Do movies require interpersonal conflict to be fun?

  • No ninja fighting for these turtles!

When I was little, my mother, a social worker, used me as a guinea pig for therapeutic board games that she wanted to introduce to the children with whom she worked. These games were like other board games, except players were meant to work together instead of fighting each other. No one would be attached to the same game piece for more than one turn in a row, and the game would not end until all of the pieces had crossed the finish line (i.e. when the game even had a finish line). It took me a few years to realize that these games were meant for therapy. My parents never explained that “normal” games were based on competition, so I didn’t consider them unusual. On the contrary, I have come to see competition as a possible component of the games, but by no means an essential component.

On CINE-FILE this week, Kyle Westphal quotes Laura Colella as saying she wanted to avoid a ‘traditional conflict-based conspiracy’ in her comedy Breakfast with Curtis (which my wife and I presented at Nightingale on Saturday). A read that made me think of my mom’s board games for the first time in years and to what extent they have influenced my current entertainment tastes. I’ve never been drawn to war movies and other forms of violent spectacle, I realized, and it never really bothered me if a movie, play, or novel lacks one. strong central character. Come to think of it, I tend to oppose the powerful, individualistic heroes in the lore of John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone, which might explain why I have little use for superhero movies. Anyone who thinks I’m full of crap about this or that Marvel Studios release might blame Max the Cat or Stop, Relax & Think.

As you can tell from the name, Stop, Relax & Think teaches children that it can be fun to stop, relax and think. When you do, you and your friends can land in the exciting position of being able to imagine your own fantasies. instead of having someone else do it for you. I find it strange that readers tell me that I could enjoy mundane entertainment if only I learned to “turn my brain off,” as if thinking was antithetical to pleasure. This distinction between intellectual pleasure and sensory pleasure seems to me as arbitrary as the expectation that films revolve around interpersonal conflicts. There are many entertaining films that can be cited where interpersonal conflicts play a minimal role in the storytelling or not at all – the film by Richard Linklater Waking life, John Ford She wore a yellow ribbon, by Jacques Tati Break, and Powell and Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale are a few titles that come to mind. I would also say that the most entertaining parts of the current hit guardians of the galaxy are the ones who dispense with conflict to focus on the budding friendships between the film’s bizarre characters. Is it a coincidence that Guardians happens to be the most imaginative comic book movie of the summer?

Ben Sachs writes about the movies every Monday.

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