Saturday, September 22, 2012

A History of Boredom

Firaaq (2008) Nandita Das, India

Somewhere (2010) Sofia Coppola, USA

"Boredom". A feeling of nothingness paired with the need to either fall asleep or start exercising/ screaming/ laughing (anything that's physically challenging). 
Boredom is one of the biggest fears of the movie buff. It is able to ruin 1,5 to 2,5 hours with its wasted nothingness, and that is definitely not what you're looking for when trying to squeeze in movies between ballet class and side job. Sadly, boredom is not a seldom thing. In fact, there are moments of boredom in not most, but many films and other works of art. 

Surprisingly, when you think about it, even great films include moments of boredom. But in this case we're not talking about the empty, "wasted" kind of boredom. No, we're talking about nothingness that means something. Nothingness that enlightens. You could also say, valuable nothingness.

That's because there are two kinds of boredom, which I will explain now.

The first kind of boredom: Bad
The bad news first, right? Everyone has experienced this boredom some time, and it's not uncommon. The good news is that it's not the most common one. I'd say that bad and good boredom are approximately equal in number of appearance, meaning with each shot of bad boredom there comes a shot of good boredom, hypothetically. This is, at least, a better equation than "coming of age" is  according to Milow ("Each shot of happy comes with only two shots of sad"), so let's call it a good news too. 

The 400 Blows  - a perfect example of bad boredom. The kid is experiencing it in the movie - I was experiencing it while watching the movie.

Before we talk about movies, I will explain what bad boredom looks like in "real life", so let me give you an example. Imagine yourself in class (or at a work conference? I don't know much about those things, being a student), and the teacher starts talking. He talks, and he talks, and he talks. Say, about a poem by Goethe. A topic you (or me) find interesting, which is why his initial thoughts manage to capture your attention. But with the time, the whole thing seems ridiculous to you, you feel that too many words have been said now, and you're angry because his point-of-view is so narrow. He doesn't listen to your comments and just keeps on talking. At some point, even though you're struggling not to, you drift away. 

The movie example for this would be: you watch a silent film that's not called Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Or you watch an Indian mass production comedy. Note that these are extreme cases.
As mentioned, bricks of bad boredom may appear in a grand selection of films. Mostly, these are the films you "kind of liked" but just don't love. Depending on the amount of bad boredom in these films, your rating will approximately be somewhere between 5/10 and 7/10. A film rated lower or higher is most probably either entirely badly boring, well boring, or not boring at all. 

The second kind of boredom: Good
Good boredom is a little harder to describe than bad boredom. It is something good but boring at the same time, which might be considered a contradiction by some people. 
This is why I'm not sure whether good boredom exists for everyone. There might be people who don't see any good in a feeling of nothingness. These are often the people I'm just slightly acquainted with, but never will be true friends with. And here we have the essence of the thing already: good boredom is what you share with your best friends only - perhaps your siblings and parents too. It's what makes you spend a whole day doing nothing but talking about nothing and everything, listening to music, watching television...
I once read a fascinating interview with the japanese writer Haruki Murakami, in which he said he found baseball boring, and that this was why he loved it.

Requiem for a Dream - I wasn't bored (not even in the good way) watching it, but this screenshot is still a good example of good boredom among friends. You don't need drugs to experience it though. Don't try drugs at all.

Have you ever been on a roadtrip? Or traveling by train or car - even plane - for a couple of hours sometime? If you have, you most probably will have felt an empty but satisfying feeling at some point of your journey. This, my dear readers, was boredom. Good boredom. The kind of boredom that enlightens.

You still need a movie example? Well, anything from Sofia Coppola, I think, will do. At the moment I'm so focussed on her work that it's hard to think of someone else's, but of course there are many other movies that supplied me with portions of good boredom. 
There is, for example, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more recently, The Tree of Life. Or Hunger. Very visual and sensual/ emotional films, mostly. Films that you know you might hate, but also might love. They often capture you with the first shot and then never let you go. 

Avoiding badly boring films
So, you would like to know now how you might be able to avoid watching badly boring films. I'm very sorry to disappoint you, but I don't think this is possible.

