"40 Days and 40 Nights"

By Charles Taylor

Published March 6, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

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I haven't seen "40 Days and 40 Nights," nor do I intend to. I expect it does rather badly what it sets out to do, as is the case with the majority of films Hollywood pumps out each year. Nor am I usually accused of being a slouch in the fashionably jaded department when it comes to romance, spirituality or anything else.

I do, however, find myself truly dismayed by Charles Taylor's review of Josh Hartnett's latest, not because I have any particular affection for Hartnett, but because the dismissive, hardened attitude Taylor brings to such notions as sacrifice and forbearance says far less about the quality of the film than about the extent to which the North American cultural sensibility has abandoned any attempt to relate to what can't be grabbed, tasted or screwed.

Some of what Taylor presents as taking place in the film sounds silly and improbable, but how is one to trust the descriptions and judgment of a critic who clearly sees no possibility for young people (particularly men) to exist, much less grow, without constant sexual activity in their lives? He may find the notion of giving up small pleasures "pretty narcissistic," periodic abstention "anti-sex" and celibate teens "creepy," but anyone who fancies himself a critic of a major Western art form while being hostile to the point of gestures of sacrifice or to the existence of human authenticity outside the unregulated sexual self seems to me unlikely to appreciate any film more complex than, say, "American Pie."

No wonder Taylor found the eerily prescient "Heathers" "terrible" -- as with "40 Days," he must have wondered why anyone would bother, even for the sake of dark comedy, portraying the psyche of young Americans as devious, subtle or just plain messed up. After all, surely all those kids need is a good roll in the sack to chase annoying existential questions out of their little heads and keep demons at bay.

-- Kel Morin-Parsons

I don't intend to see the trifling film "40 Days and 40 Nights," but Charles Taylor's review is still a piece of hack writing.

And you know why? Because he's a self-righteous ass.

He attacks the film for the blasphemy of suggesting that someone might get something besides self-righteousness out of celibacy. The main character's brother, a priest-in-training, is ripped as the last person he should go to for advice.

Taylor isn't pro-sex; he's pro-promiscuity. There is a difference.

I guess there's nothing wrong with that, except for the deadly viruses, pregnancies, abortions and emotional scars that set people up for a lifetime of romantic despair, divorce and the inability to make commitments.

Perhaps Taylor would give thumbs-up to a romantic comedy in which various protagonists contract AIDS, genital warts, herpes and chlamydia. And a young, vulnerable girl should commit suicide, just for some extra laughs.

-- Todd Ojala

How, exactly, is it possible to take seriously a reviewer who finds a movie like "Heathers" "uniformly horrible?" If he is so clearly devoid of any sense of humor, how are we to be able to see his reviews as useful?

I rarely if ever see a Salon review that does not pan a movie, but never has one so completely shocked me as the last couple of paragraphs of his review of "40 Days and 40 Nights," which probably is a bad movie.

If, however, one is going to pan every teen movie as unworthy merely on the premise that it was not mature enough in its anthropological search for human morality, then at least give us a disclaimer at the top that this author was watching a movie that he was guaranteed not to like under any circumstances in the first place.

-- Kenneth G. Cavness

I'm reading along and hating this movie review. Its author has a major problem with the premise -- that depriving yourself of something can make you see it in a whole new light. Throw in a couple cracks about the Church and priests and now I'm sure of who its author is. I scroll up to confirm. Yep, it's another piece by Charles Taylor. Who else would spend a whole article arguing against a premise?

I should know by now to stay away from his writing altogether. I've never read a critic who seemed to hate movies more than he does. Each review is filled with snarky complaints of how the film should have been shot, what sight gags the idiot director missed, how wrong the casting was or (of all ironies) how the characters are self-centered. Where's the love, Charles?

The opening line to his review of "Ali" complained that Michael Mann was the type of director who made himself the star of his movies. I remember it well because I choked on my coffee. While he may be right about Mann, it can easily be said that Charles Taylor makes himself the star of his own reviews.

Please, someone give this guy a chance to make a movie the way he thinks it should be made. Then maybe he'll get this director's chair envy out of his system. I'm sure beneath all the eye rolling and sneers there's a guy who used to love to go to the movies and talk to friends about them afterward.

-- Susan McBurney

Sorry to be firing off e-mail like this, but hey, it's the digital age and instant gratification is the order of the day.

Your review of "40 Days" really bugged me. Not because the movie itself is a brilliant piece of cinema (to be honest, I couldn't care less), and not because your piece seemed to reflect that having lots of no-commitment sex is normal and expected (for chrissakes, I live in the East Village), but because you seemed to opine that choosing not to screw everything in sight makes one a weirdo.

Please understand, I'm no prude. I used to work for a porn magazine. I have a piece up on my Web site about a Nerve.com party I attended. I'm going through a phase of screwing everything in sight myself. All the same, besides the risks of AIDS, herpes and genital warts, there are really some things to be said, beginning with the fact that I've observed that treating other people like inflatable love dolls -- to be used only for instant gratification -- tends to lead one to regard all human relationships as shallow and ephemeral.

Insisting that the swinging lifestyle in those ads in "Maxim" is the norm is just participating in the collective lie we tell ourselves that the answer to all our problems is to Buy More Stuff. Add to this that there are many people who, for whatever reason, are physically or psychologically incapable of having sex. Even in the stereotypical case of the ill-groomed computer geek, a nebbish UNIX programmer isn't going to become a sex machine by dropping a few grand on a haircut, a gym membership, a new wardrobe and some toiletries. There are some things that don't respond to the instant-gratification consumerist fix, and one is self-confidence.

Finally, there might just be something to be said for keeping one's sperm to oneself. All those thousands of years of desert cenobites and medieval saints and Catholic school nuns and Mahatma Gandhi couldn't have been all wrong, could they?

-- Ken Mondschein

Your review missed the main problem with this movie: That giving up sex for 40 days is any kind of ordeal. I know a lot of people that go 40 days, and more, without sex (and not voluntarily).

-- Leif Nordling

As a Roman Catholic, I was offended by the snide tone that Charles Taylor takes in his review of "40 Days and 40 Nights." Taylor launches off into his own inconclusive viewpoints about Lent and sacrifice:

"Isn't sacrifice, in the Lenten sense, mostly just a way of showing your superiority to earthly matters?"

No, you moron, and if you can't understand a religious act of love, then you should keep the editorials to yourself.

-- LA Solinas

I've never really known myself to give up what I can easily get, but Charles Taylor's review of "40 Days and 40 Nights" seemed bizarrely defensive -- even for the moderately hedonistic. Abstinence is creepy? Sacrifice, egotistical? I think I learned a lot more about Taylor in this review than I did about the movie.

And considering the degree to which he incoherently contorted and spliced his analysis of the larger film to fit his narrow agenda, perhaps it'd be better for all concerned if Taylor exorcises his demons outside of Salon.

-- Dave Josephs

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