Looking for something to do this weekend? How about watching a boring movie? Sounds fun, right? Boredom! Woo!
Generally speaking, artists don’t pride themselves on their ability to bore people. You don’t hear rock stars working the crowd before a big number with shouts of “Are you guys ready to ROCK (GENTLY UNTIL YOU FALL ASLEEP)?!?” But as Film School Rejects‘ Landon Palmer notes, in the context of cinema, boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For some filmmakers — like, say, Bela Tarr, director of “The Turin Horse” — boredom isn’t an accidental side effect of bad editing; it’s a calculated technique used with deliberate intent toward a specific purpose.
Articles in praise of — or complaining about — slow films are not new. Almost a year ago, Dan Kois raised a hubbub in the pages of The New York Times Magazine when he confessed that he didn’t care to “eat his cultural vegetables” — a term he coined for films he couldn’t muster the strength to be interested in even though they’re probably “good for him.” His piece, not so much against “stately, austere” movies as an admission of a cinematic blindspot, set off a lengthy conversation amongst critics, who all wanted to weigh in on the issue of boredom in movies. Hell, I even wrote a reaction or two.
The part of Palmer’s piece that says something new (or at least something interesting) comes in a section called “Boredom in a Distracted Culture,” where he talks about why boring movies are especially valuable in contemporary society:
“There is nothing that we as a culture currently fear more than boredom. We simply do not enjoy an experience of time as dictated by someone else. Is there a lull in your conversation with friends? Pull out a smartphone. Don’t want to wait until a movie’s release date or the airing of a new television episode to find out what happens? Seek out some spoilers. Making dinner by yourself? Have the television on or listen to a podcast in the background. No time for a movie? Watch some YouTube videos… This is why boredom is not only an increasingly rare experience, but one that should be valued specifically because it is feared.”
Sadly, I can relate to Palmer’s words here. The Internet and social media and cell phones have given us all these ripcords we can pull to bail out from “boring” situations in real life, and I know I speak for a lot of people when I say we pull those ripcords way too often. All of these things, Facebook, Twitter — did someone say Twitter? Wonder what’s going on there now… ooh look, cat videos! — fragment our attention and rot our brains (CAT VIDEOS!). Palmer says good boring movies force us to confront our fear of boredom and assess the reasons we’re so nervous about a lack of sensory stimulation.
It’s an interesting theory, but I feel differently about the value of these movies. Personally, I get excited by boring movies, not frightened. Because I’m such a stickler for undisturbed theatrical experiences, I never have my phone on during movies. It’s not on silent, it’s not on vibrate, it’s off completely. Which means for the duration of the movie, I’m shut off from all the digital distractions which I’m hopelessly addicted to the rest of the time (CAT VIDEOS!!!). That’s why boring movies don’t scare me — they actually fill me with a sense of relief. For 2 hours I don’t have to worry about who’s texting me or whether I’ve got to come up with another word on Hanging With Friends. I can just be bored. It’s the strangest kind of escapism, an escape from entertainment instead of into it, but for me that’s exactly what it is.
So yeah, boredom. Sounds like fun right? Actually, yes.