Summer is finally here. While many of us still have to keep “adulting” at our day jobs or other responsibilities, it does usually mean a little more time for leisure. The summer blockbuster is one American summer tradition. This year brings us Wonder Woman, Baywatch, The Mummy, Despicable Me 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and a number of other big budget, mostly mindless, “good fun” movies. Typically films released over the summer don’t generate much award interest; they’re provided to give our brains a break from the year–to help us relax.
But whether you are going to see a light summer blockbuster or an Oscar-nominated drama over Christmas, when you walk out of a movie, the first question asked by your companions is usually: So what did you think???!
How do you experience this question?
For me, usually my group has barely exited the auditorium when the question comes and I am still trying to readjust my eyes to the blaring fluorescent lights of the theater corridors—let alone figure out how to articulate my thoughts to this question. At that point, somebody else in the group will pipe up with how they feel and then their response usually shapes how the rest of the conversation goes.
If one person walks out exclaiming about how delightful the movie is, the entire group then has to recalibrate their opinion about the movie in relation to that first declared opinion. If you hated the movie, you might hesitate to express that and begin to question your own experience. Or perhaps you might respond with immediate shocked disbelief and a feisty discussion could ensue structured around the two most extreme perspectives.
Of course neither might happen and you might have a perfectly productive conversation, but I started to notice that I had social anxiety about the after-film dynamics. No doubt, this is probably because I am a filmmaker and thus really care about how I process each movie-watching experience.
So instead of feeding the anxiety, I channeled it into contemplating how people think about and talk about their movie experiences.
First, we tend to talk about “liking” or “not liking” a movie, but as Facebook has taught us, the act of “liking” can mean so many different things. What do you really mean when you say you liked Life of Pi? Are you talking about that feeling in your chest when you left the auditorium: the devastation; pure joy; heart-pounding adrenaline; apathy? Or are you trying to express that you thought the filmmakers did a masterful job of storytelling? Or maybe you are simply trying to communicate that you were glad you saw the movie and felt like it was money and time well-spent?
Maybe it is a little of all three?
Rather than trying to make the word “like” encompass all those different meanings, I would recommend we start using a collection of different verbs to talk about our movie experiences. Using a variety of verbs will allow us to speak more specifically about what we mean when we say we “like” a movie. I am going to propose three sets, including my suggestion of how the term “like” should be used, but I’d love to hear if you have other verb suggestions.
1) To Appreciate
This verb choice identifies your recognition of excellent filmmaking.
E.g. “I really appreciated the filmmakers’ use of color in Hero.”
“The performances in The Perks of Being a Wallflower were incredible; they really captured the tone of high school, and I appreciated that about the film.”
2) To Enjoy
This verb choice identifies the level of pleasure you experienced while seeing the film.
E.g. “Mad Max: Fury Road was a blast! I enjoyed every minute of it.”
“Watching Lawrence of Arabia was an exhausting experience; I did not enjoy those three hours.”
3) To Like/To Love
Overall how would you rate this film? This is the hardest verb category to explain: it takes into consideration both how you objectively would rank the film and subjectively how you experienced it. This verb also provides space for moral/ethical judgement. The two verb choices (like/love) reflect the degree of how strong your opinion towards the film is. (Examples below.)
This last verb option builds upon the previous two. Sometimes you will instinctively know that you really liked a movie, but often you will need some time (whether 30 minutes or 3 years) before you decide how you comprehensively feel about that film. This form of “like” is the product of both thoughtful reflection and gut emotional reaction.
Just because you like a film, doesn’t mean you necessarily appreciated or enjoyed it as well. What do I mean by this? Here are some examples to illustrate:
- “I really appreciated the attentiveness of the filmmakers in Forrest Gump, but I found the film to be tedious and boring. I wouldn’t say I hated it, but I definitely did not like it.”
- Here the viewer is able to appreciate the film but not enjoy or like it.
- “Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn’t a great film in terms of story or technical prowess, but I still had a blast watching it because I love talking animals. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I liked the movie, but I certainly didn’t dislike it either!”
- Here the viewer is able to separate out their enjoyment of the film from their perceived value of the film. In this scenario, the movie could be likened to a ride at an amusement park—good fun and not much else!
- “Wow, Steven Spielberg really killed it with Schindler’s List. The performances were gut-wrenching, the cinematography was beautiful, and you could tell how intentional the directing was. I had a rough time getting through the full movie because the story was so depressing, but I am glad I watched it. That was a good movie.
- Here, the viewer is able to appreciate and like the film even as they were not able to enjoy the movie due to the nature of its content. In these scenarios, it can be harder to use the word “like” (it can feel wrong to like a movie about the Holocaust), so other terms like “good” often get used even though they’re also vague.
- “I think The Fountain is an absolutely stunning movie with incredible performances, and I really enjoyed watching it, but at the end of the day, I had serious concerns with the worldview portrayed and what I perceived as a problematic appropriation of Eastern spirituality.”
- Here the viewer acknowledges a difference in how they experienced the film and their recognition of its cinematic quality with their personal beliefs about what the film was trying to do. The viewer appreciated and enjoyed it, but ultimately didn’t like it because of what they perceived it was doing.
As you can see, we don’t always actually use the words like/love/appreciate/enjoy when we talk about movies, but those different ideas are built into our conversations.
So to close, here are my tips for your next movie outing:
You can also use this process with movie nights at home. At first it might seem awkward and formulaic, but after practice, you’ll find yourself relaxing into a natural way of thinking and talking about movies!
Share your tips for watching movies with friends below, and pass this on to anyone you think might find it helpful! And of course, tell me how you have enjoyed, appreciated, liked, loved, or hated this year’s summer blockbusters.
Featured image captured by: Jake Hills