When writing about Uncut Gems one writes about its stress-inducing, anxiety triggering plotline, as I did after I first watched it. However, after almost a year, I think there was something more interesting about my first time watching Uncut Gems than the effects it had on my anxiety levels. I am here to admit, that the first time I watched the movie… I thought it was based on a true story.
I may have avoided writing from that perspective because it’s kind of embarrassing. I clearly didn’t do my due diligence before watching it, only hopping onto that movie bandwagon after it was doing so well- as people were lauding Sandler’s performance and marveling at the movie’s ability to make viewers exorbitantly uncomfortable. And I can’t even tell you why I thought it was a true story. I am guessing it has to do with Kevin Garnett being in the movie.
I remember that one of my earliest exposures to the movie, maybe my earliest, was an interview with Kevin Garnett (who was the best promo for a movie I have ever seen). And I believe something about that interview made his role in the movie sound like actual experiences. And would it be so bizarre to think that at one point Kevin Garnett thought a rock from Africa gave him extra ability on the basketball court? It sounded par for the course to me.
Regardless of why I thought it was a true story or whether I should have been smarter than that, I made it through almost the entire movie before it dawned on me that it couldn’t possibly be true. And I became one of those losers who Googles, “Is ___________ based on a true story?” that we can’t even fathom exists when we encounter their footprints of stupidity on Google auto-populate.
I realized I was wrong in my assumption approximately right when the bullet went through Howard’s eyeball.
If you thought that scene was shocking…. Try watching it under the assumption that Howard was a real man, who lived and breathed and made horrible life decisions, who you mistakenly assumed was going to be in some fun late-night interviews with Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, sitting next to Adam Sandler in some oversized comfy chairs. It makes that bullet infinitely more shocking, let me tell you.
It may have been my single most disorienting moment in movie watching. Not only was the plotline shot to hell, but my understanding of what the movie was took a bullet to the dome.
I still find this comical, but I also, upon further reflection, feel like I stumbled upon a once in a lifetime movie moment. After all, isn’t the great challenge of any movie to suspend your disbelief? And what would happen if we literally went into any given movie with belief completely suspended, watching as if it were a nonfiction documentary more than a fiction film?
I’ll tell you what happened to me, the movie became a shit-ton more impactful. The premises the movie was based on- the hardness of the world and the desire for Howard to get out of the trap of his own making- became much more high stakes. And the payoff in the end- in this case, the bullet through the glasses- was even more acute.
But I also think about this from the other direction as well. I have made the mistake of thinking a book I was reading was nonfiction when it was actually fiction (the book cover was deceptive), but I only made it half a chapter before recognizing that it couldn’t possibly be based on a true story. I made it to the end of Uncut Gems with nothing more than a moment or two of going, “I can’t believe this is real.” It speaks to the vein of truth Uncut Gems tapped into.
If I could get that far thinking it was true, the movie was clearly a reflection of truth (or else I am just an idiot, but that makes for a way worse post). And all the unhappiness of the world Howard tried to navigate felt like the uncomfortable and biting reality of the world we inhabit.
This happy accident gives me a greater perspective on the anxiety we all felt at watching Uncut Gems. Yeah, it was partially due to the music, yeah it was due to the close proximity in which the scenes were shot, yeah it had a lot to do with great acting by Adam Sandler. But a lot more of it had to do with the very thin curtain that separates the nightmare Howard traversed and the much more serene world we live in. There was truth in Howard’s experience, regardless if the viewer was dumb enough to think the movie was true, and our anxiety comes from knowing his truth is not as far away from our reality as we would like to think.
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