MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The movie "The Tree of Life" from auteur director Terrence Malick and starring Brad Pitt is playing in just over 200 theaters at the moment, and some of them have reported a peculiar problem: Filmgoers are walking out and in some cases even demanding their money back because the movie's just too art house.
One theater in Stamford, Connecticut, has actually posted a sign at the ticket window. It tells patrons that "The Tree of Life" does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling, and it reminds them that the theater has a no refund policy once they've bought their tickets.
A small but consistent number of patrons have been walking out of screenings at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, too. Jesse Hassinger is program manager for The Coolidge, and he joins me now. Welcome to the program, Jesse.
Mr. JESSE HASSINGER (Program Manager, Coolidge Corner Theatre): Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.
BLOCK: That theater in Connecticut was saying that about five to 10 percent of the audience walked out on opening weekend. What's the walkout rate there at the Coolidge?
Mr. HASSINGER: I would say it's approximately that. The numbers aren't spectacular on the film because it is a challenging film to begin with, but I would say that for every screening, there is at least between one and five, depending.
BLOCK: And is there a certain point of the movie when that's sort of when people up and leave?
Mr. HASSINGER: About 25 to 30 minutes in is when the film kind of goes into the celestial, very beautiful and space photography, and that's usually the point that people walk out on.
BLOCK: This is some sequence - I haven't actually seen the movie yet. It's a sequence, though, I gather that has to do with the origin of the universe, the end of time. Dinosaurs are involved. Is that right?
Mr. HASSINGER: Indeed, indeed, yeah. It's "2001" in scope. It is epic and it goes from microscopic to multi-universe in photography, and it's just gorgeous, but there's absolutely no narration and no narrative to it whatsoever.
BLOCK: Well, what are people saying as they leave your theater, if they leave early?
Mr. HASSINGER: They're either angry or they're baffled.
Mr. HASSINGER: Yeah, they get a little angry that we represented the film inaccurately because it's 20 minutes, 30 minutes into the movie and it's supposed to be about a family in the 1950s, and all you've seen of this family by that point in the film is approximately five minutes.
BLOCK: You know, I have to say it wouldn't occur to me, if I hated a movie, to ask for my money back. I guess I would figure it's sort of incumbent on me to get a pretty good sense of what the movie's about before I pay my whatever it is, $10. Are you having people ask for refunds?
Mr. HASSINGER: You're probably in the majority. People are - either want to see the film or if they get frustrated with the film, they just want to go home and not have to deal with it anymore. But there's a small percentage of people that actually do demand their money back.
BLOCK: And what do you say?
Mr. HASSINGER: We, for a number of years, have been saying about 20 minutes into the movie, if you don't like the film for whatever reason, you can come out and get a refund.
BLOCK: Now, the theater in Connecticut, the Avon, which has this sign up, sort of a disclaimer about the movie, they say that the film has proved very polarizing and they're just trying to be transparent. They also say that a lot of their patrons think the movie's a masterpiece.
Mr. HASSINGER: I'm definitely in that camp. I think it's one of the most important and best films in the past 10 years.
BLOCK: I suppose there would be people who walk out at some point in this movie hating it who would say: Look, I'm all for art house movies, I love art house movies, and this one just was terrible, I couldn't stand it.
Mr. HASSINGER: Well, kind of a funny thing has been happening, at least among my age group. I'm 30. They kind of go the opposite direction. They're saying that the overall themes are being beaten over their head and they really don't see what the whole hoopla is and that because I love it, I'm just buying into the whole thing.
So it's almost a rallying against it to say that everyone who loves it is stupid, and it's too simple to be worthwhile.
BLOCK: Has there been a movie, Jesse, that you've walked out of early?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HASSINGER: I pride myself that I don't walk out of films. I kind of have a motto that there's at least one redeeming feature in any film that is made.
BLOCK: Jesse Hassinger, thanks much for talking to us.
Mr. HASSINGER: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: Jesse Hassinger is program manager of the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts.
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