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On the sad truth of The Snyder Cut and art in a time of loss

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May 20, 2020, 9:50 PM EDT

Let’s address this first and foremost: writing about the Snyder Cut is a poisoned chalice. There’s no take any writer has on it that will not make somebody somewhere angry enough to say something about it on the internet. It’s likely that most of you reading this can imagine that, but I can assure you it’s the case from experience — I accidentally found myself the de-facto Snyder Cut beat writer for an entertainment site last year. I began covering Snyder Cut news (which there was plenty of at the time) because none of the other writers wanted it (fair) and because the news was more a part of my film nerd wheelhouse than a Reddit theory about who the villain of a Marvel movie three years away might be. This repeated two or three times, and before I knew it I was more or less assigned to cover the news as it broke.

I’ve always been fascinated with lost movies, director’s cuts, and scripts that never made it to production, especially when they involve superheroes. I’ve read Darren Aronofsky’s Batman script and obsessed over every conceivable detail of George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal. As such, despite never being much of a Zack Snyder fan, The Cut (as a film item, not the rope in a game of cultural Tug-o-War) has always been something I found to be at least a little bit interesting.

So for something like eight-ish weeks in late 2019, I covered any and all things Snyder Cut, the somewhat mythic version of Justice League directed solely by Zack Snyder and not featuring the (allegedly) heavy reshoots directed by Joss Whedon in the wake of Snyder leaving the film (more on that later). Snyder himself had begun to post screencaps of his cut of the film (which, and it cannot be stressed enough, he was adamant existed in some form or another — the cut was not some fabricated conspiracy theory) and shortly Kevin Smith and Jason Momoa confirmed that they had watched a working cut of the film, the holes in which had been filled by storyboards and pre-viz animatics.

Every time an article went live I’d receive new Twitter followers or replies from the Snyder Cut Hive, thanking me for the fair coverage. A few clicks would usually let me know if this reader was someone I needed to mute or block quickly (which, hey, many of them were — turns out many of them were the same folks who aggressively harassed anyone who'd dare say a bad thing about BvS). However, I often received feedback from generally pleasant (if not a little more passionate than usual) fans of Zack Snyder who were excited to see coverage of his lost cut that didn’t take shots at it — my coverage largely stuck to the facts in an effort to not fully drink from that aforementioned poisoned chalice.

During my time covering the Snyder Cut beat I never spoke with Zack Snyder or anyone involved in the film, but when you spend multiple days a week writing about such a hot-button pop culture issue, you can’t help but find yourself thinking about it more often than you might like, eventually settling into a new perspective on it. This isn’t to say that I wanted to join the legions of Twitter users who made life hell for anybody running Warner Bros. social media profiles, mind you. But covering a story like this for a prolonged period of time can provide a perspective you didn’t realize you’d lost.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

That perspective is this: To write about films and the people who make them requires an inherent empathy, even when the person in question is perhaps best known for their missteps, and even when the film they’re directing is part of a billion-dollar cinematic universe micromanaged at every end by corporate interests. Any film and any story surrounding the making of a film contains some piece of the director, with the art often being used as a form of catharsis. Sometimes a film’s failure is its inability to convey those ideas, but oftentimes bad films can be an even more transparent look into the soul of the person who made them (say what you will about The Room, but Tommy Wisseau has some thoughts about relationships and the nature of humanity). As such, there are a few things worth noting regarding Zack Snyder’s run of superhero movies, and the nature of his departure from directing them.

First off, despite the prevailing and perhaps well-earned perception, Snyder loves superheroes. His takeaway from them and his vision of well-loved characters is an abrasive one that often skews cynical, leading most to believe that he doesn’t “get” the characters, but it’s also nigh impossible to deny that someone whose billion-dollar superhero franchise includes allusions to Batman: Shaman and was very clearly building towards a loose adaptation of a largely forgotten Superman comic from the ‘90s isn’t just as big a DC Comics nerd as the next guy.

Second, directing a movie is a laborious and deeply personal task to take on. When that movie is the big-screen debut of characters you’ve grown up loving (and when you’re a filmmaker who so transparently expresses yourself, for better or worse, through your work), you’re going to have a bit more skin in the game than someone taking on what’s effectively a work-for-hire gig. As such, leaving a film like Justice League unfinished likely would not sit well with someone like Snyder, even under the most ideal of circumstances.

Lastly, Snyder did not leave the film under good circumstances. The official story is that he left Justice League — which notably includes his wife Deborah Snyder as a producer — in the wake of their teenage daughter Autumn Snyder’s suicide. There is a rumor that he may have been removed from the film by Warner Bros. before his daughter’s passing, though I’m personally of the mindset that you have to turn in your fan card once you engage in the validity of that claim in relation to whether or not Snyder’s removal from the film warrants sympathy. Because what you’re doing is implying that Autumn's death and Snyder leaving Justice League unfinished are events that can be interpreted as mutually exclusive with regard to his relationship to the film. We don’t know if Snyder was removed from Justice League, but we do know for sure that his exit was either prompted by or coincided with the loss of his daughter, and that warrants an empathy few people discussing the Snyder Cut seem to have employed.

