by Lauren Thompson
"Last year taught me that I need to unlearn the idea that my worth and my passions are in any way tied to my perceived ‘productivity’"
In 2018 I set myself the challenge of watching 100 films, without counting rewatches, in a bid to diversify my viewing and watch more movies. To my mind, my media consumption had become stagnant, bogged down by list upon list of friendly recommendations and long-shelved ‘must-watch’ movies from college and university film studies.
So, in much the same way people streamline their workload or self-optimise to see better results, I gamified one of my favourite hobbies. After two years of perceived ‘failure’, 2020 was the year I finally completed my challenge. With little else to occupy my free time during a pandemic, it became easier to routinely watch new films, as well as an encouraging distraction in an awful situation.
Though, at a time, when I felt compelled to seek the comfort and nostalgia of my old favourites, I began to feel a sense of guilt. Watching films became about reaching a set goal, rather than enjoying myself. Every rewatch became time I could have spent adding another film to the list, an act of procrastination or indulgence. Nonetheless, I stuck it out.
The few films I did watch at the cinema last year feel all the more significant now the experience has become such a precious commodity. The first of these was Cats, a CGI-nightmare I saw out of sheer masochism and a genuine love of the quirky stage musical that was a minor obsession of my childhood years. Needless to say, this adaptation was a wholly unpleasant experience and quite an odd start to my movie-watching marathon.
And so the year became punctuated by the before times, the when-I-could-sit-in-a-room-of-people-and-not-feel-strange times, and the stripped back, distanced viewing of Tenet during the in-between. All before returning to the seemingly endless library of content afforded to me by various streaming platforms, the sheer range of which I often admittedly took for granted.
Whether I was squashed between a fixed desk and conference seating at a film club showing of Knives Out in one of Warwick University’s many cramped lecture theatres, or running from torrential rain into a showing of Jojo Rabbit at the Printworks with a friend — each experience carries with it more context than even the more memorable of those films I watched during lockdown.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching films in the comfort of your home. It’s just that
when days blur together, so too it seems, do the things you do to pass the time. While the genre of films I watched were varied to be sure, the locations I watched them in remained pretty static, which doesn’t exactly help when it comes to making memories.
As so often happens with the human brain, some of my more memorable movie-watching experiences last year were the negative ones. Those really bad or average films that left me feeling like I might never watch a decent film again. Though I vowed to never think of it again, I can’t seem to forget the hour and fifty-three minutes of my life I lost watching Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana, or the disappointing second half that tarnished Luca Guadaginino’s Suspiria. Consecutively, experiences like this made me want to give up altogether.
But, when the real gems came along, I was reminded a million times over of why I love film so much. If Beale Street Could Talk, with its vivid portrayal of intimacy amidst cruel injustice, every frame intentional, meticulous. The fluid vibrancy of The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s animated world composed of pastel watercolour hues. The era-evoking cultural signifiers and escapist nostalgia of The Craft.
Leaving the gamified context of my self-imposed challenge, I realised just how much I love watching movies, and that this is a hobby I must protect at all costs. What did I learn from watching 100 films in a year? More than being a lesson in perseverance, the experience has taught me that I’m riddled with productivity guilt. It’s a feeling that extends beyond my work life and deep into my hobbies and how I spend my free time. Last year’s challenge taught me that I need to unlearn the idea that my worth and my passions are in any way tied to my perceived ‘productivity’.
I’m all for reading and watch lists, targets to motivate us throughout the year and keep us on track. What I’m here to remind anyone reading this is: when it stops being fun, it may be worth reassessing expectations, and reconsidering why these goals are important to you. Try to recognise the journey rather than fixating on where you’ll end up. Maybe all of this is obvious to everyone but me, but if even one person needed the reminder, then it feels worth mentioning.
On the bright side, I’ve watched more films over the past few years than ever before. The watch list never ends, and there will always be films I put on the back-burner with the intention to watch ‘at some point’. The joy of having a hobby you love is being able to give yourself the time and space to enjoy the process, as and when feels right for you.
There was no medal presented at the end of 2020 upon completion of this feat of mine, no resounding applause or pat on the back. A hollow sense of self-achievement maybe, but was it worth temporarily turning one of my favourite past-times into a chore? Probably not. Am I now looking forward to never doing this again and revelling in rewatching all my old favourites guilt-free? Absolutely!
Lauren Thompson is a copywriter, editor, and freelance content creator. She has written for Little White Lies, Filmoria, Taylor Magazine & more