I hate watching movies with my mother.
Long after I outgrew the clichéd, pubescent humiliation of spending any time whatsoever with your parents (lest a friend see you together at the theater), I still hate it. When I visit her North Florida condominium for the holidays, I’ll express disinterest in her wanting to rent DVDs. If we go to the theater, I need to make sure my brother on break from college sits between us. That’s not to say my mother is not my friend; rather, I’m proud to say I maintain what I consider a very good relationship with her. It’s just movies. Because, if I’m caught with her in a film neither of us have seen, without fail, she’ll lean over fifteen minutes in and say something along the lines of, “The lieutenant’s the killer, just watch.”
My mother, along with countless other people with whom I’ve shared a film, needs to beat the movie. As if it’s a fucking Sudoku puzzle that’s timing you on how quickly and accurately you can predict its plot. I’m all for puzzles, but paying $11 to sit in the dark trying to anticipate the screenwriter’s subscription to and/or intentional deviation from Hollywood tropes is not my idea of fun. While I’m ostensibly bothered by my mother and similar friends obnoxiously insisting on sharing their genius (to make sure there’s someone to whom they can say “I told you so” when the lights come on), I have a more principled disappointment with her apparent approach to motion pictures as a mental conundrum with an answer rather than as an emotive experience with an aftermath. Full disclosure, I used to be guilty of this same flaw; I was also twelve years old.
Likewise, I’m in ninth grade, eating lunch in the cafeteria of my humid youth. I had just been broken the night before by the soul-crushing execution scene in The Green Mile. I’m declaring unequivocally to my friends, in the voice of a 14-year-old who knows everything, that, if you don’t cry at the end of The Green Mile, you don’t have a soul. A few of my friends, ones whose having older siblings granted them access to R-rated pictures by age nine, shrugged. “I didn’t cry during that scene.” “Me neither.” “I didn’t cry.”
Nick chimes in, “I jerked off to it.”
I don’t know what else I was expecting. These were the “cool kids,” and it’s not cool to cry at the movies, duh. Why is that? Because crying is a sign of weakness? Of childishness? I would argue it’s more immature to spend two and a half hours and an amount of money just to sit there and prove that you’re tough. What a waste of time, simply because you are unwilling to let yourself go and enjoy the experience. The same with horror flicks, the same with comedies. Why must a movie be defeated with the awful weapon of stoicism or the dismissal of a faux-sophisticate? Have you ever ridden an insane roller coaster and stumbled off smiling, loose and light-footed, only to have your buddy dismiss it with a “Meh. It was alright, I guess. Didn’t do anything for me.” To go into a film trying not to be scared, not to cry, not to laugh, not to be surprised! Does the sensation of genuine emotion make you feel vulnerable, or do you just wish to convince yourself that you’re above something?
Admittedly, the most open mind in the world can’t make some things powerful, scary, or unexpected; some movies just suck. No matter how much you try to ignore story conventions, no matter how much you try to view a film on its own free of outside influence — no matter how stupid you make yourself — some twists will be obvious or nonsensical. Jokes will fall flat; scares will become jokes. But allowing oneself to experience every film to its fullest, whether it be a revelation or a trifle, simply allows you to enjoy life more. The alternative is pointless. Furthermore, having a low threshold of enjoyment does not lessen one’s taste for masterpieces. Liking Ratner does not forbid me from appreciating Kubrick.
So, please, for your own sake, stop trying to beat not just movies, but any work of art. It is within your power to render yourself powerless before the emotional torrent of film. I steadfastly refuse that one universal truth: “Haters gon’ hate.”