Deborah Snyder and Zack Snyder (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Here is another point where I need to transparent about something: a few months before I began covering the Snyder Cut beat, I lost one of my closest friends to suicide. The loss colored the entire back half of 2019 for me, from a trip to Ireland with my girlfriend’s family to the release of my first book with a publisher in October. There were lost projects along the way, pitches in development with my publisher that I lost interest in or found myself unable to continue. Every facet of my life from those months feels irrevocably tied to his loss.

I don’t know what it’s like to direct a movie. I don’t know the Snyder family personally. And I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child to suicide. All loss is not created equal and my recent experience with it likely shares few similarities with theirs.

What I do know is that I have, in the months since my friend’s passing, found fleeting comfort and healing in finding the strength and energy in myself to revisit some of the projects that fell by the wayside in the wake of my grief. Every page that gets finished, every pitch revisited, and every step forward I meant to take as much as a year ago feels like a reclamation of something I lost when he left.

It’s hard to blame a certain type of Online Person for being angry at the very idea of this film being released. Many of those people (including my friends and loved ones) have found themselves on the receiving end of nasty words, barrages of rude tweets from strangers, and even graphic threats from the Snyder Cut Mob over harmless jokes at the expense of a generally poorly regarded superhero movie. The idea of the Snyder Cut is poisoned, irreparably damaged by two years of relentless, aggressive campaigning from a fandom that often turned to ugly means in the interest of getting their way — and it would be irresponsible to write this without noting that any perspective I have on the film is undeniably influenced by my not having incurred their wrath the way that others have.

As such, it’s easy to see the release of the Cut as Warner Bros. caving into the demands of a hive of feckless bullies rather than acquiescing to the very public request of a financially-successful collaborator to finish what he started (right around the time they’re launching a streaming service in a highly competitive market, mind you).

The reality of the film’s reworking with its allotted $20-million budget and official release is that it’s a decision made not at the behest of the best or the worst of those fans, but in the interest of making money, which it will — hard as it may be to remember, the Snyder Cut Discourse is extraordinarily confined to those who spend their lives online, and to millions of eventual HBOMax subscribers the film will just be another superhero movie to occupy a couple of hours on a Thursday evening (four hours, if rumors are to be believed, or split into six individual episodes). Still, it’s pretty understandable to hate to see bullies get their way — but are they?

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Setting aside speculation as to whether or not this new cut of the film will be any good, it’s worth noting that the kind of online bully that clung to the Snyder Cut for years as an excuse to harass women, people of color, and anyone who dared speak ill of the movie where Jesse Eisenberg passive-aggressively pees in a jar to make a point to Holly Hunter never really wanted the Snyder Cut. They wanted an excuse to be bullies. I’ve frequently seen the rhetorical, “What are these guys gonna do if the Snyder Cut comes out and it sucks?” thrown around over the last couple of years, and the answer is painfully obvious: find something else to be mad about.

The problem has never been Justice League, even if its original director makes the kind of aggressively cynical films that 4chan-poisoned malcontents tend to drink up like Granny’s Peach Tea. A week after the film hits HBOMax they’ll redirect their ire towards James Gunn’s new Suicide Squad movie, demanding that David Ayer get his shot at directing a “proper sequel” to the original instead. They are fans not of movies or superheroes but of feeling slighted, feeling superior, and of yelling at women anonymously from the safety of their gaming chairs. 

I think it’s sad. It’s all so very sad. Beneath the legions of Reddit-brained tweetstormers and the occasional comment from the Cool Kids of Film Twitter on whether or not Snyder even “deserves” to finish his movie, there’s a father and a mother who were working very hard on a movie they were very clearly excited about and whose time with the project was cut short by a tragedy few will ever be able to comprehend.

The idea of the Snyder Cut has superseded the actuality of it, creating an aura of ugliness around the film that may never go away, even if Snyder’s completed vision somehow does a hard 180 and turns out to be a relentlessly optimistic superhero epic. The damage has been done and the day is beyond saving.

I have very little love for the works of Zack Snyder. The worldview he instills in his work is one I often find actively distasteful, and I still haven’t gotten over his omission of my favorite (and the most necessary!) scene in Watchmen, despite his seeming devotion to recreating the work panel-for-panel. He is not a scrappy underdog; he is a vastly successful director who could likely fail outright half a dozen more times before he stops being offered chances to succeed on a major studio’s dime.

Still, when the news broke that Warner Bros. would be allowing Snyder the opportunity to finish his version of Justice League, I found myself thinking not about the best or worst of his fanbase, or whether or not Darkseid would finally make his big-screen debut. Rather, I found myself thinking about art as catharsis, and the way finishing the work I had started allowed me to reclaim and rediscover what grief took from me when I lost my friend last year. I found myself, against all odds, glad to hear that the Snyders were being offered the opportunity to complete their cut of Justice League.

I don’t care if it’s any good, and I don’t care what the discourse has to say about it. I only hope that if Zack and Deborah Snyder are looking for any sort of closure or healing in the process, they find it.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.