I go to a lot of movies. For the last five years, I've lived within a few blocks of a movie theater with numerous screens. I go to as many, if not more, movies alone than I do with other people. Occasionally, maybe once a year, something very strange will happen to me as I'm watching a movie in a theater: I'll step out of my life for a second and regard it from the outside and become filled with dread and anxiety. At this point the movie is automatically ruined; whatever's playing out onscreen doesn't stand a chance against the tide of comically intense self-loathing and fear that slowly pulls me out.
It usually happens during well-made but not-fully-engaging movies involving anxious or somehow pathetic people trapped in circumstances that just get worse and worse (one of the three examples I'll describe is an exception, due to circumstances I'll note). I saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead in fall 2007, when I was having trouble finishing a book, had just broken up with a girlfriend, and was generally in poor spirits. The movie is about several people who have wasted their lives, whose reputations among their friends and family are in the toilet. There's also a robbery and a murder, but... just watching Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as these 40ish guys who had no money and no hope and nothing but squandered lives triggered something terrible in me, and I had an awful, sick, anxious feeling that never left me until the movie was over... I just kept imagining living in their squalid apartments, at their ages, lonely and slowly expiring... fuck.
Earlier this year, I had another freakout in Avatar. I had seen it once, not expecting to like it, and been impressed by the 3-D and the lush environments and whatnot. I thought it would be a good idea to go back in an altered state. But about 20 minutes into the movie I just curled up and twitched, thinking about how I'd just turned 27, and surely this was going to be a miserable year, and I no longer had a real job, and how would I survive because you can't make a living as a writer, etc. etc. etc., and now the 3D and lush environments were like some decadent torture, and I can never watch that movie again.
Then, tonight, I saw The Town -- that Ben Affleck bank robbery movie with the great trailer. It's a pretty good movie but the plot -- in which middle-aged working-class Boston tough guy Affleck flirts with, seduces, and falls in love with an upwardly-mobile, good-girl bank manager played by Rebecca Hall -- bothered me a little, and I started thinking about how it was ridiculous that she would go for him, since she would far more plausibly be attracted to the sorts of credible partners she might meet at her bank job than to a track-suit-wearing street guy like Affleck's character... which made me think about how human merit, male eligibility, and self-worth are all tied up with the concept of having a job... which made me think about how I used to have a "real job" but now I'm a "writer"... anyway I started becoming incredibly anxious and sank into a swamp of depression and couldn't engage with the movie much after that, because I wanted to rewind my life and become an FBI agent like Jon Hamm's character, not a jobless "freelancer" like Affleck's.
So now what movie should I see next? I just saw Machete and The Kids Are All Right also... both were good... maybe Easy A?