From ‘Fight Club’ to ‘Girl, Interrupted’, are there certain films that should be warning signs in a new relationship?
If his favourite film is Pulp Fiction, run. If he thinks Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street is ‘cool’, he’s obviously a misogynist. And if she loves Girl, Interrupted? Get out while you still can.
Talking about your taste in films is a pretty normal and popular topic for a first date. There’s always a chance your date might think your choices are a bit basic or just straight up bad (Adam Sandler fans, we’re looking at you…) but sometimes judging someone’s film taste can go further, being interpreted as a red flag for relationship abuse.
For better or worse, the ‘soft boy’ has become somewhat of an internet bogeyman
For better or worse, the ‘soft boy’ has become somewhat of an internet bogeyman. Principally defined by his cultural interests, he’s that guy on Tinder who invites you round to watch Fight Club and chain smoke rollies on your first date. His close relative, the film bro is obsessed with cult hipster favs – think David Lynch or the French New Wave – and will roll his eyes at you if you dare mention that your favourite film is actually Mamma Mia.
There are endless Tweets, memes, TikToks and Letterboxd lists about red flag films. They’d have you believe that men who like Tarantino movies are at worst abusive and at best devoid of personality or independent thought. However, Tarantino’s films are immensely popular among all genders. Pulp Fiction comes in at number eight in IMDb’s top-rated films of all time with Fight Club, another common red flag film, at 11. Surely not everyone who would give these films five stars is the living embodiment of toxic masculinity? Most would agree that they are good films. Instead, it comes down to why someone likes them.
Most films considered red flags get that reputation for their glorification of toxic masculinity, often paired with violence, hedonism and misogyny. However, there is a different set of red flag films for women. They generally depict female mental illness with screenshots that were widely reblogged on Tumblr: The Virgin Suicides, Black Swan, Lolita, to name a few. It’s said that women who love these films are unstable and manipulative with huge individuality complexes. They probably still idolise Effy from Skins.
While liking these films alone isn’t necessarily a red flag, over-relating to sad girl fictional characters isn’t a substitute for therapy. The same goes for men who relate to Fight Club’s Tyler Durden or – shudder – The Joker.
But can our taste in films truly be a red flag for relationship abuse? Sure, overidentifying with a toxic character in any of these films is a bad sign and some of them might signal being a little pretentious, but sometimes it’s not that deep. “The number one thing that will determine red flags for abuse in relationships is going to be based more on their actions and behaviours rather than the movies they watch,” says psychotherapist and relationship coach Lizandra Leigertwood.
“Films are a form of escapism. It’s about having some time away from what might be going on in the real world, so if somebody enjoys watching documentaries about serial killers, does that make them a serial killer? Not at all. A person’s taste in films alone wouldn’t determine a red flag unless there was cause for concern in other areas.”Array
It’s unlikely that a film can change someone’s behaviour on its own, but it can affirm and strengthen existing values and beliefs. Many young people keep a mental list of films they’d consider red flags. Some are rooted in personal experience. “I dated a boy years ago whose favourite film was Fight Club and he assaulted me,” says Hayley, 24. “I don’t think I would avoid dating someone if they liked that film, but I would be cautious to look out for any signs of toxic behaviour. Fight Club stands as a cinematic success, but it also glorifies a really unhealthy mindset and can be used to perpetuate a male ideal of violence over communication.”
Rob, 26, would also consider Fight Club a red flag film, “especially if their next words are ‘Tyler Durden is so cool.’ It’s not even that I don’t like it, but a huge portion of the fanbase don’t realise that it’s pointing a finger at them and their toxic behaviour.”
However, it’s not as simple as writing off anyone who likes these films. “The most important thing for me is, ‘why is it their favourite film?’” This is the question it always comes back to. Someone might appreciate a certain film’s cinematography or overall message while despising the characters and realising that the lifestyles they romanticise are flawed.
Most of us wouldn’t immediately cut someone off or stop dating them if we considered one of their favourite films a red flag. Like all relationship red flags there’s a sliding scale based on our personal values and experiences. It usually takes more than one red flag or example of bad behaviour to decide to end a relationship. If someone says their favourite film is The Wolf Of Wall Street they might still get a second date. If they say their favourite film is The Wolf Of Wall Street and spend the whole date talking about money and eyeing up every woman who walks past and sneaking off to the toilet for bumps of coke then the second date is less likely.
While most psychologists agree that you cannot predict someone’s behaviour based on their taste in films alone, relationship psychologist Dr Shyma Jundi suggests “it can actually be a healthy form of values exploration. Asking a date’s views on this early on can be a non-pressured way to explore approaches to relationships. What is more useful than blanket stereotyping is to use it as a basis to start a conversation about values and what someone deems as healthy and unhealthy in a relationship.”
Centring debates about abusive relationships on the culture we consume can be reductive. Real relationship red flags exist – not respecting your boundaries or calling all their exes crazy, for example – and focusing too heavily on film taste can misdirect the conversation around toxic relationships. These conversations are usually approached in a tongue-in-cheek way.
[talking about taste in films] can actually be a healthy form of values exploration
Telling someone your favourite film is Pulp Fiction is more likely to be met with an eye roll than with your date running off in the opposite direction. “It’s about observation and non-assumption,” continues Dr Jundi. “We can approach these debates as further means through which we foster awareness around abusive relationships and potential early indicators of abusive tendencies.”
While the misogynistic, entitled, abusive American Psycho fan might exist, that doesn’t mean everyone who likes that movie is misogynistic, entitled and abusive. Sometimes these sweeping generalisations are little more than internet memes that help make us feel better about the depressing state of online dating and our failed relationships.
That said, if I get ghosted by one more man whose favourite film is Pulp Fiction, I’m giving up on dating altogether…