Back to the Movies
Last month, my wife and I went to the movies for the first time in nearly two years. We could have broken our theater fast with Venom 2 or the latest Bond movie—you know, something light and fun—to ease us back into the experience of going to the theater.
Instead, we saw Titane.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen Titane, but it’s not what I would call light fun. It’s also not anything my wife would ever choose to see—at a theater or at home. She’s not a fan of horror to begin with, and she’s even less a fan of graphic horror. She’s not without a sense of adventure when it comes to seeing movies, but Titane blew past the boundaries of acceptable weirdness for her.
By now you’re probably asking yourself why the hell we went to see something as obviously out there as Titane.
It’s a good question, and I’m glad you asked it, because it’s the whole point of this article.
We went in blind. On purpose.
Well, the answer is a bit complicated, but essentially we were trying to prove a thesis.
Like probably most of you, we’d been missing the theater experience for a while, but the right movie hadn’t come along quite yet to nudge us out of the house and back into the cinema. By the time October rolled around, the particular film was beginning to matter less than the experience of going to the movies. I guess it was just a perfect storm—our anniversary was coming up, the kiddo was at grandma’s, and we were just itching to do something…normal.
So we pulled up Alamo’s website and started skimming the available movies. Like I said, neither of us was hot to see No Time to Die or Venom 2. On a lark, I suggested Titane.
”What’s that about?” she asked.
I admitted I had no idea. I’d seen pop ups for it on Letterboxd a few times, but I always close or ignore those. All I knew about it was that it had won the Palme d’ Or. And maybe it had something to do with cars. That was it. That was the extent of my knowledge of Titane.
So, like any normal human being in 2021, my wife suggested we watch the trailer. And I was just about to click play when I paused.
“What if we went in blind?” I suggested.
She raised her eyebrows, which meant Explain.
So I laid out my argument.
“When was the last time we went to see a movie without knowing really anything about it?” I asked.
I knew what my answer was, but I waited to see if her’s would be the same.
“That Tim Burton musical. The Barber of something.”
“That’s the one.” I said.
“That’s the example you’re using to get me to see Titane? That movie sucked. We hate musicals. We left the theater as soon as we finished our food.”
“Exactly.” I said. “And how many times have we told that story? To ourselves and to others?”
She thought about it for a second. “A lot.”
“Exactly!” I said again, thinking I had her on the ropes. “Why do you think we retell that story so often?”
“Because it’s funny?” She suggested.
“Yes. Which makes the experience memorable. If the movie had been good, we would have talked about it on the way home, and that would have been about the end of it. We would have forgotten the experience, if not the film itself for the most part. But we remember it because we skipped out on a movie that we paid for. Because we both hate musicals and because it’s funny that we had no idea going into it that it was a musical.”
I could tell she was thinking it over, so I pressed my case.
“How many of the stories that your friends tell over and over again involve something that went wrong? Someone got drunk and did something embarrassing in front of a bunch of other people or someone got sick after having a bad meal at a restaurant and then shit themselves on the way home or two of you showed up to a party wearing the exact same outfit? Why is it that those are the stories that get retold and not the ones where everything goes right?”
She didn’t have an answer yet, but she agreed. “Those are the stories that always get retold.” she said.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I think it has something to do with the unexpected. How often do we go to movies nowadays without knowing the RT score or without at least watching a trailer? And that goes for everything really. Think about it. We google everything before we commit to it. Restaurants, stores, hotels, vacation destinations, the place you get your haircut or your oil changed. Hell, you don’t even have to google a movie to eliminate the element of surprise these days. Between twitter reactions and pop up advertisements on websites, we know nearly everything we need to know about a movie to decide if it’s going to be a good experience or a bad one. And if we still aren’t sure, we can have thousands of reviews at our fingertips in seconds—both from professional critics, the audience, and amateur bloggers. The truth is, we never really have to see a bad movie if we don’t want to. And to extend that a bit, we never really have to have a bad experience doing anything if we really don’t want to.”
“Buy the tickets.” she said.
So we did.
American Ninja and What’s Wrong with Hollywood
There are a lot of things wrong with Hollywood films today. Too many to dissect here, but surely our ability to avoid any sort of risk when it comes to the movies we see should be part of the discussion.
Among my group of friends, we often lament the lack of variety in movies that get theatrical releases these days.
Did you know American Ninja played in theaters? Did you know, despite a negative critical consensus, it was a financial success?
That could never happen today.
You might be thinking to yourself that we aren’t missing much, but for every American Ninja, there’s a Terminator, a film whose budget was not significantly bigger than American Ninja’s.
And if there’s no Terminator, there’s no Judgment Day. And if there’s no Judgment Day, there’s no Dark Fa…well, never mind. You know what I mean.
But I digress. The point is, in another era when we didn’t have access to instant information, the variety of movies that got a box office release was much greater. If you didn’t read newspapers, you had word of mouth to go on and maybe you’d catch a trailer on TV. People really had no choice but to take risks on the films they saw. Which, I think, meant there were more chances for smaller, off-the-beaten-path films to catch hold and become hits.
Titane was never going to be a box office hit in the states, but if people don’t take risks on films like Titane because they’d eliminated it from the roster of possible movies to see based on marketing or social media buzz, the chances of anything outside of mainstream studio films seeing a wide audience is pretty much nil.
Bad vs Memorable
Titane wasn’t a good experience. My wife covered her eyes for probably a third of the film. I’m pretty used to weird stuff, but it left me with knots in my stomach long after the credits rolled (we watched an episode of The Great British Baking Show afterwards as a palette cleanser, if that tells you anything).
But it was memorable.
She’s already told the story half a dozen times to different friends and family, and she loves to exaggerate it and joke about how I have lost my movie-picking privileges for at least the next few theater outings.
It’s a funny story, and we probably won’t stop telling it any time soon. But if we had followed standard protocol—if we had googled the RT score or looked at twitter reactions or watched a trailer—we would be telling a much different story.
Or worse, we’d be telling no story at all.
I don’t know what the solution to the problem is. Information is like glitter: once it’s out, you can’t put it back in the bottle.
Whatever happens, I hope we don’t sanitize our lives of all unpredictability. We all go to the movies for lots of different reasons, but for many of us, movies are a way to be transported away from our mundane lives. If the act of going to the movies becomes mundane in itself, surely we’ve lost something, right?
As the credits rolled up on Titane, I wasn’t sure what my wife’s reaction was going to be. We don’t get the chance to go out sans kiddos very often, and I was afraid I had ruined this rare opportunity by insisting we see a movie neither of us knew anything about. But as we emerged from the theater, she squeezed my hand and said “I don’t regret seeing it.”
Neither do I.