How To Watch A Movie

A simple, step-by-step guide for how to watch films.

Watching a movie: it seems so simple. Just look at it and listen to it and there you go, you’ve watched a movie! But lately it seems to me that people are having a hard time with the basics - whether it be film critics live tweeting movies they’re watching or hipsters giggling through revival shows of old movies, I have been seeing more and more people struggling with the basic act of watching movies. So I have decided to help out with this handy-dandy step-by-step guide to watching a movie.

Get A Movie Legally. This is maybe the hardest part. It requires you to engage in a transaction, usually of money. Either you can pay for the film in a theater, or you can buy it on home video or you can rent it on VOD or watch it on a streaming service to which you subscribe. Those are monetary transactions, but you can also acquire movies through other legal transactions, like watching with a friend who owns a copy/subscribes to Netflix.

Turn Off Your Phone And Computer. I’d like to think that simply putting away your phone, laptop, tablet or other device would be enough, but I see so many people - many of them professional actual critics apparently watching a movie they intend to write about! - live tweeting movies that maybe this is harder than it seems. If you’re watching a movie on your computer this can be tricky; clearly you can’t put away your laptop or tablet if that’s where you’re watching the film. Pro-tip: try to not watch movies on your laptop or tablet because it’s just not a good experience.

Forget About The Ads And Trailers. Let me tell you a secret: the people who made the movie very often have little to no say in what the ads and trailers for their movies are like. They can certainly pitch in and have ideas, and some filmmakers have the clout to really tell the studio how to sell their film, but for most filmmakers this stuff is out of their hands. It’s not fair to judge their film based on a trailer the marketing department put together or a poster the Photoshop intern banged out in between sessions of pasting Emma Watson’s face on porn stars’ bodies. You should walk into any movie you see with as clear a mind as possible, and not be looking for the film to match up with the trailers or ads.

Approach The Movie On Its Own Terms. There are a lot of movies out there, which means if you’re looking for a light romance you probably shouldn’t go to the spaceship explodey movie. The spaceship explodey movie will not be satisfying your needs, and it’s essentially unfair for you to expect the spaceship explodey movie will give you what you wanted from the light romance. Now, let’s clarify here: if the spaceship explodey movie has a romance you should certain expect it to handle that well, but you should also accept that the movie might have other things on its mind. This goes the other way - don’t get annoyed that the talky indie movie you’re watching is light on incident. Accept the movie that is being offered to you, or just don’t watch it. You don’t order the salmon and complain it’s a bad filet mignon.

Give The Movie The Benefit Of The Doubt. Maybe the people who made the movie you’re watching are stupider than you - anything’s possible. But you should, at the very least, give the movie an act or so before you start deciding that you’re going to spend the running time picking holes in everything you see onscreen in order to prove your superiority to the film/filmmakers. This goes for giggling at everything you see - allow yourself to get into the film’s tone, or at least try to meet the film halfway when it comes to tone. Which isn’t to say you have to like every movie you see, but you should try and be fair to every single one.

Think And Talk About The Movie After It Is Over. This is really a post-viewing tip - after you watch a movie give yourself some time to think about it and maybe even find some people with whom to discuss it. A good movie doesn’t end when the credits roll; a good movie sticks with you and allows you to roll it around in your mind and consider it. Even a bad movie is worth this effort - figuring out why a movie is bad, how it could have been better and examining your own reaction to the film can make you a better filmgoer. I hate when people talk about turning off their brains at the movies, and I think everybody should keep their brains on even as they leave the theater/turn off the TV/close the Macbook, because the true value of a good movie isn’t in the two hours you spent watching it, it’s in the lifetime you spend learning from it.