Going Solo at the Cineplex
Take your elbow off my armrest and please don’t pass the popcorn
I never pictured myself as someone who would do it. For years, friends told me how they have regularly succumbed to this covert practice without fear, shame or embarrassment. Not me, no. That is something lonely people do. It is the habit of desperate individuals, those without family or friends. People without appointment calendars, invitations, schedules. I am too busy, I have friends, sisters and brothers.
Yes, of course I was snobby and judgmental. I never thought I would join the club. But since I gave it a try a few months ago, I have decided I prefer it.
I now go to the movies alone.
It all began with a cancellation and a sincere desire to see the Oscar-nominated films in the weeks leading up to the awards. I confess this new practice has spread past that unfortunate awards evening climax of winner mix-ups called Envelopegate. And it is likely to go far beyond April and May.
Initially I had planned to see a movie with a good friend. Something came up and she bowed out. I still wanted to see the film, so I went. I conquered my taboo.
And it was glorious. I wept, guffawed; I felt free. With the big screen ahead and empty seats on either side, I was alone with characters larger than life, without filters. I could recline, put my purse beside me and breathe into relief without anyone hogging my armrest, crackling candy wrappers or loudly scarfing down popcorn.
The best part? No one in the theater noticed or cared. Not the person at the ticket booth, not the attendant taking the ticket, not any of the patrons in the theater. And a bunch of others were doing it, too. I counted 17 lone moviegoers on my first trip. And that was when the lights were on.
So many theaters in the western suburbs are revamped with reclining seats and foot rests, gourmet food — even cocktails. Seeing a new movie has all the luxuries of home with the technology of surround sound and exquisite visuals. You can immerse yourself in all of this sensory indulgence while the movie is still hot —long before it goes to Netflix or Amazon.
Of course, it is easier and cheaper to stay home and watch in your pajamas. You do not have to put on shoes or park. But I love the feeling of being in a large movie theater. Even though I am alone, I am with other people in this communal artistic experience. We react together. I like to hear when other people laugh or sob.
A confirmed people watcher, I feel that somehow when you are alone, it seems less invasive to silently and discreetly observe people before the lights go out. What I notice is that even when two people are watching a movie together, they often act as if they are alone.
When I go to the movies on my own and the previews begin, I look straight ahead and immerse myself in the show. I fully enjoy the next 120 minutes without distractions, worry or guilt that I talked a friend into seeing a movie she hates. And if the movie is not to my liking, I leave early. That’s why I sit on the aisle.
It’s been 17 years since Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, a book that describes the cultural tendency of people to act independently and without interaction, doing more activities by themselves than in groups.
Much has changed in those nearly two decades; more people than ever gather for protests and town halls. There are even flash mobs that perform complicated choreography in public spaces like train stations and parks. But people are likely going to these community gatherings alone, finding out about spontaneous events via Facebook or Instagram, Twitter or text. The sense of what constitutes
a community has transformed.
My fears about solo movie-going may have been ridiculous all along because watching the movie is itself a singular experience. I am glad I have given myself permission to attend a new movie when the mood strikes, without all the back and forth of securing a companion or agreeing on a show.
But I am not universally brave. When I travel for work, I still avoid going to the hotel restaurant alone to eat at a table for one. I feel self-conscious. So I stay in my room and order room service — with a glass of Pinot Grigio if I am in the mood. I sit on the fluffy bed and turn on the TV. And, of course, I watch a movie. Alone.Edit Module