My son Joel has a friend named Emma. Once in a while over the last couple of years, Emma has come over to watch a movie with Joel. I noticed one time that they had subtitles on.
"Are you trying to earn mastery points for Spanish class?" I asked, assuming the subtitles were in Spanish.
"They're in English, Mom," Joel informed me with an implied "duh."
"I always watch movies with the subtitles," Emma told me.
That might drive me crazy, I thought, but whatever.
Last March I visited my parents in Florida. One evening we decided to watch a movie. After messing with the remote for a minute, my mother managed to turn on the subtitles.
"If we don't have the subtitles on, we don't always get what they're saying," she explained to me.
Oh, great, I thought. I'm going to have to watch this entire movie with words strung out across the bottom of the screen. This is going to be really annoying.
But guess what?
It wasn't annoying.
It was helpful.
I made the realization that I don't always get what they're saying either. Especially if it's an action film. Or a movie with a quirky British dialect.
I realized that when I watch a movie, I'm frequently asking a fellow viewer (usually my husband), "What did he just say?" or "So what's going on?"
And the fellow viewer (Kent) usually responds with something like "Shh. I can't hear what they're saying."
My parents don't seem to have hearing loss. I don't think Joel's friend Emma is hard of hearing. I just think they've figured out something the rest of us haven't thought of:
Movies often have bad sound.
I blame it on the filmmakers.They are familiar with the movie scripts. They know what the actors are going to say before they say it. Think about it. If you already know what words are going to come out of someone's mouth, you will hear those words when they speak them. Even if it's a bit muffled. When the filmmakers preview a film, they know just what's being said because they already know just what's being said. They think it sounds fine.
Excuse me? What did he just say?
One night after I returned home from Florida, Kent and I were going to watch a movie.
"Hey," I asked him. "Do you mind if I turn on the subtitles?"
He wasn't keen on the idea. I could tell he thought it would be really annoying to have words strung out across the bottom of the screen for the entire movie.
"If I can read the subtitles," I reminded him, "I won't always be asking you what's going on.You'll be able to watch the movie uninterrupted."
He agreed to the subtitles.
It took watching a few movies together with the subtitles turned on, but guess what? Now Kent turns them on without my even asking.
Is it because he finds it helpful in understanding the dialogue or is it because it keeps me from disturbing him with my questions while we watch?
I'll have to ask him.
But not during a movie.