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

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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference