Basement Films: Subtitled For Your Convenience

Sean Strain

I’ve always found foreign films to be amazing. Perhaps it is the fact that it is from another country that makes it appear to be so fresh compared to other movies, with exotic locales and rich culture. The story lines and characters of such movies which are often influenced by that particular culture and society, also seem to be original like getting a glimpse of this different world or, if it is a culture that is close to our own like Britain, a glimpse into a a different pesrpective.

That is why it irritates me when someone disregards a foreign film because of subtitles. Often the complaint I hear from people is that, “I just don’t want to read everything they put on screen.” Is this really the only barrier that hinders one from appreciating a fantastic work of cinema? If the acting was superb, the story was original, and the camera work was gorgeous, would subtitles truly ruin the film?

I remember one time my father and I went to see a Japanese film called Reincarnation that was playing in theaters. It was a psychological horror movie that dealt with, obviously, the idea of reincarnation in the aftermath of an atrocity at a hotel. It was truly a gripping thriller that really beat the formulaic horror movies in America today. Despite this, the crowd in the theater was a bit rowdy.

They were talking a bit and even speaking to the screen. You would expect this at horror movies, as that genre of film is not taken seriously, but these people were mostly targeting the fact that the movie was in Japanese with English subtitles. This annoyed me, to say the least, besides the fact that people being rude in theaters makes me want to throw a drink at them in general.

Yes, there are subtitled movies that become popular in America, such as Pan’s Labyrinth, but these films occur as often as a solar eclipse or Katy Perry producing a good song: next to never. Also, can you really remember the last time you watched Pan’s Labyrinth outside of the theater and besides that one time after you bought the Blu-ray edition? Any time I try to watch a foreign film with friends, we become distracted because reading a sentence takes energy, apparently.

Some would say that they would rather they dub the movie, or replace the vernacular language of the film with English. I can only imagine horrible Godzilla movies where it appears the dialogue is out of sync with the mouth movements when this is suggested. Yes, reading the subtitles can be a bit obnoxious at first, but it seems like hubris to replace the mother language of the film, because this is the language of the actor, the language where the true emotion of the character is coming from. You could almost say this is where part of the soul of the movie is coming from.