Honestly, I myself wasn't sure whether it might be possible, until the other day something interesting happened. I had two DVDs I wanted to watch. One was Firaaq, a highly acclaimed Indian film about the Gujarati Riots, also the directorial debut of one of my favourite actresses. From this film I expected to be shocked and moved, perhaps slightly bored at times, but in a good way. 
The other film was Somewhere, the only Sofia Coppola feature film I hadn't seen yet. I was very afraid of not liking it, as rumour has it that it's Sofia's most calm and still (some say boring) production yet. However, others claimed it to be their favourite of her work, so I did have some hope.

Firaaq - dramatic and important but boring.

Both films, as you can guess from what I've written until now, surprised me in opposite ways. Firaaq proved to be an intelligent story about the war between different religions and it had good actors, slick editing and other parts that should have made it a great movie. However, it lacked something very important. It lacked the "glue", if you know what I mean. It lacked an inner essence.
The many small stories didn't seem to connect, and I as a viewer stayed outside of it all. I connected to no one in the whole film. There was much going on, a lot of noise and conflicts and dialogues - but it might just as well have been mute. 

Somewhere - boring and sleepy but perfect.

Somewhere for that matter, proved to be an undeniable masterpiece, in my opinion. It was as perfectly well boring as only Sofia Coppola films can be. Drawn in to the quiet images and situations right from the beginning, I wasn't able to turn my eyes off the screen until the credits rolled. Most of the shots in the film are very long, and there are only few changes in camera angle or movements of the camera. There isn't even much dialogue. And you know what? This underlines the perfectness of what is being said and shown even further. 
Somwhere is an explosion of beautiful realism and at the same time so philosophically inspiring. It is a film to die for, and a film to live for. It is perfect. As perfect as can be.

Now, you've probably forgotten your initial question already, so I'm going to answer it one more time: there is no way to "know" whether a movie is going to be badly boring or well boring, nor if it's going to boring at all. A matter so subjective just can't be worked out or calculated in any way.
So watch, watch the movies you think you want to see, and don't avoid films because others find them boring. For you never know where the next shot of good boredom might be hiding. 


  1. An intriguing response to Firaaq. I am a huge Nandita Das fan, and this movie is my favourite of hers. I thought she did a great job in her directorial debut and the story she told through the cast was one that both I and my wife really enjoyed. For me, the "glue" you found lacking was Deepti Naval everything revolved around her and the boy. Fascinating to read such a very different perspective on the film, thanks!

    1. But it was Nandita's only work as a director yet, no?
      Anyway, I know that it's loved by a lot of people, so I perfectly understand you. I also liked Deepti Naval's story, but the problem is I didn't really like the rest... there were too many stories somehow.

  2. Brilliant writeup Mette! This right here is what I couldn't articulate the other day when you commented about a movie that looked simultaneously boring and interesting.

    1. Thanks, BT.
      Your post gave me some more inspiration to write this, although I had been intending to write it already.

  3. Awesome post Mette! Sofia Coppola' films are perfect examples of good boring.

    Some films have a lot happening on screen, but manages to bore the hell out of me while others might just have one/two just sitting down doing nothing yet that scene intrigues me

    1. Thank you, asrap.
      It's so great that Coppola's films have found a niche and some are even liked by the main stream. I find them just perfect.

  4. I'm on the fence that believes "Somewhere" is on the bad boring side. I remember sitting through that first five minutes of a car going in circles wishing I could fast forward the film. I keep waiting for her to make another "Lost in Translation", but it seems as though she'll never hit that bar again.

    It might be better off that she tries ideas that are much further away from it.

    1. Then you're on the most populated side of the fence, but really, I don't think you're "wrong". It's such a subjective question whether you find a film boring or not (or badly boring vs. well boring).

  5. I can relate, sometimes patience with a slow film is not what it should be for me. Slowness can be rewarding, but the mood has to be right in my experience. Recently, I watched a film that was tedious/boring, but also beautiful/thought-provoking, if you stuck with it, called Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011).

    I agree about good boredom with friends.This is a good discussion topic! I linked to your article in my Monthly links from the blogosphere.

    1. Thank you, Chris, I appreciate that a lot.

      Slowness is often much more beautiful than fastness, isn't it? Although it can be boring, but I find that the most beautiful films are slow ones. Or ones that have many changes in rapidity.

  6. Wow, this is an excellent, truly unique essay. I loved your explanations for the different variations and levels of boredom. I've read it twice now, and of the films I've seen that you mentioned, I believe you and I are in complete agreement across the board.

    Loved this, Mette!

  7. Thank you so much, Alex. I can't possibly explain how happy I am about your comment.


Let the discussion begin!