Mark Lawson provokes:

The main reason for this renaissance is that all levels of cinema - from the people who put up the budget to the people who pay for tickets - have become less frightened of intelligence and complexity. In its first decades, the people who made movies tended to come - except for an injection of European intellectuals displaced by Hitler - out of mainstream art forms such as vaudeville and Broadway. Now, a producer, director or actor is likely to have been schooled - and then film-schooled - to high levels, and can rely on a potential audience of similar sophistication.

So the film rights to Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd have been available for 30 years, but only now have Hollywood financiers and movie-goers consider its dark content and musical sophistication a viable proposition for cinema. Complex and unsettling fiction - such as Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men and Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain - now attract directors and actors in the way once reserved for populist fiction such as Mario Puzo's The Godfather.

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