We have all experienced it. We start watching a movie. After giving it a fair shot we discover that perhaps it is not what we expected. As the song by The Clash askes, “Should I stay or should I go?”
I think I can only recall walking out of a movie in a theater once. I was in high school and went to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus was hugely popular among high school kids but my friends and I were contrarians. About half way in my friends had had enough, and my choice was whether to stay and finish the movie or follow them out. I was only countercultural to a point, and when the culture involved my ride home, it was wiser to go with the flow.
I will admit that my tendency is to stick it out. It may or may not be because I was Raised By Germans, but there is a loud and strong voice in my head that says “Finish What You Start!” It is one of the rules of life I had drilled into me as a kid. Possibly because I have a tendency to move on to a new interest all too easily. Another influence is the idea that certain movies become cultural icons and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) becomes a factor. There are certain flicks that are required watching in order to claim a complete life – after all, you never know when there will be a reference to The Terminator or Saving Private Ryan at a party somewhere, and isn’t it good to be part of the knowing chuckles instead of standing there with a blank stare? Or “You picked it out, you’re stuck with it.” This is why I would never consider sending a meal back in a restaurant just because I didn’t like what I thought sounded good on a menu. And is another reason I almost never bail on a movie once I have started it.
I suppose part of the question involves what economists call “sunk costs” – when it comes to a theater film (remember those?) once you have bought the ticket and shelled out for the most expensive popcorn and soft drink ever, your investment is almost total. What’s another hour of your time? But then analysis based on sunk costs is not always a good one, but one that can often lead to finishing something that you would have been better to give up on. Just like that old car that requires anther $ 600 repair, do you think “Gee, I’ve already put $5000 into it in the last 3 years, what’s another $600 so that I finally get some return on my investment?” Or do you treat it as a fresh decision – “I don’t care what I have in it, this question is about $600 to spend on my 2001 Jalopy GT?
Movies are the same way. I will confess that I am more of a sunk cost guy – which is not necessarily a good thing. I would have stuck it out with Monty Python, for example, because I had already bought the ticket, the popcorn and the hugely oversized (and overpriced) drink. I know I have certainly sat through some stinkers. But what about movies at home? At every step – the video store, Netflix in the mail, DVD at Redbox and now via streaming, the sunk cost of watching a not-very-entertaining movie has gone farther and farther towards zero. But there is still some sunk cost, which is the time invested to that point.
Marianne and I tend to watch movies together, so we usually compromise on something in the fairly large area of overlap in our personal Venn Diagram of movie watching. She has no patience for musicals and I have no patience for anything from Hallmark or Lifetime, but otherwise we are pretty open to quite a bit. We will occasionally give up on a movie, but that process usually begins with Marianne saying something like “What do you think?” After a couple of “let’s give it a few more minutes” I can be talked into bailing – but it leaves me with an odd feeling that I have done something bad.
We tend to like classic movies and a lighthearted film starring Cary Grant is almost always a decent choice. It is sometimes an inspired choice, like with 1947 film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House – which shows that the travails of home ownership are much like what they were in our grandparents’ era. But sometimes it is not an inspired choice, like one evening awhile back when Marianne suggested (and I agreed to) a 1953 effort called Dream Wife.
It involves a business big shot who is engaged to a woman who works high up in the State Department. Yes, it was way ahead of its time in this way. The plot is that Our Hero is put out by how the little lady’s career keeps coming between them, so he decides to propose (by correspondence, no less) to the daughter of some middle-eastern potentate who has been brought up to spend her life practically worshiping whatever guy her eventual arranged marriage may involve.
Perhaps it was because I was coming down with a bad cold or maybe it was just a bad movie, but I found the film insufferable. A quick look gives me a little support – it lost money in theaters and received so-so reviews at the time, likely saved only because Cary Grant was, well, Cary Grant. In 2021 the characters were unlikeable, the plot was bad, and watching it was a long, not-very-pleasant two hours. And this is from a guy who has a pretty easy time putting on my “period entertainment” lenses to overlook some of the things that were of their time but which certainly have no place in the present. Even with those lenses on I could not avoid the suffering. But I stuck it out. Marianne did not suggest quitting and I certainly did not. But what did it get me?
There is not much value in checking off an imaginary box that says “Dream Wife – Watched” – there is precious little accomplishment there. There is certainly no FOMO because I have never once heard anyone mention this movie – I don’t think I had even heard of it. I guess it was the sunk costs that would not let me walk out of the room or start punching buttons on the remote part way through.
For what it’s worth, my “stick to it until you are finished” trait is not just with movies. There are at least (at last count) around thirty-five blog posts that I have started and never finished, for a variety of reasons. I guess you should count yourselves lucky that I have not forced myself to finish those before publishing this one. Or maybe not.
Photo of theater screen – via pxhere.com, public domain
Promotional poster of the 1953 MGM picture Dream Wife, public domain