I went to the cinema this week with my friend Emma Kennedy to see the Wes Anderson film. He only makes the one – the one in which the characterisation consists of giving an actor glasses and a moustache, the plot is someone telling you what happened in their dream and it all takes place in a world where everyone is kooky so no one is.
Now this is where Emma and I differ, Anderson being her favourite film director and my least. You have never heard two people argue about a film until you have heard Emma and I argue about The Royal Tenenbaums. Still, I am always willing to be persuaded and I thoroughly enjoy disagreeing with Emma, so on that basis we went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel.
It was as I feared and I spent a bleak hour and a half clutching a glass of wine for comfort while all around me people linked arms and chuckled warmly at the wry cleverness of it all. Oooh, a pink hotel! Look at their lovely suits! Oh, he’s drawing on a little moustache, how delightful!
As we leave the cinema, Emma is lit up with joy, while I am basically Muttley from Wacky Races, head down and muttering incomprehensible syllables under my breath: “Grrr, effing nimby-namby nonsense . . . Whimsical piles of tosh . . . Grrr . . .”
Emma is unperturbed, gleeful even. “Look at you, you’re like the dad in Steptoe,” she says happily. And I scowl at her happily. Neither of us budges an inch.
You see, I think it’s good to disagree. I’ve always hated that Kenneth Tynan quote, “I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger.” I picture poor Mrs Tynan, trying to stick up for herself: “Darling, I just don’t fancy it, all that complaining and self-pity. Can’t we go to see something funny instead?” Or even: “Look, I’ve read the reviews – this Jimmy Porter sounds like a shit and the women have no good lines. For those reasons I’m out.” Nope, it wouldn’t have washed in the Tynan household.
It’s an attitude I see all the time on Twitter, which is usually one of my favourite places. People are forever banging on about how they couldn’t love anyone who didn’t appreciate this particular film or record, as if that were a very grown-up marker of taste, or passion, or commitment, or something or other. Whenever I make a disparaging remark about a new movie, I am unsettled to get a flood of replies saying, “Thanks, I’ll save myself the ticket price,” or, “Phew, won’t be going to see that then!”
“No!” I want to shout. “Do go. Don’t take my word for it. It’s sweet that you value my opinion but it’s more than likely that on several things – possibly even important things and very possibly this film – we might disagree.”
I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating. On one of my first dates with Ben (who I’ve lived happily with for over 30 years), we went to the cinema but, failing to agree on a film, went in to different screens: he to see Southern Comfort, I to see Tess of the d’Urbervilles. That might strike some as unromantic or revelatory of a deep incompatibility but to me it says the opposite: if there is a key to the success of our relationship, it’s been our ability to agree to differ. He loves football, I like the garden; he adores University Challenge, I prefer Strictly Come Dancing; he runs, I walk. We’ve learned not to recommend a book to each other, counting on the fingers of one hand instances when we’ve both enjoyed the same one. It’s almost as if we’re different people or something.
But this just won’t do nowadays. We live in adversarial times, in which we’re encouraged to look at a thing, come up with an opinion and stick to it. When we encounter the opposite view, we’re supposed to throw stones at it and then run away. Not me, buddy. I’m proposing a greater, Zen-like tolerance for all the foibles and failings of those we love, so that we reach a higher plane where we can even allow for the continued existence of people who like Wes Anderson films. Peace.