When I watch a move or read a book, I try to avoid reading the cover blurb or its online equivalent. First, the blurbs tend to give away plot points that are intended to be discovered through the consumption of the media. Spoilers, as we all call them. Secondly, those blurbs often seem to be written by someone who never actually watched the entire film. They are superficial conclusions drawn from, perhaps, bits and pieces of the work. Mystifyingly, many of the blurbs indulge in both sins simultaneously.
Such is the case with Pheonix. The blurb summarizes the plot by, basically, revealing the film’s ending. It left me waiting for a “reveal” that the film was trying to slowly illuminate over its course. Thus my experience was that it plodded towards an inevitable conclusion, which probably shouldn’t have seemed all that inevitable. Furthermore, by identifying the “reveal” as the narrative throughout the movie, it completely mischaracterizes the motivation of the main character.
But what can I do? When a movie is being pulled off of Netflix streaming, I often have no idea whether it is something I’d like to watch or not. I try to use the viewer rankings (still available for DVD rentals, although removed from the streamed offerings) and reviews, which tend to be a little more careful about spoilers. But just because the film is considered good doesn’t mean I’ll be in the mood for the subject matter, so the Netflix synopsis becomes a necessary part of the decision in whether or not to let a film drift away unviewed.
This may be one I would have just as well off forgoing. My opinion of the film, of course, irreversibly tainted by the bad blurb. Would it have still felt so slow to move forward without the plot having been spoiled? I can’t say for sure, but I except it would. The film got some great professional reviews, but I felt it was trying to be artistic for artistry’s sake and profound because, you know, Holocaust. Maybe I’m being a bit to critical, but I feel like it is getting a good chunk of its credit via its pretentiousness.
One Netflix reviewer suggested that this is a (poor) remake of the 1965 film Return from the Ashes, a film I’ve never seen or even heard about before. However, the synopsis of that film does seem to bear out the suggestion. Indeed, there seems to be more there, there. Specifically, the older film ends with the story completely resolved, with the villains having been arrested or worse. In Phoenix, we’re left to imagine the ending. Perhaps even the beginning – the motivations of the characters are heavily implied but never confirmed.
It’s a strange way to structure a film and, while not a terrible experience, not a great one either.