Whenever anyone asks me if it's worth it to invest in a MoviePass, I tell them to go for it. After all, having one has opened a lot of doors for me as a movie buff: I no longer have to carefully research each movie at the risk of wasting $15 on a movie that ends up being lackluster, and being able to use it to see a movie on the cheap means I have a little motivation on days when I feel too depressed to leave the house. Plus, it means I get to see movies that I know will be bad, and not feel guilty about spending money on them.
But underneath those benefits, there's a bit of anxiety over how overwhelming the prospect of an "unlimited" amount of movies can be, over the sense of missed opportunity that comes with not seeing a movie whenever you can, and over wanting to justify having a MoviePass by seeing at least one movie a month.
The subscription service, which charges $9.95 a month for an "unlimited" amount of movies when an AMC ticket will set you back about $15, has always been met with a bit of skepticism. To this day, plenty of us are still wondering if it's just too good to be true, and last week, MoviePass seemed to confirm that suspicion when it suddenly announced a "promotion" that axed the one-movie-per-day deal, only allowing users to see four movies a month. Though the company quickly walked back that decision, it kept another change that isn't sitting too well with some people: You can't see the same movie more than once.
Beyond the anxiety that MoviePass really is too good to be true — and that you therefore need to make the most use out of it while it lasts — Eva Stubits, PhD, a Houston-based clinical psychologist who specializes in stress management, says that having a theoretically unlimited amount of options really can be anxiety-inducing for some people. What movie do you spend your time on? Do you need to be watching a movie every week just because you can?
Most people in today’s society are already feeling overloaded or just dealing with a lot of things in our lives.
Eva Stubits, PhD
"Most people in today’s society are already feeling overloaded or just dealing with a lot of things in our lives, and we’re trying to cram in a lot of experiences as well, and there are so many paths to take or things to do that sometimes people can feel fearful that they’re not choosing the right option for them," she says.
Okay, yes, that might seem dramatic when we're talking about a movie subscription service. But the "paradox of choice" is a real thing. Coined by Barry Schwartz in his book by the same title, the phrase refers to why we can be paralyzed by an overload of options, and why sometimes, less is more.
If you've ever stood in a cereal aisle for 20 minutes trying to decide what to buy, you're well aware of this phenomenon. In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper conducted an experiment, where they had a group of shoppers sample 24 different types of jam, and then on another day, gave a different group of shoppers only 6 samples of jam. While the big display table with 24 jams generated more interest, the smaller table of 6 samples spurred more sales, suggesting that having a ton of choices made people less likely to actually decide on something.
I'd imagine it's the same reason I spend an hour trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix, and by the time I've decided, I don't have time to watch anything. Or, with MoviePass, I feel so pressured to see every movie out there that sometimes, I don't see anything at all.
"It’s like you never know what the path not taken might have led to, and those are just the consequences of making choices in life," Dr. Stubits says. "But if you don’t make choices then you just kind of remain stuck."
Not to mention, in addition to deciding what movie to see, you're also deciding not to do other things with your time.
"[Having the MoviePass] does put that additional stress where you have to compare the choices between seeing a movie now that you’ve purchased that MoviePass versus other opportunities you might have to do other things, like go on a hike or do something with a friend," Dr. Stubits says.
She also says that sometimes, we get so caught up in trying to make the perfect choice (à la Chidi in The Good Place) that we get overwhelmed by the pressure and end up doing nothing at all. To curb that anxiety, you might have to just make peace with the idea that you won't always choose the right thing, whether it's a movie, a cereal brand, or a flavor of jam.
"Perfectionism is the enemy of the good," Dr. Stubits says. "You might spend so much time thinking about the perfect opportunity that you pass up the opportunity itself."
To that end, maybe I need to get over trying to make the most out of MoviePass and remember that it's worth the fee if I even see one movie a month. And I'll start trying to see the one-movie-a-day plan as a way to actually reduce anxiety. If I happen to choose a movie I end up hating, it's not the end of the world — tomorrow is another day, and another opportunity to see something else.
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