke? And if I do – if the joke was a V-sign from the mute to the articulate – then what's funny about it? Or is it funny because it isn't?

Here is where irony lands you in the end. I understate the case. It lands you somewhere even worse. It lands you in The Cabin in the Woods which is a spoof on horror films and people who watch them, horror games and people who play them, comics and people who read them (and no doubt people like me who don't), myths and people who believe in them, and, for all I know, a spoof on other spoofs – because once you let filmic irony out of its cage, there's no getting it back in again.

After what I've said about the literalism of Homeland, I should, I know, relish a spoof on the stereotypical protagonists of a genre. But when the spoof is so in love with its own spoofiness that it forgets to interest us in the vulnerable humanity behind the stereotype, we are neither frightened nor moved – nor indeed are we that much amused – when the zombies, who are also spoofed, do to them what zombies do.

The truth which the makers of such a would-be savvy movie (and its movie-savvy admirers) surprisingly forget is that the horror film is already a satire on itself. We scream and laugh at the same time. We mock our terrors. So mocking us mocking our terrors takes us nowhere it is useful psychologically or aesthetically to be.

A gag about a gag or a wired-up pietist on a prayer mat? Can't anybody – anybody – anybody – find me something to watch?

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Arts Editor: The Great Character Actors of Football

David Lister
 

All at sea on the night my world turned upside down

Rebecca Armstrong
Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players