As I reflect upon the most notable films of 2019 and their recent entries into the cinematic world, I contemplate the various aspects of movies that I liked, disliked, changed the way I viewed storytelling, or did nothing to impress me at all. In 2019 we saw several of the newest masterpieces ushered into cinemas such as Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. However, one film that took me rather by surprise and has managed to remain deep-rooted within the very layers of my subconscious, implanted and fixed at the forefront of my mind, festering like a decaying and mold-ridden jar of mayonnaise is none other than Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the supposedly acclaimed musical Cats.
Entering the theater, my friends and I knew quite well what we were getting ourselves into, and yet simultaneously, hadn’t the faintest clue as to what was to come. Before the film began I tried to refrain as much as possible from immediately viewing it with an overly sardonic and critical perspective. Cats certainly possesses a unique way of pacing itself in that unlike other musicals, it feels as if the movie simply keeps progressing, unapologetically, forcing you through a maze (or haunted house) of eerie and utterly bizarre superfluity of nightmarish imagery, such as Jason Derulo in a 3D animated cat suit proudly proclaiming himself as “Rum Tum Tugger” and dancing about. Or perhaps Idris Elba appearing on screen for but a moment only for him to scream “Meow!” as his character literally teleports off screen. The scenes in the film featuring James Corden and Rebel Willson are a whole other dimension of madness and confusion that I’d rather not remember. From beginning to end, my friends and I could not stop ourselves from laughing at the absurdity and surrealism that this film wielded so boldly, so much so that we had to continuously force ourselves to be silent in order to not disturb other viewers.
I had never seen the original musical prior to seeing this film and had no idea as to what the plot specifically entailed. Throughout the film, several of the characters constantly refer to being chosen as the “Jellicle Cat” and no matter how many times they repeated it or exclaimed this, I had no understanding of what it truly meant. The film essentially centers around who will be chosen to be the aforementioned Jellicle Cat. At the climax of the film, once the cat has been chosen, the Jellicle Cat simply flies away in a hot air balloon and disappears into the morning sky. Confused by this, I asked my friend who had seen the musical to explain this concept to me. The characters in the film make the title seem as if it is the highest honor a cat could receive, and they never cease to try to prove to Judy Dench’s character (the one who chooses the Jellicle Cat) that they deserve to be chosen. The Jellicle Cat is chosen to essentially move onto the next life, as some reference to cats having nine lives. So the film quite literally centers around choosing what cat gets to die, while everyone argues that they deserve to die more.
Upon leaving the theater, I overheard a conversation from a group of elderly folk who had also just watched the film and were asking “Who played the narrator? He was quite good!”, only there was no narrator in the film at all. The film presents a strange conundrum that leaves you wondering how to properly judge it. Do you choose to love it or hate it for the hour and fifty minute ride it just took you on? On one hand, there is a decent amount of content in the film I do not think Hooper intended to be as ironically humorous as it was. Perhaps because even the bad parts are so out there, that it only adds to the intended madness. Or you could also remember the parts where the characters rub their heads against each other like real cats or any scene with James Corden and immediately say, nevermind. In a film intended to be as surreal as Cats is, do we accept all of it, even the less desirable parts? Personally, I do not take for granted the fun I had with friends watching this film, nor do I regret seeing it and I will remember watching this film for a long, long time, which is a lot more than I can say about most films. So maybe we should all embrace Cats for what it is, even when it makes us want to cringe so deeply.