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There’s Too Much Vomiting in Movies, or What’s Up, Chuck? by Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler

My family and I watch a lot of movies. Now, empty-nesters, Cheryl and I watch at least 3 movies every weekend. We catch a lot of the new releases, and watch things both heralded and ignored, Hollywood Action movies and independent, quirky films, good movies, bad movies. We often prefer the good, though bad movies have their discrete pleasures.

Gradually, like the way a marijuana high seeps into your consciousness (or so I’ve been told), we began to notice that there seemed to be a lot of vomiting in modern movies. Heaving, retching, spewing, barfing, expelling vomitus right and left. I suppose we noticed because it’s an unpleasant element to find in any film. It stands out, and when it’s done repeatedly, well, it makes you want to ask why.  Why? we asked rhetorically.

We understand, in movies about junkies and alkies, one expects at least one good scene of overindulgence emesis. Ditto movies about someone going through chemo. Though, expecting it does not lessen the disgust at having to watch it. And when a female character talks to God on the white courtesy telephone we smile and assume she is pregnant. The audience is let in on a secret, wink, wink. Will she tell her boyfriend? Or the lout she slept with only once while tanked-up at her sister’s wedding? This kind of movie shorthand is similar to The Cough. When a character in a movie coughs about 1/3 of the way in, he or she will die of tuberculosis (or whatever) before the movie is finished. The Cough is like Chekhov’s gun.

But, more troubling, alongside this understandable, anatomical disgorging by junkies and new moms and cancer patients, there is another vomit, a new vomit: one which signals—something like–high emotion in the protagonist. We might dub this ‘hurling as paroxysm.’ Heroes in movies these days throw up for myriad reasons: when nervous, sexually aroused, overwhelmed, scared, faced with something ghastly, or when they are forced to do something strongly against their character’s moral fiber. They toss their cookies to let the audience know that this is a rough spot, that this sticky-wicket was unexpected. Wouldn’t you just puke if you had to do or see this?

Well, the answer to that is not unequivocal, but still probably ‘no.’ That’s the rub. There is more vomiting in movies than in real life. Not that we expect, or even want to watch two hours of real life when we engage with a film. I’d still say, a little overflow goes a long way.

And, having observed this, this neoteric vomiting, we did not sit back and let it go unobserved, unexamined, unappreciated, unremarked upon. We took action, people. We set our scientific brains on boil. We decided we needed quantifiable evidence. Our daughter scoffed, but, with my trusty wife, Cheryl, by my side, I set up our lab, primed for whatever we would discover, knowing that it was going to be something important; and we also knew, humbly, that we would have to bring our answers, our raw data, to the world. It was, if you will, a calling.

We resolved to count vomit movies. That is, we sought to learn what percentage of the movies we watched had vomiting in them. We decided to do this for a full year. And we further established, as a limited template, that we would only be concerned with movies made in 2000 or after. It’s an arbitrary date but we are arbitrary scientists who love a good round century.

During that period, from June 20th, 2015 to June 20th, 2016, we watched 185 new movies. And we kept a simple chart, called The Regurgitate Gauge, ticking off each film under one of two categories: ‘Films Sans Upchuck,’ and ‘Films Containing Upchuck.’  I know, I’m purposely stretching this out for dramatic effect. You are on the metaphorical edge of your seat.

Here are the results: Out of the 185 new movies we watched in that 365-day span, 80 of them had at least one character lose his or her lunch. That’s 80/185, or 43.24324324324324%. We find this figure astonishing. Our conclusion: there’s too much vomiting in movies.

Can some sort of major prize be in our future? Don’t you think? The Nobel for Sociology? The Pulitzer for Writing about the Cinematic Arts? The National Medal of Science for Upchuckology? Who nominates for these things?


Corey Mesler, Columnist

Corey Mesler has published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Good Poems American Places, andEsquire/Narrative. He has published 8 novels, 4 short story collections, numerous chapbooks, and 4 full-length poetry collections. His new novel, Memphis Movie, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press. He’s been nominated for many Pushcarts, and 2 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife, he runs a bookstore in Memphis.

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2 replies »

  1. With all this upchucking, you’d think the movies would get better at it. My partially-digested beef is how unconvincing the hurling mostly is. Too many scenes look like the actor filled his mouth with gunk, director shouted “Action!”, and out dribbles (at best, squirts) a meager drool. Understand, I’m not asking for an Exorcist-level paint-the-walls eruption every time. The scene has to look real, and it has to fit the story. Like did the character have spaghetti for dinner (either on screen or mentioned in passing)?Then I need to see those little white pieces of pasta mixed in with the pinkish stomach contents. It’s simple continuity, people.

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