Willem Dafoe: People would rather stream something ‘stupid’ than go to the movies

Willem Dafoe might get nominated for an Oscar this year for Poor Things. Poor Things is looking like a critical darling/word-of-mouth success of the season, and Emma Stone isn’t the only actor getting Oscar vibes from the film. If Dafoe does get nominated, it will be his fifth nomination with zero wins. I would argue that Dafoe absolutely should have won for The Florida Project, but that year, the Best Supporting Actor Oscar went to Sam Rockwell for his performance in the god-awful Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I like Sam and everything but for the love of god, Dafoe’s performance was a million times better. Anyway, Dafoe is back on the awards-season grind and he recently made some interesting comments about art in the age of streaming:

Willem Dafoe recently told The Guardian that “more difficult movies, more challenging movies” usually fail to perform well on streaming platforms because most subscribers just want to go home and “watch something stupid.” That’s a problem for someone like Dafoe, whose movies are often dense and challenging such as “The Northman,” “Inside” and “Poor Things,” just to same a few of his recent offerings.

“The kind of attention that people give at home isn’t the same,” Dafoe said. “More difficult movies, more challenging movies can not do as well when you don’t have an audience that’s really paying attention. That’s a big thing. I miss the social thing of where movies fit in the world. You go see a movie, you go out to dinner, you talk about it later, and that spreads out. People now go home, they say, ‘Hey, honey, let’s watch something stupid tonight,’ and they flip through and they watch five minutes of 10 movies, and they say, ‘Forget it, let’s go to bed.’ Where’s that discourse found?”

“They aren’t making movies the same way they used to,” he continued. “They’re being financed by toy companies and other entities, and they become the vehicle to make the movies, because they know how to do that. Streaming, they’re becoming like a monopoly, they have the means of production and distribution. And so it’s very complicated.”

The four-time Oscar nominee couched his comments by noting he’s a “crummy” and “lousy” source to be dissecting the film business or “to have a really good overview on what has changed,” but he’s correct when he says that streamers like Netflix have their own production arms and thus have the power to make and distribute movies straight to an audience designed to like “something stupid” over a challenging movie. Dafoe did not call out Mattel by name, but that toy company now also has a film division (and it’s off to a blockbuster start with “Barbie”).

[From Variety]

He’s right and he’s wrong. I absolutely believe that people are more likely to stream something stupid or uncomplicated just because it’s easier and more accessible. The pandemic showed people that watching the latest movie doesn’t have to be a grind – they can sit at home and watch new(ish) releases in comfort, and that comfort will often extend to, let’s say, “unchallenging” pieces of art. That being said, I rented like ten movies on Vudu over the holidays and I watched them all from the comfort of my home and I watched each one from start to finish because I could engineer my own bathroom breaks and snack breaks. That’s something else which Dafoe is partly referencing too – there are a lot of people who will finish a movie if they “paid” for it. I can watch 20 minutes of some stupid Netflix movie or Prime movie and stop because I don’t feel like I’ve paid specifically for that one bad movie. And yet I finished Killers of the Flower Moon even though 120 minutes into it, I was exhausted by the torture p0rn of Native Americans. I still finished it because I paid for it.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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61 Responses to “Willem Dafoe: People would rather stream something ‘stupid’ than go to the movies”

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  1. MichaelaCat says:

    When I go to the cinema, it’s usually for arthouse movies or non-English movies. This because they get way less of a chance worldwide than Hollywood stuff.

    I also like watching stuff like “a crow that does super smart things” or “my kitten meets my puppy” on Youtube.

    Hollywood has always had large privilige, and often puts up the same type of main characters (white men). My apologies for preferring crows and not caring much for their complaints.

    • Flowerlake says:

      I enjoy watching Jin from BTS fake-cry while he eats noodles as well, and more like that 😉

      We have a lot more choice of what to watch now than before we had the internet, when a small group of people decided what radio, movies and series we had access too.

      Tough if they can’t handle the competition, now that they can’t monopolize the access we have anymore.

    • MoxyLady007 says:


      Maybe if exponential end stage capitalism wasn’t hell bent on destroying its work force both mentally and physically, pushing towards a return to fascism AND the lighting the planet on fire – your audience might have more bandwidth for bleak depressing movies.
      Just. Saying.

