[Here’s some music to listen to while reading.]
It’s happening to me, too, this cycle of looking for the next form of instant gratification. It applied to what I eat, what I watch, and what I listen to.
The obvious culprit seems to be the internet and the rapid advancement of technology.
And no, those are not inherently bad things. But they can certainly have negative effects on how we live our lives. It just depends on how we respond to them and the habits we form as a result.
A lot of us have a hard time committing to any one thing for longer than a few seconds. Even reading this article requires a certain amount of commitment and patience.
It’s hard to do this. You’re not alone in feeling this way.
Why do you think online publications space out text like this: it’s to make the text seem more approachable and easy to get through.
Look! Here’s a picture! That will make this article seem more accessible!
And unfortunately, this shortening of the human attention span is having an effect on how we watch movies. It’s also affecting what movies we tend to gravitate towards, and when we give up on a specific movie.
We’ve come to hate movies that are slow-moving and just boring overall.
And I’m not going to tell you that boring entertainment is always a good thing, but it’s not always a bad thing.
In fact, there are some very very very very good movies that are purposefully slow and dull.
So I’m gonna make a case for willfully boring movies, and how you might be able to start enjoying them.
Maybe this is a lost cause and we’re all destined to watch and create movies that are stuffed to the cheeks with senseless action and other forms of sensory stimulation.
But even if that’s where we’re headed, I’m happy to go down with this ship.
Alright, let’s get started.
Gerry and the Value of Boredom
I got more seriously interested in movies during college, mostly thanks to writing professors who loved showing us weeeeirrrd movies.
One of those movies was Gerry, directed and written by Gus Van Sant and released in 2002. Two regular guys get lost in the desert and that’s the whole movie.
It has very few shots, no real score music, and it is SLOW. Good lord is it slow. And on top of all that, you do not feel good at the end of the movie.
I had to watch this movie in class. There was no getting away from it. I was so bored that I didn’t even know what I should think about to try to entertain myself.
I had to accept my fate, resigned to just sit there and watch the movie.
I wasn’t impressed by the movie until it was over. More specifically, I didn’t like it at all until weeks after I’d seen it.
First, I realized just how different it was. This movie did not feel like other movies. And it trusted its audience to a certain degree.
And don’t worry, I’m not really saying that you should go out and watch Gerry. I mean, if you’re an adventurous movie watcher and you want to see absolutely everything, go for it.
But it’s not necessarily a great introduction to the value of boring movies. But for me, it forced me to experience a moment where I got over how dull it was and I engaged with the movie on its own terms.
It’s almost a meditative state. If you don’t meditate or pray or any of that stuff, then the practice probably seems strange and pointless.
But when you actually try these activities, which involve very little physical activity and a minimum of mental activity, you start to understand the value.
These experiences can actually make you feel better, and maybe most important of all, they can help you achieve a calm and measured state of mind.
Thinking on it later, I decided that I liked that feeling. I liked how I felt while watching Gerry. It opened my mind a little bit, leaving room for a whole bunch of new movies, none of which try that hard to adhere to contemporary standards of keeping the audience’s attention.
So let’s talk about some boring movies that support my point, and which you might actually enjoy watching.
Boring Movies You Might Like
I guess it’s also pretty important to note that boring movies are not a genre of their own, just like how animation isn’t a real genre.
Some boring movies are serious dramatic works and some are comedies. Just because a movie is boring doesn’t put hard limits on its content.
With that said, let’s look at some boring movies that stretch across multiple genres.
Solaris – 1971
Andrei Tarkovsky was an angry weirdo. He was a Soviet filmmaker who made incredibly thoughtful movies. And yes, his movies are also very slow.
He made movies about nature and about being human. They tend to be pretty bleak stories as well.
Solaris is a science fiction movie, based on a novel. In 2002 it was adapted by Steven Soderbergh, the guy who makes all those Oceans heist movies (as well as some weird art house stuff that we’ll talk about some other time).
But the 1971 version is just better. And it’s loooong. This movie is 2 hours and 47 minutes. You could even watch it in sections if you really wanted.
