I Fell Asleep Watching Silence of the Lambs
With a rainy Sunday afternoon to myself, I settle into bed armed with a bowl of popcorn, a box of Smarties and a bottle of water. I scroll through My List on Netflix and excitedly realize I had been saving this film for a day just like this one.
There’s nothing like that feeling of finding something you actually want to watch, as opposed to just putting something on to distract yourself from the world. The anticipation in your gut as the MGM lion roars its way into the opening scene. Here we go. Lights, camera, action.
Fade in to my favourite film genre: the psychological thriller. Immediately, I begin to look for symbols and suspicious characters. Within the first ten minutes of screentime, my popcorn bowl has been halved.
But then, as the movie develops its context, I find my vision blurring. I blink away the fog, turn up the volume and listen intently to the emerging case at hand. A moment later, I see a close up of Agent Starling’s concerned expression, and I realize that I had dozed off, leaving me at a loss for essential context.
In frustration, I hit the spacebar of my laptop, forcefully push away the screen and within seconds I am fast asleep.
Never mind that Buffalo Bill is still on the loose, or that Hannibal Lecter’s mannerisms have been permanently burned into my brain. (Did sales of fava beans go down after this film was released?)
Fast forward two hours and I’m awake, shaking my head at it all.
Why does one of the greatest films of our time lack the power to hold my attention for two hours? Why does a midday nap take precedence over the great Anthony Hopkins’ psychotic performance?
Perhaps the greatest myth of our generation is our understanding of multitasking.
Living in a second-screen generation implies that nothing ever captures our attention fully. While immersed in a Netflix series, we’re checking our Instagram at the same time.
Hitting two birds with one stone? Not really. In fact, neither Netflix nor Instagram is likely to bear us much fruit in the long run.
My dad always said there is no such thing as multitasking.
“Oh yeah?” I’d counter, and proceed to rub my stomach and pat my head at the same time. “Explain this!”
Upon further research, it seems he was right. Multitasking implies engaging equally in two activities at the same time. But, when we’re scrolling through two screens at once, we’re not multitasking, but task switching.
Task switching is the rapid and unconscious activity of shifting our attention from one focus to another. We don't realize we’re doing it, because it occurs faster than we can process. But, we lose something precious in those moments of transference. That something may be the key to why my gentle snores won out over the terrified screams of Kill Bill’s victims.
In shifting our focus between numerous objects or activities, we lose any potential of entering a flow state, a space where all of our focus and attention is directed to one activity. Life doesn't give us the opportunity for many of these moments, and screens certainly make them fewer and farther between.
This begs the question: what does it take to hold our fleeting attention spans these days? When every single piece of cyber content exists in competition with others, what stands out as worthy to consume?
A classic, five-time Oscar winner, The Silence of the Lambs is considered to be one of the best psychological thrillers of all time and in a league of its own.
But consider the fact that it was released in 1991, and today we are living in 2021. Thirty years later, does our ability (or lack thereof) to fully immerse ourselves in a potentially outdated film force us to reevaluate its worth?
Cinema adapts to its viewers. The masses are surely not sitting down to a silent black and white film at full attention. Will theatres begin providing phone breaks during movies so audiences can get their five-minute scrolling fix?
The concept of living fully in the moment feels irrelevant in this day and age. We are slaves to every ping we hear. On the bus, an iPhone will ring and 90 percent of its passengers will frantically feel for their devices to see if it was theirs.
As our eyes slowly turn square, and with the potential for something more interesting always being out there, how do we focus on anything at all?
I don't have the answers. And, it looks like I’m getting a call. I also have to check out that new series recommended to me. You know what? Maybe I'll just go back to bed.