      • Justjj says:

        This. All day. Reality is bleak AF right now. I love the Greek weird genre and really appreciate these films and enjoy Lathimos as a director but at the same time, I get why people would rather tune out and watch something stupid and sensationalist. In my precious weekend hours off of work, there are a lot of things I would rather do usually than go to the movies, like spend time with my friends and family…

      • Traveller says:

        Absolutely true.

      • Deering24 says:

        Amen to that. We’ve got fascism desperately trying to grab global reins. People are overworked to wreckage-point–and past-worn-out. And one really insidious increasing problem is that way too many things that should be easy have become ridiculously-complicated. (Ever try getting help from Verizon just to find out why your net service has gone down? Ever try getting your account verified at all? Took me two hours-plus and running all over the house the last time to get the former straight. 🤮) And there is no way to predict what will be hard and what will be easy–as a result, you can rest assured you are going to wind up exhausted at day’s end no matter how simple its chores. I say this as a single woman caregiver–and I have no idea whatsoever how parents and married couples or working-class people make it at all. All that is to say is that I have the right to any escapism that keeps me from complete despair/wanting to strangle people–whether it be Agatha Christie, Dr. Pol, some dumb bad-horror movie…or whatever. I can still handle the grim stuff, but I won’t take a heavy diet of it.

      • Christine says:

        I completely agree. I default to something like Parks and Rec a lot, because real life is just so fucking depressing right now.

  2. Nikomikaelx says:

    Yeah, i often watch “easy” movies when home, that way i can cook, stretch etc while its on the background haha

    • equality says:

      Exactly. It’s background noise so not anything that requires you to have to concentrate on the screen or give it big thought. Same way if you are watching while going to sleep or at the end of a long day when you are tired of having to think for your job. He needs to realize that ordinary people have other stressful things to think about without.

  3. StillDouchesOfCambridge says:

    Willem seem to know well the reality, he must be the same: Hey, honey, let’s watch something stupid tonight,’ and they flip through and they watch five minutes of 10 movies, and they say, ‘Forget it, let’s go to bed‘. I like streaming whatever I feel like, and it’s starting to feel very heavy to have actors and directors tell us what we should watch and where we should watch it. Do a better job promoting if it’s a “harder” movie.

    • Robert Phillips says:

      Or maybe it’s just that people really don’t like those hard dramatic movies. Even ten years ago for most people if you wanted to watch a movie you had just a few choices in which theatre to go to. And then even fewer choices of which movies to pick from. So yeah the studios could make a big drama. And people would see it because it was the only choice they had. But now with choices. People aren’t choosing those movies. Yeah part is because they are busy with other things. But look through history. Shakespear’s comedies always did better than the tragedies. And ask any twenty year old today. They can tell you who the three stooges are. But very few can name Lawrence Olivier, or even Bette Davis.

      • StillDouchesOfCambridge says:

        Could very well be too @robert philips. But i’m really eye rolling the industry people coming out to say, dont watch super hero movies, they’re not real movies, dont watch at home, go out to theaters, dont walk out of our 3 hour movie to pee, stay to the end and pee on yourself, etc. Let the people enjoy their down time however they like, wherever they like and let people pee. Like I said do a better job promoting, revise your budgets and/or make it more affordable, attractive for people to wanna go.

  4. L84Tea says:

    I love going to the movies and getting the full, loud movie experience. But these days, we rarely go for one reason and one reason only–the cost. For me, my husband, and two sons, it should not cost us $80 plus dollars (and that doesn’t include snacks) to see a movie. That’s 2 tanks of gas for me. It’s not that I’d prefer to sit home and watch something stupid.

    • SueBarbri33 says:

      Exactly this. And where I live, you also have to include the price of parking. The movies as an experience is much worse than it was when I was growing up.

    • AlpineWitch says:

      Exactly!! I loved going to the cinema, but after 3-4 movies in the theatre, it’s the same amount of money one can spend for a yearly subscription to a streaming service.

      Contrarily to other comments, streaming also allows me to watch foreign films in original language with subtitles, a chance I wouldn’t have unless I was driving 140 miles to get to the first theatre that shows them.

      • Eurydice says:

        The same here. I’ve watched some great foreign language films and TV shows that would never be shown in the theaters. And if there was one showing, I’d have to take public transportation for an hour to get there.

