Stretching out my life with movies

Or, a Movie Lover's Mortality Guide
Or, a Movie Lover’s Mortality Guide

There’s this reference book, I’m sure you’ve seen it, called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Edited by Steven Jay Schneider, it provides a list of…well, the title is self-explanatory. I have the fifth edition, which presents cinema’s greatest hits from 1902 (A Trip to the Moon) to 2007 (Atonement). Now, while I have a problem with the inclusion of Atonement – and several other titles – there’s nothing like a list of “movies you’ve got to see” to get a movie freak going.

Now, I’d seen hundreds of the suggested films before I received the book. Since 2008, I would occasionally check the book to see if the movie I just caught on TCM or Netflix was on the list. About two or three years ago, I finally began to tick them off on the pages (and I usually refrain from writing in any of my books), giving me a sense of accomplishment. We all have our goals.

Funny how just last night I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark (for the 83rd time), when it’s Indiana Jones on the cover of my 1001 Movies. The latest film to be checked off was Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 classic Persona, a beautifully filmed b&w supernatural drama about a nurse taking care of an actress (Liv Ullmann) who suddenly stopped talking during the performance of a play (to clarify: she was an actress in the play, not in the audience, which would have made for a far more mystifying film experience).

I knew I had viewed a decent percentage of the 1001 suggested flicks…but exactly how many? With the choice between vacuuming the house or counting the films I had seen, I counted the films I had seen, leafing through the tome, keeping tally on a pad of paper.

541 movies. Not bad.

I’m usually not a superstitious guy. But I couldn’t help thinking that as soon as I finish watching all 1001 movies, I will die. So I did the math. Well, I did my math, which may or may not be accurate. And by my calculations, if I’ve watched 54 percent of a lifetime’s allotment of great movies, then I’m 54 percent of my way through life, and since I’m 52 years old, that means my life will end when I hit 96.

But that’s if I keep watching movies at the current rate. If I slow it down a notch – you know, watch some crap movies instead of the great ones mentioned in the book – I could push back my expiration date. I mean, I could slap the face of the Grim Reaper tonight by holding off on The Lady from Shanghai and watching Happy Gilmore instead. But sometimes you’ve got to consider not the length of your life, but its quality.

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Dana Pearson is a writer living in Kennebunk, Maine.
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