Is a Movie Just a Movie…?

There was an interesting discussion of the movie Inception taking place on a Facebook page recently.  As a status the question was asked:

so… you saw Inception. what did you think of it ?

Quite a number of people responded with the usual short blurbs. I wrote a mini-movie review-not entirely favorable (at the bottom of this post). Some folks added further comments later which included:

  • wow. it was just a movie……. [implying that some folks were spending too much time and effort thinking about the question]
  • Yeah like just a painting or just a book or just who cares. That just is the reason that not much good art is happening these days.
  • I liked it for what it was – popular entertainment.
  • I think there is an explosion of good art these days, though not evidenced so much via “commercial” channels
  • yes, i think word, (difference) is “commercial”…
  • There isn’t much of a line left-only a continuum of more or less commercial.

There are obvious parallels between the discussion of the “value” of art and the “value” of some popular spirituality. That value, specifically the economics of “just a movie” is what I’m interested in examining.

When we invest our money and time into something what comprises the value which we receive? And is the investment more than we realize? Here’s an abbreviated analysis.

Movie investment=approximately 4-6 hours of one’s life. Sounds like one of Andy Warhol’s avant garde movies. But I’m referring to a regular theater movie. Here’s the breakdown. Actual movie time + going to and from movie theater  + time to discover movie schedule + time to read reviews/watch advertisements or trailers + babysitting fees + parking fee + gasoline + depreciation on vehicle + food purchases + working the hours to make the money to pay all the related costs.

So the 90 minute movie directly affects more than triple that amount of time in terms of life time investment.  Economists and accountants often talk about hidden costs. They are usually referring to money but I am adding to that definition by including time as well.

This approach applies to just about anything we do. The listed cost of an item is not it’s actual cost in terms of time and money. At a minimum we can double or triple our initial estimate. Here’s a few more examples:

1 hour cable or satellite television serial program (ie Lost) = 2 or more hours of life time.  Breakdown. 1 hour to watch + time to find the program + arrangements to clear schedule to watch program + time to watch preceding episodes to keep up with the story + work time to pay for program provider service, television, TiVo on which it is recorded, appropriate furniture (the Lay-Z-Boy?), air conditioning or fan or other environmental adjustment devices, electricity. Consider how much the Superbowl or other special event costs in these kinds of terms. Days of preparation for some folks.

Here’s one that is a little more complicated.  Not all of the costs apply to all people but there are definitely extras that we don’t consider.

Working 8 hours per day=10 or more hours of life time. 8 hours of work + 1 hour of lunch during which we are not always or often free to escape the work environment (Who eats at their desk? I used to often.) + time to make or purchase lunch + commute + costs of means of transport + work time to pay for means of transport, work clothes, dry cleaning and laundry, hair cuts and styling, grooming products such as deodorant, shaving devices, make up,  lunch, child care, home security monitoring such as an alarm. Profit margin is rather slim when we deduct many of these material items from wages.

In any of these we could also factor in credit or debit card costs, bank fees, time to pay the related bills, time to schedule our time, time to arrange relationships to accommodate our schedule, time to plan wardrobe, grooming time and so forth.

There are quite a few questions and conundrums that arise from this little phrase “just a movie”

Commercial things are not supposed to or expected to have quality.

Throw away culture. Buy it, don’t take it seriously, don’t think about it, throw it away.

We are not allowed to criticize something we’ve paid for.

Some people will never send a restaurant meal back even if it’s burnt. Some will never send defective products back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. Some will never mention that the video game they bought was crappy.

I suppose there is a modicum of ego involved here. One might feel foolish for having made a substandard choice, even if they had no way to know that before the purchase. One might feel foolish for falling for the advertising (no the slap-chop doesn’t work as well as advertised).

We are not allowed to criticize something that is free either.

Not looking that gift horse in the mouth. There’s even a trite epigram for it. Remember when Google Buzz let out everybody’s contact information? Some people invoked this little platitude. Consider that Google doesn’t exist without it’s users, its Google Ads and the revenue stream that brings in. People who use their service are both getting paid as well as contributing to the value of the company.  There’s all kinds of profit/loss to be evaluated in circumstances that are labeled as “free”.  Hidden costs.

Free things are supposed to have a greater value? Independent “art for art’s sake” is more valuable than what is commissioned and paid for?

Quite a contradiction.

Do we even know what is of value anymore when the principle criteria of measurement within capitalist society is often irrelevant?

These are some of the many contradictions of capitalism, commercial culture and profit driven motives.  So the bill you finally pay is a lot higher than the number in the total column.

What is the cost of money?

Depends on the derivative value. In many more ways than one.

Musical Interlude

Busta Rhymes-Arab Money

Is money just money? Are some kinds better than others?


The Mini Review of Inception

Interesting ideas, some cool effects. Seemed for the most part to be a rerun of Mission Impossible or a James Bond film. Action genre scenes seemed misplaced and way too long. Lots of cultural cliches and stereotypes. It was like a mashup of a lot of stuff gone before. Not much originality. Editing was rather jarring. Don’t remember any of the music-it was that banal. I agree with Donna that the dialogue was often trite and not very insightful. Actors really had to work hard with what they’d been given. Nolan can be a very interesting director (Memento for example) but this seems to have been rushed into production way too fast.


2 comments on “Is a Movie Just a Movie…?

  1. As part of the economics of the movie, I might have added in the time spent thinking, talking and writing about the movie afterwards. All add to the opportunity cost.

    Maybe it was just me, but you seemed to be implying that a movie like Inception should be considered as, or along with, art. Following Frank Zappa I distinguish between art and entertainment. FZ always considered his music, even his serious music, as entertainment. A movie like Inception requires a huge amount of craft and creativity to bring to inception, but the result is still for the purposes of entertaining and making money. Movies can be art, but I would place Inception in the category of entertainment, despite the theme of redemption.

    Like you I thought that Inception was primarily an action genre film – where the main thing is to keep the action flowing, and the heart pumping. It was enjoyable entertainment and sparked an hour or so of discussion amongst my friends, who happened already to be attuned to the metaphysical and ethical themes the movie touches upon – e.g. is murder in a dream unethical? Then it was over and for 3 weeks I hadn’t given it any thought until reading your post on it. That is to say, it did not change my life.

  2. I finally saw Inception, on Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong to Frankfurt, which I didn’t expect to be taking. I kinda liked it. Sort of like Matrix but with a less stupid premise. It was a little movie, but a fairly unpretentious and uncluttered one. It didn’t belabor the point, it avoided the near-obligatory romance between the male and female lead, it didn’t have too many characters, and it didn’t get overly cute about its already cute-enough premise. The visuals were interesting and fascinating too; the tragedy felt… tragic, and while the characters were sketched with a few lines, they felt natural and real enough, in the film noir world they inhabit.

    In a nutshell, I liked it much more than I expected.

    No philosophical ruminations about Art from here at this time.

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