    • swaz says:

      L84Tea you spoke for both of us ❤ My husband and I, 2 popcorn 2 small diet cokes $85 and then you’re stuck there watching some awful movie🙄🙄

    • MoxyLady007 says:

      The expense of going to the movies is WILD.

      After mass shootings in theaters, circulating Covid and the extreme increase in the cost to “experience” a movie in the theater as opposed to your own home, with your own snacks and blankets and bathroom breaks – yeah. I’m good watching at home.

      And I agree. I have watched more Korean movies recently than ever would be possible at the theater.

      Willem is making the mistake in thinking because people aren’t watching HIS movies, they must be watching non mentally stimulating or challenging subject matter.

      When really – the last 6+ years have been bleak as hell and no one wants to “escape” into another bleak scenario.

      The world changes Willem. Perhaps take a larger view when picking your films.

    • lucy2 says:

      Yup, it’s expensive. When I go, it’s usually meeting a few friends for dinner out and then the movie, and it’s not a cheap night. I still enjoy it every once in a while, but it’s not an accurate comparison with streaming something at night – I do that like I used to watch network tv, for something on while I’m winding down the day.
      I also live in an area where few art house type films are shown in theaters, so I usually rent or buy them at home.

      I think a lot of well paid actors don’t realize that, most people have been feeling the pinch in recent years, everyone’s bills have gone up and going out to movies becomes a luxury easy to cut out.

      • Deering24 says:

        lucy2–a lot of well-paid actors see movies at free screenings-or-festivals or friends’ houses. They probably haven’t paid for a movie in years…

  5. Sarah says:

    I work at a children’s hospital and my job can be a lot sometimes. So I do usually choose lighter fare to watch at home and at the movie theatre. I’m not interested in artificial misery for my entertainment. Others may feel differently and that’s fine for them. We don’t all have to watch “challenging movies”.

    • Brenda says:

      Yup. I see enough suffering during the day I don’t need to watch it on a screen.
      Also, he’s a little tone deaf too.
      If I didn’t have to worry about money, I’d take my kid out for experiences every day.
      Streaming is more for when you’re tired and feeling a little short.

    • Chaine says:

      ITA. My job is very stressful and I don’t want to spend my downtime entertainment on stressful movies, or even movies that require a lot of mental gymnastics to follow. I prefer a silly comedy or romcom or an interesting documentary.

  6. Labelladawna says:

    Listen Willian, humanity is in a tailspin and the last place I feel safe is in a darkened theater with a bunch of people I don’t know. So yes, I’m gonna stream something stupid in the safety of my home!

    • Seraphina says:

      All of this. ALL OF THIS.
      Plus the cost to go. And the older I get, the more I like being able to start a movie when I like, pause it when I like and get whatever I like to eat – as I lay on the sofa under my blanket.

    • Kate says:

      Yeah, honestly every time I’m in a theater these I wonder a bit if there’s going to be a shooting. I wouldn’t say I’m terrified to be there because I know it’s statistically unlikely, but it always crosses my mind these days. That, plus the expense, plus other people being on their phones, plus the often poor sound quality and need for subtitles that are only available at home, plus no bathroom breaks and interminable commercials and overly long movies…knocks it down from being something that is a regular occurrence to going only for specific movies that I really want to see on the big screen and think will be more fun to experience in a crowd.

      • Brenda says:

        Well since we’re talking about the possibility of theater / public space shootings, I would like to mention the Stop The Bleed training program, in which non-medical people can learn skills to stop life threatening hemorrhage from any cause, whether it’s shootings or accidents etc. There are fewer classes post COVID than there were beforehand, but look for a free/nearly free one and eventually it will come up. And if you can’t find a local class, call your local hospital and ask them to start one.

      • Kate says:

        @Brenda what a great resource, thanks! I’ve done a few CPR/emergency trainings through my office and they are so useful to have some sense of what to do in an emergency.

  7. Michel says:

    Everything said above plus I can watch a movie with my dog and cats. So much better than people!!!

  8. Eurydice says:

    There are 365 days in a year. There are not 365 different movies at the theater in a year, let alone 365 good movies.

