A few years ago, my husband and I were at an art opening for a close friend. While chatting with a small circle of fellow art lovers, another mutual friend walked up, offered an apology for interrupting, turned to me, and asked, ”Who was the male lead in the movie True Romance?” After a small pause to consider her question, I replied, “Christian Slater,” at which point she enthusiastically thanked me and then walked off with a spring in her step. You see, I’m a film geek, and my friends know it. Whenever they get stumped on questions having to do with movies, actors, and directors, I’m the one they want to talk to.
I love being known and appreciated in this way. It makes me feel as if, for just a few moments, I am a superhero, taking everyone’s trivia questions and hurling back the answers with a single flick of my cape. Why does Elrond—the elf king in Lord of the Rings—look so familiar? Because that’s Hugo Weaving, who played the creepy Agent Smith in the Matrix films. Who else was in those Matrix movies besides Keanu Reeves? That would be Lawrence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Joe Pantoliano. And that last guy—why does he look familiar? Because he was Guido the Killer Pimp in Risky Business! (What else ya got?)
How have I amassed such a treasure trove of useless knowledge, you wonder? Going to movies. Yes, I watch my fair share of films on platforms like Netflix and iTunes, but I’m still a fan of the movie theater. I love the big screen, I love the surround sound speaker system, and I love sharing the experience with fellow movie goers. Mostly.
You know what my complaints are—the talking, the texting, the intermittent checking of phones, which pull my focus and attention away from the big screen and onto someone else’s little screen. (It’s amazing how bright those screens are.) It’s nothing new, is it? This is what moviegoers have been complaining about for years, decades even. Despite the fact that everyone in the theater is reminded before every single show to not talk, text, or check phones during the movie, people still do it, almost every time.
After seeing hundreds of movies in a theater, I’m used to these annoyances but still flummoxed by them. I mean, really, why have we not, as a society, agreed that it is respectful and appropriate to watch a movie (and only watch the movie) when we go to the theater? We’ve agreed to obey stop signs and street lights and to not cut in line at the grocery store; why do so many movie goers persist in behavior that is so obviously disruptive? Why did the couple sitting next to me think it was OK to talk about what was happening on screen during A Star is Born? I was right next to them, trying to watch the movie! Were they oblivious? Did they simply not care? Did they believe their purchase of a movie ticket gave them the constitutional right to yak all they wanted? Anytime this happens, both irritation and humor rise up within me, making me want to express a loud “Sssssh!” and then immediately ask, “Why? Why did you come to the theater if you’re just going to talk and check your phone?”
You see, I really want to know. I am sincerely curious about this tiny realm of human behavior.
The easy explanation as to why it is my personal policy not to talk and check my phone at a movie theater is exactly what you’d expect. It is the same reason I don’t point at strangers. It is, in a word, impolite. There are enough arenas in life where such improprieties are tolerated, at times even encouraged, where we humans inflict all kinds of small assaults on one another. I’ve seen and experienced this in traffic jams, at airports, and even in grocery store parking lots. I’m not saying that when someone pulls out an iPhone during a movie it elicits the same kind of outrage as when someone cuts me off on the highway—one is a temporary distraction in a low-stakes environment (what some might call a fancy problem), the other threatens my safety. But they are like leaves sprouting from the same stem; they demonstrate a similar kind of disregard for people around them.
We humans—we’re messy and imperfect and sometimes we just don’t care. I get it. I don’t think people who talk or text during movies are necessarily a-holes. I just think they’re missing the point, which brings me to the real reason why I don’t talk or check my phone at the movie theater (or during any movie, really.) Going to see a movie at the theater is no small feat when compared to the zillion ways I can watch my favorite blockbusters, documentaries, TV shows, and other programs in the comfort of my own home, at any time of day I want, with the utmost freedom to talk, eat, or even yodel from time to time if I feel inspired.
To see a movie in the theater, I have but a few options each day for viewings, I have to drive and park (thus taking up more of my time), and it costs more. Why do I do this? Because there is something wonderfully overwhelming about seeing a movie in the theater. It is a total escape from reality. The lights go down, the music starts, and suddenly I’m in the middle of 17th century England, a fictional country called Wakanda, or a galaxy far, far away. The earliest precursors to movies were called magic lantern shows, for goodness sakes. In the silent film era, films were sometimes accompanied by a live orchestra. Some of my most cherished memories are from when my parents took me to see drive-in movies when I was a kid in the seventies. They weren’t even movies I was interested in—they were the military and cowboy-themed fare my dad loved—yet there was still something spellbinding about the way the giant movie screen just beyond our car’s windshield seemed to hover in the sky while the stars twinkled in the distance.
After taking all the time effort, and expense to be in a movie theater, where the filmmakers’ number one goal is to transport me, the viewer, to another time, place, or realm, why would I want to intentionally take myself out of that experience to check my text messages?
When I see a movie in the theater, my intention is simple: to watch the movie, and to be transported. No one can reach me in a theater, which is significant part of the appeal. For a couple of blissful hours, I am invisible. My only job is to sink into my seat and let myself be taken for a ride. And while it can be annoying when people near me pull me out of that experience with their chatter, I’ll still always prefer the big screen. I love director Wes Anderson’s painstaking attention to detail, I love the way Annette Bening devours every one of her roles like a starved wolf, and I love the masterful way the Coen brothers take the idea of the best laid plans going haywire and set it aflame onscreen, to comic, dramatic, and horrific effect (sometimes all at once.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a movie to catch. I might even splurge on popcorn.