HALLIE: Not long ago I watched Donnie Darko, the movie starring a very young Jake Gylenhaal about a sleepwalking youth and a jet engine that crashes into his bedroom from a sky in which it turns out no airplane was flying. The film was a modest success when first released more than three years ago, and has gone on to rake in the $$ in DVD as a cult hit.
I loved the movie which could have been taken literally as a story about time travel, or (I thought) as a portrait of a deeply disturbed teenaged boy's inner world. Then I read an article explaining the story in gory detail...like the annotated Alice. Turns out the director intended DD to be a sci-fi tale of time travel with a malignant rabbit and the "Manipulated Dead" who wander around trying to get our hero to sacrifice himself so that the time/space continuum can unwrinkle itself. Well, that was a bummer. I liked the movie so much more when I could ponder its ambiguities.
It felt like those moments in an art gallery when you read some explanation (by the artist or the curator) of a piece of art that, up until that moment, you'd rather liked and suddenly it seems pretentious or overwrought. Or that time I loved-loved-loved a pot roast someone made until I asked for the recipe and discovered it had an entire bottle of Heinz chili sauce and a jar of marmalade in it. Sometimes you just don't what to know.
Should books (and art) need Cliffs Notes? Does knowing too much ever spoil your appreciation?
HANK: I was just reading about (and trying to understand) The Intentional Fallacy--a professor W.K. Wimsatt wrote 'the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art'.
So that's not exactly what you're asking, because you're talking about how *you* feel about what you read or saw, not whether the work is a "success" in general.
But I do think it can mean, on some level at least, who cares what the author meant? And if Donnie Darko makes you think, entertains you, enlightens you, based on what you saw and what you thought--then doesn't that make it a success for you?
But I must say, I always love to know more. What the author thought, what the artist was trying to convey. What I missed, what might make it a richer experience. I devoured The Annotated Alice. I read the explanatory notes in the symphony programs--it always makes the music better.(Okay, I'm with you, though, on the food ingredient thing. The yuck factor is better hidden.)
And it's certainly happened to me that a theme or motif emerges from my writing when I absolutely never--purposely--put it there. Readers will describe, with much certainty, how they understood what I was trying to convey in Prime Time. An I'm sometimes baffled--when it's something I did not, consciously, attempt to do. And yet, no question, something was revealed to them, something made sense in their own brain. And I embrace and accept that.
(Now I'm going to go Netflix Donnie Darko. So many of my pals love it.)