    Sitting through a movie I hate or find incomprehensible, just because I paid for it, isn’t going to make me love it or understand it better – it will just make my dislike more memorable because I will also remember the discomfort and stupidity of wasting 2+ hours in the theater, plus a couple of hours travel time.

  9. Rainbow Kitty says:

    Well, Willem, it’s expensive and germy. And for me, I prefer to be cozy at home with my family and dogs. If people want to “stream something stupid” you should just mind your business. Also, just because something is “stupid” to someone else doesn’t mean it’s stupid. That’s his opinion and that’s fine but also, it was a comment that was not needed.
    Lastly, there are people who have social anxiety, or just introverted and don’t want to be in a crowd. There are people with compromised immune systems who need to be careful not to get sick. Covid is still prevalent and anti-vaxxers are everywhere, anyone wanting to avoid catching something will absolutely avoid a movie theatre.

  10. Kitten says:

    It’s not that I don’t empathize with the cost factor but it’s really just a matter of what Americans tend to prioritize in our culture. And a lot of that is because American society is a cruel one, where we often have to choose between affording a co-pay or a movie ticket. That being said, a lot of middle class Americans who are fairly comfortable financially will not give themselves permission to spend money on art or an art-related experience. And I’m including myself in this– but it’s weird how we feel like we can’t reward ourselves with something that may seem impractical, but really enriches our lives in an intangible, but very pleasurable way.

    • equality says:

      If I do an art-related experience it is a museum or somewhere I can move around and not sit for 2 or more hours.

    • Eurydice says:

      Maybe, but Dafoe is just voicing the same complaint that comes up when technology changes things. Americans went to the movies when that was the only option. When TV came along, more stayed home. With recording devices, people preferred to take control of how and when they watched content. And with streaming, the machinery got out of the way. This is about delivery systems, not about art.

      • Kitten says:

        “Americans went to the movies when that was the only option.”

        I’m not denying that–but there are two arguments being made here for streaming: one is about comfort and convenience and one is about the cost. I was simply referring to the latter. And as someone who went to art school and is pretty well-acquainted with Americans’ attitude, our general distaste for art will ALWAYS be part of the conversation. We don’t question spending $2000 a year on Starbucks lattes, something that we don’t keep forever, yet we generally refuse to spend that much on an original painting, something that was lovingly created by another human. As I said, it’s what we choose to prioritize financially.

      • Eurydice says:

        @Kitten – I get what you’re saying. I made a career switch into the arts and it’s frustrating to see people’s work devalued. I just think this argument is a lot more complex than dismissing people as not interested in art. I can’t afford to buy a lot of art and I don’t even have a place to put it if I could, but I can afford a membership to a museum and can go to visit the art whenever I want. In the same way, people can be literary without owning a lot of books. They can download without having to buy bookshelves and, if they can’t afford that, they can go to the library – it doesn’t mean they don’t like to read.

        And, although I loathe Starbucks, I won’t dismiss the value of a nice latte – there’s aroma, taste and the comfort of an affordable splurge. As for keeping things forever, there are arts that provide a fleeting experience – theatrical and musical performances, dance, the culinary arts – we don’t keep the art, but we keep the experience. Along with all these choices, there are limited funds, limited time and everyday lives to be led – it’s complicated.

  11. JaneS says:

    Inflation. Not everyone can afford to go to the movies these days.
    Plus, the theaters sound is too loud.
    HW better start making more movies I’d care to see. Streaming or theater, not much interests me.
    Btw, talking down to your audience rarely increases fans, millionaire.

  12. Kirsten says:

    People aren’t seeing fewer films in the theatre because they’re too difficult. For me, length has a lot to do with it. Everything coming out now is SO LONG. So it has to be a spectacle (Dune, Oppenheimer, Star Wars, etc.) to sit through in the theatre.

    Like I can’t wait to see Poor Things but it’s two and a half hours long, so 100% I’ll wait to see it at home where I can pause it to use the bathroom, lol.

    • J says:

      I can’t get past the fact Poor Things is implanting a baby brain into and adult woman’s body and then making a movie that is so sexual with that character. I don’t get how this is being lauded. It seems creepy

      • kirk says:

        What! Had no idea that was what Poor Things was about! Sounds horrible! Nope! Love Willem Dafoe, esp in Grand Budapest Hotel, one of my favorite movies of all time, a “stupid movie” if you will. To be fair to Dafoe, he did say he was not a good source to be dissecting the film business or even have a good overview of how it’s changed.

