Objectivity & Subjectivity in Movies and Filmmaking

Discussing objectivity and subjectivity, as a way of operating in general, but namely in art.

June 5, 2021 9:12 AM

•  Published by

Cory McCabe

A topic very dear to my heart is objectivity and subjectivity, as a way of operating in general, but especially in art—namely movies and filmmaking.

Can films be objectively good?

I find it incredibly intriguing to discuss what is objective and what is subjective.

In the end, isn’t everything subjective—especially with anything related to art? Let’s look at the definitions:

  • Objective: to be unbiased, not catering to, impartial to, one's own feelings or opinions.
  • Subjective: to listen to one’s own likes, desires, feelings and opinions.

Let's see how these two definitions pair up in the topic of art.

So, being objective about something means basing your thoughts on what can be proven, matters of facts, and what is true.

How can this relate to movies and art? Art, by nature, is purely subjective, right? Well, something can be objective according TO... [fill in the blank]. For example;

Aristotle’s Poetics, which includes his hierarchy of a storytelling framework, has been around since 300 BC. In order of importance, he lays out the following:

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Theme
  4. Diction
  5. Melody
  6. Decor
  7. Spectacle

Going back to Art being subjective, let’s look at the definition:

Art: the expression or application of human creative skill or imagination.

Of course, now we’d have to get into what is GOOD art?

Well, if we use Aristotle’s framework as a foundation of what good story entails, then we can use that as reference for making more objective statements, like,

“This is really good dialogue.”
”Parasite has an excellent plot.”
”Wes Anderson writes great dialogue.”

These statements can obviously be purely subjective, but because of everything we just talked about, they can also be based on and point to what Aristotle established his literary theory in theatrics.

And of course, beyond attributing to Aristotle’s Poetics, we can also arguably say what is “good” by looking at what the majority of film critics say about films over the past several decades.

But it’s also fair to consider the times that were current during a film’s release. Culture plays a role in how a film should be judged, rated, reviewed, and perceived as well.

Here to Challenge the Movie-Goer

The point of this article, is to pursue the notion that film can be looked at objectively, and not only subjectively.

Earlier in this article, I laid out the list of Plot, Character, Theme, Melody, Decor, and Spectacle, as a starting grounds to begin judging how well a film did.

But as you begin by breaking down the plot of a movie, how can you say whether the film’s approach to its plot was “good” or “bad”?

Within each of those 7 aspects of a movie, how can you explain what worked well and why it worked well, what didn’t work, and why not?

In the end, to circle back to the beginning of this article, is everything subjective? In any given art form, where it’s film, acrylic painting, or music, can we speak on any of it as matters of fact?

These are the questions I am here to ask and continue digging into. For now, I’ll turn it over to you…

Can films be objectively good?