Fatigue, or Something like it.

Wilmer Acosta-Florez
5 min readMar 25, 2021

Struggling to find reason to visit movie theaters, or…anything, really.

Full COVID-19 disclosure: I live in Tallahassee, Florida. Since late summer, much if not all business in the state has presumed unabated, save a couple of strict county mandates here and there. Given this unique situation, I understand that my column might resonate with only a select few. Take this to heart and enjoy.

I Can’t bring myself to indulge in public exhibition. Wait, not that kind. I’m talking about the kind that involves one venturing into a retail plaza with the intention of putting up hard-earned cash in exchange for a service. Wait, not that either. It’s an often overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that now follows the usual morning coffee, exercise routine or trip to the grocery store. Perhaps this is a symptom of something serious, maybe not. What I know is that I’m certainly not alone.

I’m hardly one to overthink a situation or place blame on something out of my control like, say, a nebulous viral pandemic. But goddamn, am I tired. Outside of work, I find it increasingly difficult to find creative avenues in which to make the most of life. Like many out there, I felt like my life was finally beginning to blossom into something a little more meaningful; the blurry lens that obfuscated a great degree of what laid before me, finally cleansed.

Overdramatic? absolutely. But I make the point to emphasize something that has surprised me about my own behavior in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: I’ve stopped indulging in most, if not all, of the things that bring me comfort.

Hindsight is a hell of a thing. I’m recalling now the heady summer days of 2020 when Christopher Nolan, the world’s premier action director, mustered the collective might of his influences at Warner Bros. to unleash the boldest post-COVID launch strategy for TENET. Many have maligned Warner Bros. and Co. for their callous rush to market. Others, particularly those who continually disregard the harmful and lasting effects of COVID-19, have lionized Nolan for his boldness and show of strength in the wake of the pandemic.

The myriad postmortems produced in TENET’S aftermath don’t necessarily paint the rosy portrait of prosperity that Nolan and Warner Bros. wished to project. Heaven only knows what their internal metrics showed; could’t be cheery given the lack of fully functioning theaters at the time of it’s late summer release.

Conservative estimates put TENET’s break-even threshold at a cool 400 million. A general rule of thumb for determining a film’s price tag is to double its initial budget; this’ll give you a rough calculation of a film’s profitability and take into account marketing, etc. TENET’S initial budget was 200 million, meaning it would need to recoup that amount in addition to whatever investments were made in marketing, roughly another 200 million. As of November, TENET has racked up 350 million at the worldwide box office. Not good, but not bad either.

What was the lesson learned? Given Warner Bros.’s complete 180°, in addition to the deluge of soiled pantaloons in shareholder’s offices the world over, the lesson learned was straightforward: Release your properties where the people feel most comfortable, i.e streaming. That’s all well and good but here’s the issue: studios aren’t releasing their films. Instead they capitulate to the now tiresome strategy of delay, delay, delay. How many times is MGM gonna delay the release of NO TIME TO DIE? Are they dumb? Inconsiderate? Loony?

Of course not. They know something that’s been apparent since the mid-70’s — specifically in the wake of the release of JAWS. Movie theaters (EXHIBITION, as the industry terms it) are just too damn lucrative. Too much money to throw to the wind with nary a platform to emulate its exorbitant highs. Home distribution down’t come close to scratching that mountain-sized itch, but what is?

And so, studios like MGM cling to their pearls. They cross their fat, sweaty fingers, and pray to…something. Anything that’ll signal an end to this worldwide stagnation. Those who couldn’t weather the drought pivoted to VOD and streaming. The results have been nothing if not mixed.

Now I’m just as thankful as anyone else for the bounty of riches provided by the likes of Netflix, The Criterion Channel, and Shudder, but I believe it’s important to highlight what was lost in translation. The sea of content out there is deafening; a near literal wall of sound and imagery where one property becomes unrecognizable from the next. Is anyone still watching MALCOLM & MARIE, should I even bother reviewing it? What about TIGER, the semi-new Tiger Woods documentary launching weekly on HBO max? I’m thoroughly enjoying it, but has star-athlete-docuseries-fatigue set in yet? I’m not quite sure.

Or what about the excellent JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH released in theaters and streaming? Now there’s a genuinely captivating film with plenty to say. Is there still interest for that? It’s exhausting, nerve-frying. Best of all, it’s the greatest of all first-world problems, and it comes as a result of our over-bearing privilege. In the face of all that, you must ask yourself: If I’m overloaded with content at home, then why would I ever go to a theater?

Why deal with awful traffic? Dreadful weather? And to say nothing of the theaters habitability. I know I’ve dealt with my handful of unpleasant movie theater experiences ranging from noisy audiences, to lousy air-conditioning, to dank and dreary ambiences. there have been plenty, believe me, but never enough to scare me away. Not even close.

But alas, everyone’s different, and though people like us might register these minor hindrances as such, suffice to say that others would be satisfied with disengaging in public exhibition entirely. It’s the case, perhaps, that I’m beginning to sympathize with this growing cohort. Maybe it’s the lack of meaningful activity outside of work that has fostered this self-induced apathy. A general feeling of despair that follows the profound realization that things will never be the same again.

You can read more of my work, including film reviews, at The Gondo Review.

--

--

Wilmer Acosta-Florez

Writer with knowledge of film and film culture. Just as excited for the next big release as anyone else. Let's talk?