      • Turtledove says:

        EWWW! I had no idea. I looked it up and it sounded like a weird take on Frankenstein with a lot of sex. But the blips I read didn’t mention the baby brain aspect… that’s really icky.

  13. Erica says:

    Life is tough enough. Let me watch uncomplicated trash at my convenience!

  14. Concern Fae says:

    The Oscars are really doing a disservice to the film industry by honoring all these films with little to no audience. I know we’ve lost the middlebrow films that used to win, but now it’s just a cool kids popularity contest. When films win based on campaigns rather than the actual experience audiences had in theaters, everyone loses.

    Typing all this, realized the problem with the Oscars is that everyone is voting based on screeners that they’ve watched at home, while audiences are streaming a totally different set of films.

    And I’ve been laughing my ass off watching horses farting on YouTube.

  15. Lc says:

    I use to LOVE! Going to the movies. But it’s become an unpleasant experience. You reserve a seat and when you get to the theater someone already in it. The theaters, despite the expense of the tickets, look like they are never cleaned. And at least every other time I’ve gone recently, someone was snoring loudly. It’s like people have forgotten how to behave in a shared space. I’m happy to spend the money to rent them at home.

    • BlueNailsBetty says:

      While cost is a factor, this 👆🏻 is the #1 reason I don’t go to movie theaters. Other humans are there and they are rude af.

      • Deering24 says:

        And I’ve always thought that in-theater-dinner-and-a-movie was a truly dumb idea. How can one watch the flick while dealing with waiters, menus, other people dealing with waiters/menus, and constant distractions?

  16. Cheshire Sass says:

    Agree w/ the comments – Going to the movies use to be a joy, now it’s a chore. Ticket reservations, seat booking, people constantly attached to distracting cell screens, rude behavior – possibility of flu/covid infection – or worse (shooter) this list goes on – The only time I’m going is during off hours and yes I’m sneaking in my own libations! With the advent of large screen TV’s there is no need to put up with all the crap while seeking “enjoyment”. The only time I’m going to the movies is if it’s something visually spectacular that should absolutely be seen on the large screen. Honestly, the magic is gone. I will 100% choose local, live productions over movies every time.

  17. FHMom says:

    Yeah we would. Going to the movies used to be fun. Now it’s a drag

  18. Lucy says:

    I’m an American, William. I don’t like going to movie theatres because I’m afraid I’ll get shot. I know it’s statistically unlikely but this country is honestly kind of a horror show.

  19. SIde Eye says:

    I agree with all the comments above. For me it was the Colorado shooting and I was never able to enjoy a movie in the theatre after that. Every time someone gets up abruptly to use the restroom or get an overpriced snack, I can’t focus. my breathing is erratic, I am wondering if someone is going to come back in and shoot up the place. The problem is mass shootings have made this experience one I no longer enjoy period.

    Second, the cost of going to the movies is RIDICULOUS. When my teenager and I decided we wanted to see the world, we did a list of the countries we wanted to visit (25 in all) and then a list of what we were going to give up to make this happen. I gave up my $7 a day Starbucks habit by buying a coffee machine and not getting my hair done for 3 years. My kid gave up movies on a rainy Saturday with a friend (about $60 for 3 people with the snacks).

    It is now a 7 years and some 20 countries later. I mean go see some film I can stream later if I am just a bit patient, or go to Australia with a little bit of discipline and some patience. Seeing some films or seeing the world hmmmm – that one is a no brainer for me..

  20. ME says:

    Well this dude would really hate me then. I don’t go to the movies and I don’t stream. Going to the movies is expensive and it’s just uncomfortable to me. I liked life better when TV was free to watch. The good old days.

  21. JaneS says:

    These comments are making me feel a bit better about my behavior.
    Since early 2018 and continuing, I have become more stay at home for several reasons.
    Ill health, finances, worry about safety, traffic situations, etc.
    I’m in MN, a mid-sized suburb and my local mall had a perp stabbing shoppers who was shot and subdued by an off duty Police Officer who happened to be shopping at the mall.
    A LOT of people no longer go to that mall. Target increased it’s pick up order area by 3 full rows in their parking lot. Online/pickup at Target + Walmart+ local grocery has increased tremendously.

