The Unexpected Virtue of Slow Movies

You need to give slow movies a chance.

A long time ago, most movies were “slow,” at least by today’s standards. They took their time doing things silly things like investing in character development and establishing a believable world within the story.

Somewhere along the way, filmmakers found various ways to accelerate that process and as a result, movies nowadays are much faster-paced. Nothing wrong with that. I loved AVATAR.

Still, slower-paced movies are capable of building a cumulative impact that can’t be achieved with quick cuts and glossy one-dimensional characters. Take 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for example. Sure, the story itself could probably have been told in about 30 minutes. But the two-and-a-half hours that Stanley Kubrick took convey a sense of infinity, the vastness of space and the tiny window of existence that humans have occupied in the timeless, limitless sprawl of the universe.

Many of the Best Picture nominees at the Oscars this year were relatively slow-paced. Both BIRDMAN (congrats) and BOYHOOD essentially amount two-plus hours of people talking. To some, this could be considered boring.

BOYHOOD is the kind of film in which nothing really happens, and yet at the same time, everything happens. It has the power to affect you like a memory. It uses a combination of dialogue, acting, music, and editing to authentically capture the essence of growing up. It’s not terribly exciting, but you leave the film feeling like you just relived your own childhood, complete with emotional highs and lows, like a shared experience with the characters. Most of our own memories do not revolve around major events anyways – births, deaths, weddings, etc. – but rather around the collective experiences with the people in our lives – our relationships, friendships, loves, and losses.

BIRDMAN is wackier and more and extreme than BOYHOOD, but at its core still focuses on one man’s lifetime of successes, failures, ambitions, and dreams, all manifested through his passion project at a Broadway theatre. As with BOYHOOD, the technical components of the film all work together to draw out the joys and sorrows of being human, with both grand hopes and crippling flaws playing out through relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.

These stories take time to fully reveal themselves. If you have been raised on movies like TRANSFORMERS, where something must explode every ten seconds, then this may tax your patience. It takes some effort and perseverance to get used to watching slower movies, but the payoff can be very rewarding!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that just because a movie is slow it must also be good. It just means that movies can be slow and still be great.

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