Saturday, 30 April 2011

Living with Your Philosopher: Movie Commentary

I’m generally a pretty tolerant person when it comes to my philosopher being weird. By now, I’m used to his commentary on conversations we overhear at the coffee shop (being in Texas, we overhear some doosies), I’m used to preparing an argument to justify every larger financial purchase I want to make, and I’m used to a variety of other strange quirks (drifting into Philosophy Land in the middle of putting on his socks, etc). One thing I am working on tolerating is movie commentary.

Philosophers usually fall into two categories when it comes to movie commentary: those who pause the movie to comment and those who only comment at the end of movies. I will be discussing the interrupters here, as there have been several requests for addressing this type of philosopher.

Those of you who have spent very much time with a philosopher will know exactly what I am talking about. You and your philosopher(s) decide to watch movie X. Movie X begins with a certain kind of music that reminds your philosopher of something. She/he pauses the movie and gives a mini-lecture on this idea. They expect you to comment. You do not comment. They feel let down and continue the movie until something else during the movie reminds them of some idea. Repeat.

[This kind of commentary might be a bit different in my case than in yours, because my philosopher reads everything about everything (not just philosophy). He learns a lot, thus has lots of connections to make.]

It can be really easy to get annoyed with your philosopher when they do this, after all you are watching this movie for a little entertainment, not for a philosophy lecture, right?

By just snapping at your philosopher when they do this, it doesn’t really accomplish anything except in creating resentment or hurt feelings. After all, philosophers are just so excited about ideas and connecting ideas, so hurting this excitement will only serve to squelch your philosopher. Here are the things that I do to deal with movie commentary:

1. Suggest going to the theater to see a movie instead of watching one at home.

Going out to a theater does one of two things: (1) it prevents your philosopher from being able to pause the movie and offer commentary and (2) if they insist on giving commentary during the movie, public pressure is likely to discourage many episodes. You can also pull the “Shh. How about you save it up and tell me after the movie?” You also might be able to wrangle some expensive movie-treats out of your philosopher if you go to a theater.

2. Talk to your philosopher about it beforehand.

On really crummy nights when I just want to watch a movie and know I don’t have the patience for commentary, I might ask my philosopher beforehand to try really hard not to comment during the movie, but to wait until the end. Philosophers enjoy analyzing things and they love connecting ideas, so giving them a chance to do so at the end is better than shutting down commentary completely.

3. Go with it.

When I can handle it, I just find that it’s best to swallow my annoyance and let him comment. You don’t have to get into a discussion about each comment, a simple, “That’s interesting,” can work just fine for this sort of commentary. It just makes philosophers so happy to give little analyzing comments about things, that I can handle a minor annoyance at the interruption. Besides, I usually learn some pretty interesting things during commentary time; sometimes I even teach him something.

4. Movie selection.

I have heard from several philosophers that commentary may be significantly reduced based on the movie that you choose to watch. For example, if you choose a movie like Bruce Almighty, where the idea of free will is played with, your philosopher might have an awful lot to say during the movie. If you choose a movie like Robin Hood: Men in Tights, your philosopher might be able to enjoy the movie themselves without have to stop and correct or make additions. If you are a serious movie-watcher, who prefers the artistic and sublime to blockbusters, then you are setting yourself up for movie commentary.

Living with a philosopher is really all about picking your battles. Does movie commentary drive you absolutely crazy? Discuss this with your philosopher and set some boundaries or select movies carefully. Just remember that your philosopher is not trying to be annoying; they are just doing what philosophers do. 

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~The Philosiologist~


  1. You've mentioned or hinted at your philosopher's aversion to spending money a number of times. The way you talk about it seems to imply that you take this to be a philosopher-trait. It's not one I've noticed particularly (I'm a philosopher and a near-spendthrift). I'm curious whether this is something you've noticed beyond your philosopher or just a generalization from his behavior.

    Also, your blog is amazing.

  2. Great post, and so true! Thankfully, I have a spouse who enjoys mid-movie commentary as much as I do.

  3. Anonymous 9:39, I think I always refer to money as though my philosopher has an aversion to spending it both because we are poor (he is just a grad student and I am just an academic office staff member) and because my philosopher is adverse to spending money. I suppose I just assumed that all philosophers in grad school were somewhat adverse to spend money :-)He is also extremely rational.

  4. A philosopher's wife30 April 2011 at 14:31

    Here's another tip:
    If you don't already know one, learn a language your philosopher doesn't know, and rent movies in that language. Preferably without subtitles.

  5. good enough cook30 April 2011 at 14:59

    In my experience, philosophers vary widely in their spending habits (although the grad school phase tends to make everyone pretty frugal). Generally, I am more careful with money than my philosopher.

    I have also only ever known my philosopher to stop a movie so he could replay some dialogue that was unclear. I don't think our relationship would have lasted past the second movie otherwise, so it's just as well. (You must have the patience of a saint, Katie!) The commentary takes place--it just waits for a post-movie walk, drive home, or morning-after symposium (sometimes all three).

  6. Oh, goodness. My Dad isn't a philosopher, but he comments during movies about the movies! I grew up with it, so its fairly normal. My philosopher, Hubby, doesn't pause the movie unless its a *really* important point. But most often its a comment on plot inconsistency, or some 'suspension of disbelief' that he just can't handle. Sometimes it annoys me, but most often it opens an insight that either enhances my enjoyment or ruins the movie for me. If it ruins the movie, it probably isn't worth it anyways. As often as not, we both get a kick out something and get a good laugh.

    I've found the way to get around this is to have a few movies that you both love and have watched enough times that comments have all been made -- but perhaps this requires a particular personality to be begin with?

  7. Oh this is the first time I haven't recognized something you've listed. I'm a philosopher, and a frequent movie-watcher, but don't do this -- and I'm not sure I recognize this trait in many philosophers of my acquaintance. Perhaps it is a philosopher-trait local to Texas?

    Apart from this, everything you've written so far has been spot-on!

  8. I've been doing this for years....

  9. 04:39: I do it ALL THE TIME.

    Luckily, so does my partner. Although, she's a philosophy MA, so it's a double-whammy...

    We're both Canadian, and from different parts of the country. It's definitely not just a Texan thing.

  10. Yeah, and also both my philosopher and I are not Texans (thank, God), and he has been doing this as long as I've known him.

  11. My husband is a philosophy grad student (analytic philosopher) and this is all too familiar for me! For the majority of the time, I enjoy the discussions that movies envoke. Sometimes, I just want to watch the movie and enjoy it without picking it apart and analyzing the small details. Great post :)

  12. My philosopher husband also does this... I will sometimes tell him at the beginning of the movie what my tolerance level for pausing is that day. also I've told him to give me a 10-20 min period after certain types of movies (romantic comedies) where he doesn't get to criticizes all the issues the movie had... i.e. doesn't get to ruin my warm fuzzy moment.

  13. You might consider this: I see pausing the movie to be a polite act, in that, it keeps one from talking over the movie. To be fair, I am married to a philosopher, but I'm the one who will pause the movie.