If the World Ends Next Week, It’s OK, Because Movies Are Killing Us

By  · Published on November 4th, 2016

The title pretty much says it all, man.

Listen. We could all probably use a little escapism right now. That’s where movies are supposed to come in. Not only do films offers us a simplified version of the world – a version where good things happen to good people and bad guys rarely go unpunished – they also serve as a beautiful time capsule for everything humanity has accomplished up to this point. This blog post by astrophysicist Brian Koberlein, for example, shows that our television broadcasts may travel as far as 80 light years away from our planet, meaning that the TBS marathon of A Christmas Story will likely one day outlive us all.

And normally, I’d be the first person to lead the charge on something positive. But you know what? I’m not in the mood for that glass-half-full shit today. Global temperatures are rising; Nate Silver is causing panic with his election predictions; the Chicago Cubs have just won the World Series; they’re remaking Starship Troopers. It certainly feels like Armageddon out there, so fuck it, let’s lean into that. Rather than treating film as important works of human endurance, let’s list out all the ways that your two hours of Doctor Strange this weekend are bringing you one step closer to death. Best case scenario, we get all our anxiety for the rest of the year out of our system over one long weekend. Worst case scenario? Well, you know. Armageddon.

Where to start, where to start. I know! Did you realize that the very act of sitting and watching a movie is causing you to die faster? It’s true. David Spiegelhalter knows a lot about how people die; it’s one of his areas of research as the Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University. In his 2014 book The Norm Chronicles, Spiegelhalter introduced the concept of ‘MicroLives,’ a way of dividing up people’s life expectancy into 30-minute segments of time. Therefore, each day has a total of 48 MicroLives, but that’s only the baseline: unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles can actually use up additional MicroLives every day. This allows Spiegelhalter to better quantify known long-term health risks such as smoking or consuming alcohol excessively.

The 10 Most Creative Ways Movies Have Ended the World

And movies and television made the cut of unhealthy activities. Spiegelhalter gave us a look at his research in a Slate excerpt from his book; the article includes an oh-so helpful chart that suggests that men and women over the age of 35 lose an additional 30 minutes of their lives every time they sit down to watch a two-hour movie. Seeing Moana in theaters with your kids this month? 26 minutes of your life, gone. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? 33 minutes closer to death. O.J.: Made in America? Actually, it’s probably best I don’t do the math on that one for you. Suffice to say, those two hour chunks you spend in the theater immobilized aren’t doing you any favors, even if you forego the concessions combo pack in favor of a bottled water. You are hurtling yourself towards death one feature length film at a time.

Oh, and did you happen to watch a horror movie on Monday to help celebrate Halloween? Bad move, rookie. A 2015 study by a group of Dutch scientists showed that watching horror movies can quite literally cause your blood to curdle. According to an in interview in The Guardian, these scientists set out to prove the hypothesis that so-called ‘bloodcurdling’ could actually be an evolutionary response to frightening stimuli; when confronted with a situation that could potentially lead to physical harm, your blood actually coagulates as a means to prevent catastrophic blood loss. The scientists found a link between horror movies and blood coagulation, which itself can be linked to blood clots and cardiac arrest. They’re not explicitly suggesting that you being terrified during The Babadook could lead to you dropping dead, but they are hinting strongly for the hypochondriacs out there, myself included.

Not a horror fan? Doesn’t matter: action movies are just as bad. In 2014, Cornell University released a study showing that action movies might cause us to eat more than other types of films, contributing to the long-term health effects associated with obesity. Researchers found a link between immersion and the speed with which their subjects consumed snacks; more accurately, they found that people watching the 2005 Michael Bay action thriller The Island consumed a whopping 98% more snacks than those watching the control program (a talk show). The next time you sit down to watch The Raid or Mad Max: Fury Road, you will need to hide your cupboard full of snacks from yourself or eat your way further into the grave.

Why not throw out one more? According to a study by the University of Toronto, watching sad movies can trigger depression. A group of researchers performed the study on people who had successfully completed a round of therapy for their depression issues. As a result, they found that the part of a subject’s brain that was activated during a tearjerker corresponded strongly to whether that patient would return to therapy in the next 18 months. While the study does seem to suggest that the reaction to the movie is more of a symptom than a cause – showing researchers whether a subject is internalizing depressing content or viewing it from afar – it does show how sad films could be seen to trigger those people who are living with depression and whose coping mechanisms are not as strongly founded.

So there you have it: that thing that’s supposed to keep you free and clear from the horrors of life is actually slowly killing you one jump scare/snack/sad scene at a time. It’s not really my #brand to leave things on such a negative note, but sometimes it’s important to know when to hitch yourself up by your belt and when to throw yourself on the ground and just wallow for a bit. Whatever you do, though, don’t put on a movie. You can’t spare the MicroLives.

Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)