Wednesday, December 9, 2009

We're going to take turns

Last Sunday, as I discussed in this post, we narrowly avoided seeing Disney's A Christmas Carol when my wife confessed that she would only be seeing it to placate me. And since I'd already seen it once, that hardly seemed like a good reason to go.

This past Sunday, I discovered that I've been strong-arming other parts of our film agenda as well. In fact, most parts.

As we were driving out of the parking garage after seeing Up in the Air, my wife turned to me and said "So next weekend we'll see Invictus?"

I hesitated. "I guess so."

This completely took the wind out of her sails. At first I was confused as to why, but let's be honest -- "I guess so" is basically the same as "I really don't want to."

And it's true -- I don't want to see Invictus that much. Clint Eastwood has been pretty spotty for me lately, and I've never been a big fan of sports movies. (Since I'm a big sports fan, that's a paradox that's worth discussing at length another time.) I've also developed an informal bias against movies, any movies, where a character says "This is our destiny!" And yes, Matt Damon's character utters those words in the trailer.

But what I didn't realize when giving that lukewarm reaction was, there's a time and a place to be truthful about your excitement for a particular film. See, as a brazenly, unapologetically honest film fan, I feel like the time to be truthful is always, and the place to be truthful is everywhere. But I realize now the value of a little harmless feigned enthusiasm.

See, for most couples, feigned enthusiasm about seeing movies would be par for the course. It's an old chestnut of gender politics that the woman supposedly drags her husband to romantic comedies he has no interest in seeing, and it's his job to pretend he wants to, or at least, not put up much of a fight. Meanwhile, she makes the sacrifice and goes to see action movies with him. Or, perhaps less charitably to the woman, she doesn't make that sacrifice, but also doesn't stand in the way if he wants to go see the explosions and car chases with his guy friends.

But my wife and I don't have that relationship. We're both huge film nerds. In fact, I am much more likely to have a tolerance for something frivolous, something that is otherwise unworthy of our time. Whereas she loves sports movies. That's right -- she hates most sports but loves inspirational sports movies, where I am the exact opposite. Go figure.

The bottom line is, we both want to see most of the critically acclaimed movies that are coming out, and neither of us expects to see chick flicks. I've got myself quite a good partner here.

So what's the problem? The problem is that I want to see most of these movies in the theater, whereas she is often just as content to see them on DVD. For her, the ideal number of trips to the theater per month would be two or three -- for me, it would be twice that. In fact, even though Up in the Air is a probable Oscar frontrunner, she surprised me on Sunday by saying she would have been just as happy to wait and see it at home.

This is no judgment against her. In fact, it's a judgment against me for not recognizing it earlier. My agenda is to see as many films as I can before I close off my personal rankings of the year's best films in late January. She has no such agenda, so I should understand that she might rather spend that $13 per ticket on something else, and see the movie three months later on DVD.

So the dynamic that's developed is that I have been driving her to the theater to see things that she did indeed want to see -- just not as soon as I wanted to see them. She might even want to see some of them in the theater, just not until the crowds had thinned out a bit. Up in the Air was a shining example of the toxic possibilities of a full house, as we were each profoundly disturbed by the person sitting next to us. If we'd seen Up in the Air three weeks from now, we might have had not only a buffer of several seats, but several rows as well.

So when I had been setting my personal theatrical outlook, knowing that these were films she wanted to see, I thought her desire to see them was enough information to act on. And because she's sweet and loath to make conflict, she's been acquiescing without me even knowing it. She's essentially been placating me for weeks, maybe months, maybe years now.

The difficulty really arises in the fact that going to the movies is considered by most people to be an essentially social experience. It's fair to say that there are many, many people who are not comfortable going to the movies by themselves, any more than they would be comfortable going to an expensive restaurant and eating by themselves.

Neither my wife nor I share this feeling. I do enjoy going with her to the movies more than going by myself, but I'm perfectly happy to go alone, and she is only slightly less so. So my thinking has been, "I want to go to this movie, now. If you come with me, it'll save some logistical awkwardness later on, when you have to watch it by yourself at home on DVD. Plus, I enjoy your company. But if you don't want to come with me, at least let me see it on my own schedule."

While I have constructed these semantics to make it seem like I am being fair and logical, really what I am saying is "I am going to see this movie this weekend regardless of whether you come with me or not." I'm flexible to the extent that I will delay the viewing if I can get her to commit to a later date, like the next weekend. We struggled through this with Paranormal Activity, and in fact, I think the reason she went at all was that I expressed such dismay at having to wait something like three weeks before finally seeing it.

But however you slice it, I am basically getting what I want in this scenario. I want to see the movie. And, come hell or high water, I will see it.

But marriage is about compromise, about not always getting what you want. And just because being a film critic gives me an extra excuse to be pushy, the fact of the matter is, I'm not seeing most of these movies for work. I'm seeing them so I can get as close as possible to a definitive representation of movies released in 2009, so I can rank them from 1 to whatever. And when you come right down to it, this is a personal project that is really useful only to myself. I post it on my blog and I'm sure my readers have a passing interest in my rankings, but I'm the only person who really cares whether I saw 79 or 89 movies that came out in 2009.

So as we discussed all this stuff on the drive home, I came up with a solution. We will alternate being the driving force behind each theatrical screening. I will still be able to sneak off by myself to movies she isn't interested in, but for the ones we're both interested in, we will take turns deciding which title that is. She loved that idea.

This method has its problems, too. I have to figure out how to dis-own certain movies I want to see so that she gets credit for "choosing" them. And since I want to see quite a lot of movies -- and want to discuss my interest in seeing them with my wife -- this will be hard indeed. I think the worst outcome of this would be if I started editing myself in my film discussions with my wife. Then it would become a quality of life issue in a different way.

But I also think that just having had this discussion will help -- letting her know that I get where she's coming from. The system won't be, can't be, perfect. But when she realizes I am no longer playing the role of film dictator, she won't feel quite so oppressed, either.

And I think I've been able to smooth over the Invictus issue somewhat. Originally it appeared that my negative prognosis on Invictus had spoiled it as a possibility for a movie date. She no more wanted to drag me to see Invictus than I wanted to drag her to see A Christmas Carol.

But I've come up with plenty of good reasons why I actually, truthfully, want to see Invictus. Sure, it's a sports movie where people's destinies are being discussed. But it's also a movie about Nelson Mandela, starring Morgan Freeman. I haven't seen a Mandela movie before, and I love Freeman. And while we're at it, I've never seen a rugby movie either. I'm always interested in things I've never seen before.

For good measure, I've also told her I've relented somewhat in my negative stance toward Sherlock Holmes. So she'll get credit when we see that one, too.

And so what if I see a movie in the theater and she sees it later on DVD. That kind of thing happens, too. When I saw The Road the day we were supposed to see A Christmas Carol, she was perfectly understanding. She really wants to see it, too, but she understood that she "didn't want to hold me back." She had made her bed by deciding not to come, and she would lie in it. But just so you know I'm not simply the villain here, I tried to save The Road for her. I only went because Bad Lieutenant was sold out, and had to make a snap decision, with the The Road about to start that very minute.

Give and take. Compromise. It's what marriages -- and, apparently, movies -- are all about.

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