As a critic, I believe it’s important to try to test your limitations in reasonable ways. I dislike being frightened, but horror is a successful and socially significant genre, so I recognize that it’s important for me to at least attempt to sit through some of those movies. But if you test your limits, sometimes you’ll fail. And recognizing the difference between a bad movie and one that simply isn’t to your taste or that is beyond your capacity can be a clarifying experience. It’s worth it to try a movie that might push you, and it’s perfectly all right to walk out if it pushes you too far.
I’d actually known quite a bit earlier that “Doctor Sleep,” an adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to “The Shining,” was not a movie I could enjoy. The scene that alerted me that I might end up heading for the exits was actually more mundane than eerie.
Early in “Doctor Sleep,” Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), an unhappy adult who has dulled his visions with drugs and alcohol and inherited his father’s penchant for violence, wakes up in bed with a naked woman after a bender. She’s unconscious, perhaps overdosed, and has vomited on the sheets. Danny discovers that there is a tear-stained, neglected toddler in the apartment with them as well. Rather than getting help for this miserable little family, or even changing the child’s diaper, Danny sets the child on the filthy bed with a bag of Cheez-Its as poor consolation before rifling through the mother’s wallet and fleeing.
It is often worth watching difficult and ugly material because such art gives us a way to face up to human experiences that we’re unlikely to encounter in person. But I didn’t walk out of “Doctor Sleep” because I didn’t want to confront the fact that children are sometimes miserable, and that they are sometimes treated with profound indifference or even cruelly abused.
If anything, as a relatively new mother, I’m too familiar with what it’s like when a child is afraid or in pain, and what it feels like to be unable to provide a small, vulnerable person with immediate relief. I’m so steeped in the needs and feelings of a very young child that I’m simply not capable right now of treating violence and neglect toward children with the level of detachment that would enable me to consume those images as entertainment, or even as an attempt at edification. So I walked.
There’s also a difference between dismissing a movie that does not explicitly cater to your tastes and demographic, and trying and giving up on a movie that pushes you in some profound ways. The night after I gave up on “Doctor Sleep,” I went to see “Ford v Ferrari,” a movie that theoretically should bore me silly: I know very little about cars, I’m not terribly interested in car racing, and the only woman with a real role in the movie, driver’s wife Mollie Miles (Caitriona Balfe), might as well not be there at all. None of that mattered: “Ford v Ferrari” may be the most fun I’ve had at the movies in 2019. Like the Ford GT40 its characters design, test and race in Daytona and Le Mans, “Ford v Ferrari” zips along while still staying firmly on the ground. The movie is a gorgeous showcase for Matt Damon as car designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as driver Ken Miles as they bicker with each other and executives at Ford about the best way to build cars and drive them extremely fast, which is really a way of arguing about the best way to live.
If I’d confined myself to screenings based purely on what I was certain I would like, I wouldn’t have had an unpleasant hour at “Doctor Sleep,” but I also would have missed the delights of “Ford v Ferrari.” I believe movies are supposed to be transporting. Sometimes the journey will be worth it. Sometimes it won’t. But remembering that you’re free to leave a movie will save you time and resentment, just as leaving yourself open to being surprised can be a source of unexpected joy.