Why Can’t You Just Watch the Movie?

There two kinds of people in the world: the people who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the people who don’t. (**Rimshot**)

Okay: Among the many binary categorizations of humans, one that I run into a lot is: people who want to figure out why a story works, and people who don’t.  And these two kinds of people can really get up each other’s noses. Say I’ve gone to see Revenge of the Really Bad Monster Movie From Your Childhood with a passel of friends.  As we leave the theatre I’m having a swell discussion about why the film we just saw worked (or didn’t), when someone says “Why do you have to ruin it by chewing it to death?”

Ruin it?  But that’s half the fun.  For me.  Because I’m one of those people.

Okay, some of this is just professional: when I read a book or see a TV show or a movie or a play, and I like it, I want to tease out what worked.  And I really enjoy doing that with other people, seeing what worked for them, what didn’t, what they caught that I didn’t get.  Same way, if I encounter a story that doesn’t work for me, I want to understand how they lost me.  If I’m disappointed by something that seemed promising, then I really want to understand it.

I can trace this directly back to High School, when I discovered for the first time the heady satisfaction of debating plot and character in English class.  I was aware, even at the time, that many of my classmates thought this was 1) a waste of time and 2) something to be endured in order to move on to something more enjoyable, like field hockey practice.  De gustibus. But adolescence is often the first time you get a chance to have opinions and have them be taken seriously; adolescence was when I discovered that figuring out the why of my opinions so that I could defend them was interesting in its own right.  Fun, even.

I love seeing films with my husband; aside from the obvious (who else’s hand do I want to hold during the scary bits?) he comes at films from a very different place: he’s a techie, a recording engineer, a guy who hears things that pass me by.  And he’s not too shabby in the plot department either, so talking over a movie or TV show with him is fun because he’ll tell me something sonic that I missed, that might have influenced the impact of the story in a way that would never have occurred to me.  Ditto my brother: he and I were raised in the same household, watched the same TV, were formed by the same stuff, and yet his take on film and books is wildly divergent from mine (I almost stopped speaking to him when I found out how much he liked Peggy Sue Got Married, a movie I hate) and yet his reasoning is fascinating.

I know there will be people in every crowd who like or dislike a creative work but don’t want to talk about their opinions.  Some people just have a visceral reaction and don’t care to pursue it.  Some people get anxious when their opinion goes against the opinion of the group (I thought Cowboys and Aliens was a fun movie, but voicing my opinion brought down a surprising pile of outrage on my head). Stating an opinion makes you vulnerable; I don’t know that friendships have actually broken up over whether Han Solo shot first, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  And some people aren’t good at looking at the reasons why something worked or didn’t, and the exercise offers them no pleasure.  All perfectly legitimate reasons to change the topic to gardening or where to go for dinner.

If you’re one of the people who doesn’t want to talk about it, please don’t feel you have to do so.  All I ask, as one of those people, is that you let us get it out of our systems.  Give us five minutes.  You might be amused by the back-and-forth (always happy to provide amusement for my fellow humans).  You might hear something that interests you.  You might realize you have something to say–although, again, you don’t have to.  But don’t try to head off this kind of discussion–a post-mortem is like the Hydra: if you cut off one head two more pop up, until the entire night is taken over by whether the ending of The Sixth Sense is properly set up (it totally is).

When the discussion has wound down there will still be time to talk about other things. Like gardening. Or where to go for dinner.

Illustration by Honoré Daumier (France, Marseilles, 1808-1879) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Why Can’t You Just Watch the Movie? — 6 Comments

  1. Oh, I’m one of those people too! I grew up in theatre and my dad’s a director, so I was probably an adult before I even realized that dissecting a show *wasn’t* the normal way of viewing it. We’re always slightly disappointed when a performance is so good, in fact, that we can’t find anything to tear apart, but on the other hand, when it’s so bad all you can do is shred it, we’re happy with that too because it gives such grist for the mill. *laughs*

    I’ll go to a movie with you any time! 🙂

  2. One downside of writing is that once you get in the habit of analyzing your own stories in revision, you have to tear apart other people’s stories even if you don’t want to — there’s an imp in your head who does it automatically.

  3. My sister the poet says that one reason she decided to focus on poetry instead of fiction was that she wanted to be able to read a novel for the pure pleasure of it, without analyzing it. I confess I can only do that when the writer is so good that I’m completely transported to the fictional world. Otherwise, that imp Mary’s talking about is sitting there critiquing.

    If I’m really caught up in the world of a book or movie, I’m not interested in analyzing it until I’ve seen or read it several times. I want the pleasure of living in that world as created for awhile. Otherwise, I’m rather merciless.

    • When I’m completely caught up in a movie I often find that afterward it takes me a while to separate out what worked from what didn’t because I’m kind of spellbound–which makes me a bit crazy, because the impulse to discuss is still there, and I feel like I have thoughts about it, but I can’t access my opinions as readily.

  4. Oh, sister! I am the same way. Writers really are annoying people sometimes. (Although what astonishes me is when people go to where this stuff occurs, like say Goodreads, and then complain that people are not just ENJOYING the romance between Jane and Rochester, and why does all this discussion of gender power have to come into it?!?)

  5. It’s interesting, the various strands of “talking about.” People do talk about movies, and books, but some of those talkings about are confined to the lives of the actors, or ranking who is the cutest.

    Some talk about other stories like the one they just saw. Some talk about endings, how the move made them feel. Others do Nabokovian lepidoptery–painstakingly taking it apart in order to admire the pieces.

    Then there are those who see thematic or trope connections with other forms of media, and reflect on the Grand Conversation that all art is. I have to admit my favorite is that one, but they are all part of this conversation. Even that about actors’ pretty faces. Where I check out is when viewers have to disparage other viewers’ forms of enjoyment. Again, cue talk about actors’ pretty faces.