In the same Esquire piece, Nicholson laments that “moviegoers are no longer able to connect emotionally with a good old-fashioned film,” according to Scott Raab‘s paraphrasing. “It’s like a dead nerve,” Nicholson says. “A whole generation — maybe two generations now — all they know are special effects. Not just all they know. That’s all they want.”

But Penn later disputes this. “They’ll get back there,” he says of audiences (but without specifying GenX or GenY). “Chocolate cake is not a need [but] a luxury. Dreaming is a need — a survival need. And it can pass up epochs — generations can die off — but it’s in the DNA of mankind. It cycles back to the point where people say, ‘No, no, no — I’m not gonna not dream. I’m not gonna not feel. Even if you get a numb generation, that’s not the death of it. It has an Easter.

“I’m committed to the idea — and I always have been — that the audience doesn’t always know that they’re being lied to. And the lies do have damage that they leave behind. But there’s always hope that they know when they’re being told the truth.”

Okay, but it’s not “truth” plain and gleaming that people go to movies for. They go to movies for the myths that they feel they need to open up to and embrace at a given moment — myths that augment or counter-balance whatever the prevailing need or neurosis or hunger might be. If a film settles in deep and true and delivers a certain thing that people feel they want (the awareness of which is sometimes subconcious), it has a chance of catching on.