Archive for Monday, February 14, 2011


Reel views: New study suggests your movie buddy can affect your viewing experience

February 14, 2011


Anyone who goes to the movies with any amount of regularity has been witness to the two of the most annoying people in the theater: the talker and the texter.

Sometimes, like in the case of Kansas City resident Rudy Garcia, you are unlucky enough to get both — sitting right next to you.

“I had a date with this girl who couldn’t whisper and also texted three times during the movie. At the end of the night, she said she didn’t understand the movie,” Garcia says. “How could she? She was too busy!”

But here’s another phenomenon that damages a movie-going experience.

During a snowstorm that caused a power outage, Kansas University graduate Jeff Drake and his mother decided to brave the weather and venture for the night to a location with heat. Their solution? Dinner and a movie. The meal was fine, but it turns out that Drake’s movie choice assured that they would be back at the house in no time.

He had heard from his friends that it was a great movie, but 10 minutes into the film — the Wachowski brothers’ “Bound” — an intense makeout scene between stars Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon had Mom running for the exit, with Drake close behind.

While not all cases of uncomfortable movie viewing end before the credits roll, a new study from Kansas State Professor of Psychology Richard Harris suggests that who you watch a movie with directly affects your enjoyment of the film.

“We know that most of the time people enjoy watching movies — that’s why they do it,” says Harris, whose study appears in an upcoming issue of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. “But sometimes we watch a movie that isn’t what we describe as ‘enjoyable.’ For whatever reason, the experience is uncomfortable emotionally or in other ways.”

Harris and his researchers created a set of 25 different movie-watching scenarios by mixing and matching five types of movies and five kinds of co-viewer groups.

The movies included a graphically violent movie, an R-rated sexually explicit movie, the same-sex relationship film “Brokeback Mountain,” the melodramatic love story “The Notebook” and “American History X,” a movie that deals with white supremacy and racial hate crimes.

The co-viewer groups included watching the movie with parents, a spouse or significant other, a group of same-sex friends, a gay friend and a first date.

Drake’s situation, it turns out, is one of the most common among uncomfortable movie-going experiences. “The Notebook” evoked low discomfort ratings with all of the co-viewers in the study, while the explicit sexual film evoked the highest discomfort. The most uncomfortable among all movie/co-viewing combinations was watching the sexual movie with one’s parents.

“The topic of sex seems to be the most difficult for parents and teens or young adults to talk about with each other,” Harris says. “Seeing a movie with a graphic sex scene forces both parties to confront this awkwardness and implicitly acknowledge each other as sexual beings, one of the hardest realizations for teens to admit about their parents or parents to admit about their children. It’s not easy, and apparently, not fun.”

“The Notebook” was the movie that generated the least amount of discomfort in co-viewers across the board, but it should be noted that one group had a higher rating of discomfort than the others: those on a first date. Did the overtly romantic themes of the film frighten new couples because they were worried about commitment or was nervousness about the lack thereof?

On a first date when she was 16, Jen Kelley was completely distracted and couldn’t concentrate at all on Tim Burton’s fantastical romance “Big Fish.”

“I blame Charlie Lowrey for ruining my movie-going experience by not picking up on my subtle girlish hints to hold my hand— like slowly inching my arm near his on the armrest,” she says.

“Looking back, I probably should have just grabbed his hand and actually paid attention to the movie. I just re-watched the movie last year and realized how amazing it is.”

Awkward moments at the movies:

Caitlin Hitt, Lawrence:

“I went to see the ultra-graphic horror movie ‘Hostel,’ and my boyfriend at the time threw up in his hands. Then I threw up. Then the people next to me started gagging and fled the scene ... and never came back.”

Mark von Schlemmer, Lawrence:

“I took a first date to ‘Monty Python's The Meaning of Life’ at the Kansas Union. Between the mother that casually gave birth while she cooked for a house already packed with children and the infamous projectile vomit scene, I was horrified, and my date was not really laughing much. I was a little more uptight and new to dating then. This seemed, at the time, to be the worst first-date movie ever. My date just seemed a little uncomfortable with it all and . . . let's just say there was no goodnight kiss involved. Since then, I've learned to appreciate the movie (though it's not my favorite Monty Python film — partially, no doubt, due to the trauma it caused me and the date it ruined).”

Kitty Steffens, Lawrence:

“When I was a kid, I saw ‘Gremlins’ with my mom. There’s that scene where the girl talks about her dad dressing up like Santa and getting stuck in the chimney and dying. I was mortified that my mother would then know that I didn't believe in Santa. My folks went through a lot of stuff to make Santa elaborate and believable, and I thought it would disappoint her for me to know. I couldn't pay attention to the rest of the movie at all. I walked at triple speed to the car, and she wanted to talk about it and I tried to change the subject. My friends wanted to see it again later, and I refused! It sucked because I wanted to see it again so bad. All my friends were talking about it, and I was totally left out. I remember it playing on TV when I was in college and I ran to change the station even then so we didn't accidentally see that scene or have to talk about it.”

Michael Graves, Lawrence

“I was visiting my mother for the holidays, and my mother mentioned wanting to see ‘that ballet movie.’ Having already seen the movie, I tried to dissuade her from watching ‘Black Swan.’ Looking at the movie times online, I suggested ‘The King's Speech.’ After arriving at the theater, however, we learned that the screening times posted online were incorrect. While we were 30 minutes late for ‘The King's Speech,’ we were 15 minutes early for ‘Black Swan.’ I tried again to dissuade my mother but she persisted, so I acquiesced. As I had feared, the screening was quite uncomfortable. Although the sex scenes were somewhat uncomfortable to watch as I sat next to my mother, the images of pain and violence depicted in the film were actually the source of greater discomfort for her. She was so troubled by these images that she continually averted her eyes — even placing her jacket over her head at one point. I asked her if she wanted to leave, but she was adamant about wanting to finish the movie. From that point on, I would tell her to look away when graphic scenes were about to take place. It was, without a doubt, the most uncomfortable moviegoing experience of my life.”

— Catch Eric Melin’s movie reviews at


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