Sunday, May 26News For London

Killers of the Flower Moon’s runtime reignites debate on ‘pee breaks’

Image by: Shaurya Thapa. Developed by: DALL-E

“Is the movie not over yet?,” asked Brian, a snacks counter employee at the Regent Street Cinema. The question was addressed to me as I got up for my second visit to the loo. What movie was I watching? Martin Scorsese’s 206-minute-long epic Killers of the Flower Moon.

Touted as a potential Oscar Best Picture winner, the screening began at around seven at night. But the curtains closed incredibly at half past ten.

Scorsese impressed everyone in the hall barring Brian and his workmates, all of whose Sunday night shift got lengthier.  

But unlike Regent Street and the rest of London’s cinemas, the Vue chain of multiplexes seemed to care about cinemagoer’s bladders by adding a 15-minute intermission in the middle of Killers of the Flower Moon.

The decision drew positive reactions from audiences even though Scorsese and the studios weren’t pleased.

A Vue cinema. Image by: Huey Images from Unsplash

In fact, as Variety reports, Paramount and Apple had been contacting independent theatres and chains like Vue over breaching contracts by including a built-in break.

The acclaimed director defended his 3.5-hour runtime as he told Hindustan Times that people usually don’t get up during lengthy theatre performances out of respect for the performers. “There are real actors on stage, you can’t get up and walk around. You give it that respect, give cinema some respect.”

But a large consensus of the general filmgoing audience does feel that intervals are justified for long movies like Killers of the Flower Moon and its 2023 predecessors Oppenheimer (3 hours), Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (2 hours 45 minutes), and John Wick: Chapter 4 (2 hours 49 minutes). Even Ridley Scott’s Napoleon (2 hours and 38 minutes) continues its director’s affinity for long epics.

Given the abundance of lengthy runtime of these 2023 hits, Susie Smith (name changed on request), 28, wasn’t too surprised with Vue’s decision for an interval. The customer service assistant at Vue’s Harrow branch said: “I was surprised Oppenheimer didn’t have one. Customers had a hard time getting up for a pee break and not missing out on the big explosion.”

The debates over intervals are particularly surprising for Indian filmgoers considering that every theatrical presentation in India comes with a neatly tailored interval in the middle.

The emphasis on intervals in Indian cinema can clearly be seen from the fact that the very word “interval” pops up within most mainstream movies, often at a dramatic cliffhanger. Even when it comes to Hollywood offerings like Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon, each screening pauses the movie at midpoint.  Considering that mainstream Indian movies are also abundant in song-and-dance numbers, a 3-hour runtime isn’t that surprising for the country’s cinemagoers.

A screengrab from UK cinema chain Odeon’s official website explaining why Odeon screens have intervals for Indian movies. Image by: Odeon

Arihant Arora, 24, an Indian doctor who also runs the music and cinema Instagram page Lorem Wav, feels that intervals make for the quintessential movie-watching experience for Indian cinephiles.

Referring to intervals as a “privilege for Indians”, Arora told Westminster World: “Waiting till the interval to go outside to get a tub of popcorn and a cold drink, talking about the first half and making guesses for the next one, this 15 min break has definitely been like a custom for me.”

But even in India, there are directors who share the same view on intervals as Scorsese. Anubhav Sinha, the director behind acclaimed Hindi-language social dramas like Article 15 and Mulk, is one chief proponent. In a tweet from 2020, Sinha wrote how directors are pressured to add a “mini climax” at the intermission point just so that the snack counter of cinemas can make money.

All the ‘pee break’ jokes on social media aside, an interval-free presentation does affect the viewing experience for people with Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) like cystitis and urethritis and medical issues like ulcerative colitis (UC), a condition that results in frequent bowel movements.

Even as Scorsese’s movie spawned arguments on customer comfort in the cinema, interval advocates can watch the Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer in the comfort of their homes as it’s expected to stream on Apple TV+ in early December.

Responding to a Reddit comment urging the return of intermissions with Killers of the Flower Moon, Redditor Shandelle said: “I am with you. I have severe UC and unfortunately will probably have to wait until this comes to streaming.”