In the past, film used to be about 90 minutes long, occasionally running to two hours. If they went longer than that, the so-called ‘epic films’ like Lawrence of Arabia and Cleopatra, they would include an intermission. This was a boon to those who needed to use the bathroom and also to the concession stands who got to sell more stuff.
But the intermission being included as part of the film seems to have disappeared even with films running over three hours. As a result some theater owners are inserting their own. This has brought mixed reviews. I for one am in favor of an intermission but, as Nardos Haile writes others are not.
In the last few years, moviegoing has become a larger-than-life experience, and a part of that theater experience has felt like films seem to have increasingly grown longer and longer . . .
Some moviegoers have said this about Martin Scorsese’s newly released masterful Western epic “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The film is a three-hour and nearly 30-minute-long vicious tale of the Osage murders at the hands of greedy white men in 1920s Oklahoma who are trying to steal their oil money. Its runtime is not unusual for Scorsese as his last film “The Irishman” is also three and a half hours long.
But in the case of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” its lengthy, bladder-busting runtime is causing independent theaters in the U.S. and overseas in the U.K. to include intermissions. According to the British theater chain, Vue, the break they’ve implemented during “Killers of the Flower Moon” has been a success with moviegoers. Vue chief executive, Tim Richards said that they’ve “seen 74% positive feedback from those who have tried our interval.”
Meanwhile, in the states, a Colorado theater that also had an intermission was told by the film’s studio representatives that the intermission violates their licensing agreement.
This has ignited a larger discussion online on whether intermissions should be widely implemented for longer films. However, I don’t believe films like “Killers of the Flower Moon” need an intermission and, while this may be an unpopular opinion, I’m actually against them in most cases.
The most important reason to have an intermission is that people who need to use the bathroom worry that they may miss something important as well as disturb other people with the going and coming. This is a big concern for me. As to the first problem, this being the age of the internet, there is an app for that called (of course) RunPee that tells you when is the best time to make a quick break for it.
But another benefit of the intermission is that it enables you to digest and consolidate what you have seen and create anticipation for the climax to come. This is particularly beneficial if one sees the film with someone else with whom you can discuss it. I have seen this benefit with viewing miniseries, which are like long films. Having discussions after each episode adds to my enjoyment.
Haile argues that to introduce an intermission that was not intended by the director is to interfer with their vision.
But most importantly, a film like “Killers of the Flower Moon” deserves and requires an audience to be engaged in its brutal story of the massacre of the Osage people from start to finish. It’s hard for me to justify breaking up the film during scenes like when its main character Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone) realizes she is not safe because her entire family is being picked off, one by one, by greedy, murderous white men who turn out to be closer to her than she realizes. The film is not meant to be palatable for an audience: it’s supposed to shake you to the core. An intermission would only allow us to remember it’s a film and not reality – and it was very much the Osage people’s reality.
So ultimately, I don’t think intermissions are necessary to enjoy a lengthy moviegoing experience. The experience is entirely subjective and what works for me might not work for you. But I would urge you to keep in mind that seeing a film like “Killers of the Flower Moon” demands the totality of your attention span. So if you don’t have the stamina for a three-and-a-half-hour-long film, it’s OK to wait until it’s available to stream. You don’t need to pee yourself to say on Letterboxd that you conquered a nearly four-hour-long Scorsese in a theater.
As for me, I now tend to wait until the film streams.