Cineview: What Makes A Film Pretentious?

Defining A Vague Phenomena


The term pretentious is often thrown around to describe movies without much context or evidence. It is a rather vague term in and of itself. A director may be labeled as pretentious for having a long streak of films that can be categorized as such. But what makes them pretentious?

According to the dictionary, the definition of pretentious is “attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed.” It is difficult to determine if a film meets these criteria, as there is a large degree of subjectivity that comes into play. To find out what warrants being labeled as such, one must dissect films that are agreed by a large audience to be pretentious, even if there is some controversy surrounding it.

Hereditary is a horror film released in 2018, which came out to mixed reviews among fans. Those who disliked it tended to call it “arthouse”, which is an overly artsy film that focuses more on being surreal than telling a story. When done well, it can produce a decent film. This typically only works with short films, however, and does not translate well to the big screen.

Most of the film is uneventful, and yet, Hereditary was marketed as the scariest film of the year prior to release. It hailed itself as being groundbreaking, without providing any fresh elements. It is labeled as pretentious for believing it held more value than it truly did.

Another offense that can result in a pretentious film is retreading old themes. Cliche themes include, but are not limited to, providing commentary on race relations, dystopian technology, and spreading the message that good always triumphs over evil. These only sentence a film to being pretentious if it has no other themes than those listed.

One of the final major reasons is “leaving it up to interpretation”. The film will be confusing to the average viewer, likely explaining nothing about the world, and then saying it does have meaning, but it’s up for the viewer to find it. This is usually an excuse used in tandem with “you’re not smart enough to get it.”

There are multiple reasons a film can be labeled as pretentious, and a lot of grey areas, but overall the listed reasons tend to be the final blow for films which may have already had other issues to begin with.