Madeleine Robins

Why Can’t You Just Watch the Movie?


There are 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**)  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 nose.  From my perspective, there I am, 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 swell 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.