    I used to go out for fun, lunches, with friends and on my own several times a month. Local theater for live music 3-5x a year, walk thru the mall, shopping in brick & mortar stores just looking, movies.

    The cost of things + the need to protect my medically fragile health has been restricting my life.
    The good old are not coming back, damn shame.

  22. Ignoto says:

    I love going to a movie theater to see a good film. I watch films purely for entertainment and I could care less about the film’s RT score or some film critic’s opinion of the film. However, I find now there are usually two types of films being made…the blockbuster film that is guaranteed to make a lot of money (ex.: Barbie, Top Gun Maverick, Avatar, and any super hero film) and films made solely for award recognition (arthouse films). There is no in between. Years ago, there used to be an in between film. In the 1990s we got lots of in between films that were also successful at the box office (ex.: The Silence of the Lambs; The Usual Suspects, Goodfellas, The Sixth Sense, etc.). The problem with these arthouse films is that not everyone will find them interesting. You will always have a niche audience for those types of films. Usually the director and actors involved in these films are not concerned with producing entertainment for the masses and are more interested in how many award nominations and wins they can rack up. If they want larger audiences maybe stop complaining and whining and make interesting and entertaining films.

  23. Mel says:

    I think he’s right. My husband and youngest son are cinema junkies movies are a big part of our lives. They catch most of what they want to see at the NY Film Festival. Then if it’s something they think would be better in the theater, or wasn’t available to them at the festival they go to the movies. Over the holiday we all went to see The Color Purple and had a great time, it’s expensive already so we like to make a night of it. Dinner and a movie. When it isn’t that deep, they go to streaming. Most of the movies I watch, i just wait for it to hit a streamer.

  24. Thinking says:

    It’s easier to watch a stupid movie while I’m doing laundry and there’s only 24 hours in a day.

    I will watch more challenging movies but they are an investment of time. I have to pay attention during the time I’m committed to watching it.

    Movie theatres are expensive. You have to schedule something that expensive into your schedule. It’s hard to do things on the fly when you’re an adult.

  25. Flamingo says:

    The only way I would see a movie now is in IMAX format. Since that is something, you can’t really get at home. Or if you’re rich rich maybe you can. But not me.

    Seeing Aquaman 2 in IMAX was so fantastic with the underwater scenes. You felt like you were a part of it.

    Otherwise, I would rather be at home. I also don’t think I could sit through a movie that is over 3 hours in a theatre. It’s too much.

  26. Paddingtonjr says:

    Going out to movies now is a luxury that many people can’t afford. Even to go to AMC’s $5 Tuesdays gets expensive – with the service fee and then adding snacks, even the kid-size, it’s around $20-$25 for one person. You can a few months is a streamer for that! I really have to want to see the movie on the big screen. I will do the Regal or AMC “mystery movie Mondays” or go to a small independent theater on occasion, but, for regular viewing, I’d rather be at home.

  27. KInChicago says:

    Where I live, by the time you pay for parking, snacks, ticket- you just dropped a fortune…
    Long ago I could gamble on a ticket and if the movie was bad, no big loss.
    Now, it’s too much of my money and time.
    And frankly, I don’t know how families afford it.
    If I watch on Netflix and don’t like it, I can turn it off, watch something else or walk away. I realize that the industry wants more money but I can’t afford to waste my valuable limited wallet contents on yet another repetitive recycled format Comic Book movie sequel prequel number millionbajillion for a couple hours in an uncomfortable seat without a bathroom break, feeling mugged by the accumulated cost.

  28. Anonymous says:

    He’s an extraordinary actor. In EVERY role I’ve ever seen him in, he killed it. He should have gotten an Oscar for The Florida Project, in my opinion. An actor’s actor, as they say.

  29. Persistent Cat says:

    People who can vote are sent the movies to watch.

  30. J says:

    Opinión – maybe unpopular – I now think less of everyone involved in poor things. It is a disgusting story premise (taking a baby brain and sticking it in a grown woman’s body) that is very uncomfortably close – but doesnt outright – to almost lauding unspeakable abuse of children and mentally disabled. It is in no way empowering to women (except to a certain kind of creepy man’s messed up fantasy mind).