Zen Mind, Film Critic’s Mind

People say being a movie critic is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in a dark movie theater and watch a movie, or to go home and write your opinions about that movie. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our criticism pure in its fundamental sense. Film criticism developed in many ways after the advent of the internet, but at the same time, it became more and more impure. But I do not want to talk about Rotten Tomatoes or the blurbing of random Twitter handles. I am interested in helping you keep your criticism from becoming impure.

Okay, I could keep going, rephrasing the first chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the Buddhist masterpiece by Shunryu Suzuki, to fit into a discussion of film criticism, but I don’t think anybody would get it. I will however keep lifting concepts and ideas from this seminal work, which is mostly about zazen – Zen meditation – but that is also about how to live and create with a beautiful clarity and fluidity by getting back to a beginner’s mind.

Which brings me to the films of John Carpenter.

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Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I don’t practice in the Zen tradition, but I’m finding ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND to be an incredible book (I’m listening to the audiobook read by Peter Coyote, which really adds a wonderful layer to the whole thing). Much of the book has been meaningful to me, but I was really struck by this idea:

When your cart is stuck what do you whip – the horse or the cart? Whipping the stuck cart will get you nothing. But hitting the horse will help get the cart moving again.

Too often when we have problems we go after the problems, but we should be going after ourselves. When we change ourselves and how we relate to the problems, the problems vanish. The conditions may remain – there is still the cart and the road – but the way we relate to those conditions are different, and thus there are no problems.

We are trained to look outside ourselves for both the causes and the solutions to our problems, but the reality is that all of our problems come from within. Our difficulties are caused by how we interact with things in our lives, not by the things themselves. To learn to relate to all things in our lives with equanimity and non-attachment is to learn to transcend every difficulty we might ever face.