A therapist has to travel from Earth to a space station, where the astronauts have been going crazy.
It’s kind of a mystery story. In fact, if you’ve seen the film adaptation of Annihilation starring Natalie Portman, it feels a bit like that. There’s a big, unexplainable Other that is having negative effects on humans.
You have to get used to the vibe of this movie. But once you do, once you stop checking your phone and just let yourself be immersed, it’s an incredible experience.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul – 1974
This is a German movie from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a bisexual filmmaker who made a whole bunch of movies in a short amount of time.
On the whole, he enjoyed poking a stick at society’s most uncomfortable subjects.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is about an older woman who falls in love with a much younger Moroccan man.
Her family and friends turn their backs on her as a result. She is seen as having abandoned her dignity, her national identity, and the rules of her social class.
Hmm, I wonder if this story of disgust toward migrants is still relevant today. Discuss.
Oh, and this is also based on an American movie called All That Heaven Allows, directed by German-American Douglas Sirk. In this version, an upper-class woman takes to dating a young working-class man who has no interest in acquiring money or possessions.
In either movie, it doesn’t matter that all that much isn’t happening on screen because the emotional weight of the story is more than enough to keep you interested.
Melancholia – 2011
If you’re not familiar with Lars von Trier, then there’s kind of a lot to explain about the guy, most of which we’ll save for a separate article. (Just look at his IMDb photo.)
To keep things short, he’s a Danish filmmaker and he’s very good at what he does. But his work tends to be extremely polarizing, which is probably because he tends to get into some highly uncomfortable subjects.
Almost every one of his movies involves a female lead who is steadily destroyed by the herself and the people around her.
Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst on the night of her wedding. She comes from a very affluent family, and the reception takes place at an enormous estate with its own golf course.
But she’s already unhappy, maybe because of her brand new marriage or maybe because of something inside her that was always there.
Meanwhile, there have been rumors that a rogue blue planet called Melancholia will crash into the Earth, killing everyone.
Even with all that, it’s a slow-moving flick, and if you’re not used to that you might be tempted to shut it off.
I’m not going to tell you that this will be a movie you’ll want to watch again and again. But it is the kind of movie you should watch at least once.
For better or worse, von Trier’s style is on the cutting edge of cinema.
Anomalisa – 2016
Boring animated movies are pretty rare. They’re often made for young audiences, and so they try to be visually interesting throughout.
Anomalisa is not for children. It’s an existential drama about identity, relationships, and loneliness.
The visuals are great, but the movie moves pretty slowly. Why? Because that’s what life feels like. It’s an incredibly realistic movie.
And this is another great reason for watching boring movies in general: they can feel much closer to real life, making them more relatable and engaging.
Playtime – 1967
Playtime is a comedy from French director Jacques Tati. By modern standards, it would probably be considered boring.
There’s dialogue, but it doesn’t really matter. There’s a story, but it doesn’t really matter.
It’s a series of scenes that take place in a pretty timid dystopian version of Paris. It’s a movie of visual gags. That was Tati’s whole style.
But once you really commit to the movie, you not only appreciate the humor more and more, you also start to understand what he’s trying to say about modern life.
You have to just relax and treat the movie like a window into another world, a world that’s actually kind of delightful.
We like this movie a lot and we’ll be talking about it more at some point.
Closing Words, I Guess
All I can do here is to urge you to keep your mind open. Boring doesn’t have to be a dirty word, and it shouldn’t be a reason to stay away from a movie.
If a boring movie also doesn’t have any emotional or intellectual impact, then yeah, you can put that one aside.
But boring doesn’t have to mean that the movie won’t affect you.
It’s a bit like that scene in WALL-E, when he shuts down the screens of a couple passengers. Removing yourself from constant stimulation can help you appreciate the beauty and value that exists beyond instant gratification.
You don’t even have to stay away from your screens and typical entertainment permanently, it can just be a good idea to take a break every once in a while. You might enjoy what’s on the other side.