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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why go to see a depressing movie?

(George Clooney and Vera Farmiga comparing plastic in Up in the Air)

Saw the movie last night. It was pretty much as advertised, a well done movie about a businessman whose job it is to travel around firing people and who has less in the way of human connection than he ought. The dialogue was clever, George Clooney was dapper, Vera Farmiga was worldly, and the acting was good all around. The movie is up for a Best Picture Oscar, and deservedly so.

But I didn't leave the theater happy.

Which brings up a philosophical question: why pay ten bucks to get depressed?

If I'm going to a movie, I want to forget about real world concerns and escape for at least for an hour and a half, then leave the theater in a good mood. Even if it's after something as mindless as Avatar. And if a movie does bring up quotidian concerns, I prefer to see them resolved.

I know how unsophisticated (and crude) this makes me sound, but I like my movies the same way I like my massages.

Think of it this way. Alcohol isn't popular because it depresses you; people drink it to feel exuberant. You choose your friends because, at one level or another, they make you feel good -- not because they depress you. Fun people are more popular than wet blankets. So why do people want to see depressing movies?

Do some people have so few downers in their own lives that they need to go to a movie to experience more of them? (Or is it that seeing that other people have worse problems makes them feel better about their own?)

After the movie last night, I had a vaguely disgruntled, was-that-the-way-I-really-wanted-to-spend-my-evening feeling. Thinking about it the next morning, the answer is clearly no. What's the point? (Clooney actually voices a similar thought during this cheerful movie, agreeing with a reluctant bridegroom that there really isn't any point to living.)

Movies like this should come with a label from the Surgeon General: WARNING: This movie may alter your mood for the worse.

I'd heed it.

If I want to look at a middle-aged man who's leading a pointless existence, I can just gaze in the mirror.


Anonymous said...

It's not the depressing movies I wonder about. Watching a film or dcumentary about e.g a loved one sucumbing to cancer can provide context on how lucky and blessed most of us are. That can lead to a postive change in attitude.

The movies I never understood were horror movies. Pay $10 to get the crap scared out of you while seeing someone get peeled with a chain-saw. That gives you nightmares. Who enjoys that!?!? Apparantly a lot of people do. I find it really strange.

Mankind must be the only animal that enjoys being frightened.


John Craig said...

Michael --
Thanks for your comments. You make a good point about sad movies, but personally, I don't feel I have to be hit over the head with that stuff in order to appreciate what I have. I agree with you completely about horror movies, and the same applies to roller coaster rides.

Anonymous said...

Some people go to sad movies to connect up with a part of themselves, or their personal histories, that they may not connect up with directly.

Having said that, I read a lot of reviews of what are said to be great, serious movies, say to myself that I have to see them, and then choose an action movie or a comedy over them.

People see horror movies for the same reason they ride roller they can feel extreme emotions without being in any real danger.

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
You're right. I just have a different take.

And having to take a plane ride occasionally, I feel no need for roller coasters.