Reframing Movie Recs in Conversation

I was in a bar with Cheyenne and she told me that she recently saw a scary movie (The Ritual, 2017) with her friends. “You should watch it,” she said. I told her that, realistically, I probably would never see the movie, but I’d love to hear her tell me about it. Grinning, she sat up in her seat, tucked her hair behind her ear, and launched into a play-by-play of how the movie went down.

The experience of hearing this movie second hand over drinks and appetizers was unique, riveting, and fun. I can safely assume this conversation was better than taking two hours of my day to watch the film she was referencing. Uncanny things happened during her re-cap. When she told me about the movie’s monster and its antlers, I suddenly noticed the antlers hanging on the wall in the bar. One of the character’s names was Dom, and near the climax of the story I looked past Chey’s face to see a bottle of Dom Perignon and became a little more unsettled. The environment, paired with the narrative, paired with the exchange I was having with Cheyenne, all culminated into an experience that was… perfect.

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This reminded me of when I was too little to see scary movies, so my cousins would retell the plots to me at my grandmother’s house. I got the gist of The Lord of The Rings and Darkness Falls (2003) and a couple other films from my cousins who (unlike me) were allowed to see these movies at the time. To this day I still remember my cousin Justin showing me on my grandma’s dining room table how the battle of Helm’s Deep went down, and explaining the strengths and weaknesses of both armies.

When I’m talking with friends, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that if someone recommends a movie to me, there is a 5% likelihood that I will actually see the film. When  I’m watching movies, it’s for my own enjoyment rather than to fill the context of a previous conversation. I think it was Guillermo Del Toro who said “I do not do homework with my life”, in reference to putting oneself through art for the sake of “catching up”. Even when friends come at me with movie rec after movie rec, it would be stupid to sit down and watch each of these films, searching for the bits that made it meaningful for them. I would much rather skip that step and just hear the point that my friend is trying to make. Sure, I’ll tell them, I know I should watch Movie X, but it might serve us better in this conversation if you just cut to the chase and spoil it for me so that I can understand whatever point you are trying to make.

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My bookcase, which contains some of my most meaningful possessions.

On the flipside, I find myself recommending books constantly. It’s incredibly difficult to avoid, especially when I am talking about concepts that I am excited about that have been explored in great detail in Book X. If I were to make a list of every book I’ve recommended to my friends, it would just look like my library at home. Why am I doing this? Just like with movies, we suggest books in the hopes that it will evoke in our friends the same thoughts and feelings the books evoked in us. If this is ultimately the goal, can we just cut out the middle man? Can we convey the idea or the feeling using the movie as a tool for us to have a conversation now, over coffee or drinks or dinner?

Conversation is a form of poetry in this sense, in which we try to find the best way to communicate a grand concept in the most concise way possible. One night I was overwhelmed with all the thoughts going through my head. Chey and I were eating burgers and I found myself speechless because I had so much to say, drawing from perhaps a decade of reading and thinking and experimenting. How on earth could I explain to her what I was thinking if she asked? I could offer an impossibly long list of books and movies that have brought me to this moment, or I could attempt to walk on my own, into new territory, distilling the thought into what could be shared then as we looked at each other over empty plates.

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