The Joy of Not Watching Everything
I used to be one of those people who went to almost every big movie release. During the summer I’d regularly see two or three movies each weekend. No doubt it was a draining experience, but I found value in it nonetheless. I just had to be up on the popular culture, even if it meant sitting through a parade of terrible movies week after week. The occasional Dark Knight or Star Trek carried me through the hard times, but the times were hard indeed. My insistence on seeing everything seemed reasonable in my mind, but in retrospect it was some kind of perverse, masochistic addiction.
This weekend, Transformers: Age of Extinction comes out, and I’m not going to see it. I’ve seen every Transformers up to this point, and I have a weird admiration for Michael Bay’s horrendous output, but I’m not going to see the new one. Nobody is making me. I’m not getting paid to watch it. And most importantly, that gross urge to see it because I see everything is gone. Oh, the freedom! It’s a wonderful feeling having finally broken from the iron grip of the Hollywood machine.
It was last year that I finally broke away. The film that did it? The Wolverine. Do you remember that one? It’s the movie about Wolverine, the X-Man played by Hugh Jackman. No, not X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That was a different movie about Wolverine. I was already on the fence about the X-Men films, but this new one was getting good reviews, and people were talking about how refreshing it was in its smallness compared to other superhero films. Well, it sure was smaller. It wasn’t better though. I suffered through that film, enjoying exactly one sequence in it. And then I was done. That was it. I hadn’t liked a superhero film apart from the Nolan Batmen since Iron Man, and even that one hadn’t help up for me. The Wolverine was the last straw, and I made a decision: no more superhero movies.
So far I’ve stuck to that plan. I had been intending to break from the “no superheroes” rule whenever Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man was to come out, but now that Edgar Wright isn’t directing it anymore I see no more superheroes in my future.
The funny thing about that decision, though, is that it’s had even more impact than I originally expected. I really was just thinking about it in terms of superhero movies, but once I’d committed to that I found myself more willing to avoid other movies I simply had no interest in. I skipped Thor: The Dark World, but then I also skipped The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Oldboy and several others. I knew I’d crossed some kind of threshold when the Oscars came and went and there were still a few nominees I’d missed, including Dallas Buyers Club. I can’t even remember the last time I watched an Oscars ceremony without having seen every Best Picture nominee.
It’s been an interesting adjustment for me, but it’s one I highly recommend. Skipping movies has been great. First of all, I have more free time. That’s a plus. What’s been even better is that the movie side of my brain feels less cluttered. I’ve still seen some films I didn’t like. Godzilla was one, and I was recently pretty ambivalent about Boyhood (send all hate mail to the comments below), but even with those films I feel like I’ve had more space to consider them and let them soak into my mind. In the past I’ve been completely at the mercy of the standard hype cycle, in which a movie comes out, everybody goes nuts talking about it for about seven days, and then everyone moves on to the next week’s big release. I feel less affected by that now.
Hell, take Boyhood as an example. It’s been more than a week since I saw it, but I also haven’t seen another new movie since then. It’s given me time to ruminate on the film and my own reaction to it. I’ve been thinking about its quite brilliant construction, and the subtle layering of themes it managed to pull off behind the basic “shot over twelve years” gimmick. I’ve also come to really admire some of the central performances, and the work that must’ve been done to maintain their consistency. On the flip side, I’ve also begun to understand why a film I largely admired also had very little emotional impact on me, especially compared to so many others in the audience.
While I’ve long approached films with that kind of critical lens, not being weighed down by seeing the next new thing has made it that much easier. It has also taken the sport out of watching films. It’s no longer some obsessive game of completism. I watch the films I want to watch when I want to watch them, and so the films themselves stand out that much more. If you’re a person like me, who watches a ton of new movies, often just to keep up with the popular culture, trying taking a break. See the films that genuinely interest you. Give them the space in your mind to actually affect you. From where I’m sitting, it’s been a joy, and I look forward to not seeing several other big movies this summer… though maybe I won’t say which ones.