Channelling Viggo Mortensen for Better Critique
"Interesting is a non-word. Be specific."
If you haven't seen Captain Fantastic (2016), do so now. It stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben, a single father trying to raise his children in the wilderness away from the modern world. It's a touching exploration of family dynamics from every angle: parenting, adolescence, puberty, death. The pressure only intensifies when it all crashes headlong into a modern society that is both unfamiliar and unforgiving.
THE ILLEGAL WORD
The part that stays with me to this day, is the scene below in which Ben asks for an impromptu book report from his daughter, Kielyr, who is reading Lolita. Her answer, "It's interesting."
The rest of the children on the bus, upon hearing the violated taboo, almost immediately sound the alarm.
Ben chimes in with the line that still lingers in the back of my skull:
I played it again and again. Each time it became more clear that I'd been falling into the same trap on twitter, in emails and even talking to my wife.
"Here's an interesting illustration style."
"That's an interesting website."
"Read an interesting article today."
It was startling how often I used the word. And the more I heard it, or tried to use it, the more deafening it became. At this point, I've noticed it so much I have an almost Pavlovian revulsion for the word. It's led me to rethink my tweets, emails, conversations with my wife and communication in general.
"I love this illustrator's use of contrast and loose line work to add energy."
"This website uses moody photography and subtle animation to engage the user."
"Hey honey, you should check out this article on urban gardening. I'm curious as to what you think about their business model."
You'll notice that the answers took longer to compose. They required me to think more critically and, best of all, invited discussion.
In short, Viggo Mortensen reminded me to think. If we all took a little more care and sacrificed a few more braincells to thought, we'd have better conversations, collaborations and feedback. We could communicate better with our coworkers. Our family dinners would be a bit more engaging. Or, better yet, we would just have a bit easier time deciphering the news.
In the film, Ben was intent on seeding his kids with intellectual vigor and a zest for critical thinking. "Interesting" represented the easy way out. A lazy answer. A short cut. He forced his kids to do better.
I intend to do the same.
~Andrew Brynjulson is a Sioux Falls-based freelance designer and art director specializing in logo, web and brand design. He often writes about art, design, marketing and business. Share your thoughts, @BrenniFresh.