As we have entered that awkward little time between the prestigious Oscar films and the bombastic and exciting Summer Blockbusters, I have found myself not going to the theater as much as I would be going normally. Not going has reminded me of how much the movie theater—whether it is a small, independent theater with firm seats, no cup-holders, and a tiny screen, or one with reclining, cushioning chairs with a screen so big you have to turn your head to encompass it all—has become a home away from home. The movie theater used to be so much more; it was where people gathered; it was where art was; it was the only place you could see the biggest thing. Nowadays, we have people leaking every film on the internet and less and less people are going in order to avoid the exorbitant ticket and concession prices. Yet as I think about it, I am constantly reminded of a long year of several incidents in the theater that make me wonder if people actually care anymore, which led me to recall a piece I wrote for a class about 4 years ago. It was a piece simply titled “Movie Theater Etiquette,” where I discussed the many problems and annoyances people do not seem to understand when it comes to going to the movies, and the ignorance of those who think they can get away with being loud, obnoxious patrons. That was written in 2011 and nothing seems to have changed, rather things appear to be getting worse. So now I am rewriting it with a new outlook on the ways we appreciate our most recent art-form.
Look, I get it, sometimes you need to tell your friend or companion something that absolutely cannot wait. Everyone has done it, even myself. Now while I do not condone that it happen on a regular basis, there is a difference between whispering something very lightly to a friend and announcing it to the entire auditorium.
I experienced loud-talkers three times in 2014. I repeat, three times. The first time was in X-Men: Days of Future Past, where three guys, likely intoxicated or stoned, chatted throughout most of the movie. They were probably in their teens or early 20s, and yet there was a 4-year-old in front of them who did not make a single peep the entire time. Perhaps I need to report them more, but that puts me at a loss as a film critic because I miss out on the movie. If I leave the theater, I break a years-long streak of not leaving the theater once the film has started, even for the bathroom. Why do people think they can just chat throughout movies? Is it a rebellion against the numerous reminders to stay quiet that appear before the start of the film? Or is it their ignorance in thinking that nobody else can hear them?
When I saw Interstellar this past November I experienced probably one of the most obnoxious movie-goers I had ever had the displeasure of sitting by. For a movie that often relies on the deafening silence of space, the guy found that those moments were the opportune time to explain to his companion every plot detail up until that point. The man next to me shushed him, he took no notice. A little later he started talking again, so I turned around and shushed him again—he did not stop. Around halfway into the movie he was still going, and I turned around, tapped his knee, and said (kind of contradicting what I have just been ranting about) “excuse me, can you please be quiet?” He paid no notice so I tapped his knee again, “can you please acknowledge that I am talking to you? I will go and report you.” Nada, nothing; he still kept whispering loudly to his companion. Finally, when the movie ended, I stood up and turned around, with the lights still darkened, and told him, “Next time, don’t talk during the entire fu****** movie,” and for good measure I dropped in, “As*****” and I walked out. Sure, it might have been immature, but it was 2014. Movies have been around for over one hundred years. If you’d rather talk than enjoy the thing you spent upwards of $10-12 to attend, maybe spend that money elsewhere. Please be quiet if you can, and don’t speak so the rest of the theater can hear you. Seriously, you’re louder than you think.
Again, I get it, you sometimes get an important text or phone call. But, like talking, it is extremely easy to control the volume—and brightness for that matter—of your device. The theater should have given you at least a dozen reminders by the point the movie has started, so you had ample time to flick that little switch or slide that dimmer bar down to the lowest setting. Yes, those obnoxious “please silence your cellphones” advertisements are meant for people just like you. They aren’t a courteous recommendation, they are enforced and you will get kicked out if you’re caught, which people seem to forget just like speed limits.
When your phone goes off, there are three simple, often unnoticeable methods you can use to check your device. For one, you can simply just ignore it–easy as pie. Two, if it is really important, leave the theater. Or three, use that little space between your armrest and thigh, with your brightness as low as possible, and hold it as close to your seat as possible. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s either that or leave. It is really astonishing how many people think they can get away with holding their phone on their leg or right in front of them. Yes, I can see you on your Instagram, is that really important right now? The other thing that drives me absolutely crazy are those people who forget they even have a cellphone and act like their phone isn’t the one blaring the T-Swift ringtone. So while we’re trying to watch the movie, we also get to listen to the phone go all the way to voicemail. It really should not be that difficult, but it still happens more than it should.
Maybe I’m the only one, but I have quite a few criteria I employ when I attempt to find a seat. If I get there early and the theater is empty, my aim is for one of those seats that are usually on the higher level with the bar in front to rest my feet. These seats prevent people from sitting directly in front of me and provide an unobstructed view of the screen. If these seats are occupied, I go for the next criteria; somewhere that does not have someone directly in front of, behind, nor on either side. For one, I don’t want to sit directly behind someone because I’m a tall guy so I usually end up kneeing the back of their seat. nor do I want to sit in front of someone and potentially obstruct their view; and I also do not want to sit right next to someone unless I absolutely have to because it’s just weird if you sit next to some random stranger for the next 2 hours or so. This isn’t an plane ride with assigned seats, give people a little space; always allow one seat separating you from strangers if possible—a buffer-zone if you will. For theaters that are more traditional as opposed to stadium seating, height and location really play into the comfort of others.
One time I went to see Precious at a more traditional theater, one where the seats do not angle upwards and they are all primarily on the same eye-level. We arrived early and got prime seats. Yet, a group of people sat directly behind my family right before the movie started despite there being other seats available. Part of the way through the movie I feel a tap on my shoulder, and I turn to find a young woman exceedingly close to my shoulder. She whispers to me (to my great annoyance), “would you mind hunching down a bit?” I just kind of sat there stunned that she had had the audacity to do this because it’s pretty rude to have a choice of seats and then to tell the person who was already there to adapt to your needs. Annoyed, I hunch down momentarily, just to straighten right back up out of spite. Please don’t be a person like this. Take into the account this criteria to avoid any annoyances. Of course this criteria goes right out the window if the movie is sold out and you arrive five minutes before the movie starts only to find that your whole group cannot sit together. You can try to be like those people who ask others to scooch down, or you can face the consequences for arriving late and sit apart. Because let’s be honest, you shouldn’t be talking to your companion, right?
Regarding the Importance of Movies:
Movies have been an escape for people for a hundred years. Audiences flocked to them during the Great Depression to see Charlie Chaplin. They have represented the heart and mind of America during multiple wars. They have demonstrated social changes and pushed the envelope of what is taboo and needs reform in realms such as gender equality and gay rights. Whatever movie you see, whether it is the hypnotic and unflinching Birdman, the beautiful and daring Boyhood, or something like another Transformers, they are—in their own way—a work of art. It does not take a lot to be be respectful and courteous at a movie theater. You put away your phone, you keep your mouth closed, and you enjoy the hard-work of dozens of individuals who simply want to make something to entertain you. As ticket prices increase, people should be taking more care to appreciate the movie in front of them.
One of my favorite things to do is to look away from the screen, just for a moment, and scan the backs of the heads of the audience. To me, they’re just silhouettes. Boy or girl, black or white, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight– none of that matters for the time we are watching the movie. For a brief time we are united by something that supersedes whatever is going on in our lives, whatever anger and distress we are feeling. It connects us in more ways than any art-form. We laugh together, cry together, and leave together. Whether or not you go back to hatred and discrimination when you leave is up to you, but for those two hours we did not care about the color of the skin of the person in front of us, or the sexual orientation of the couple behind us. For those two hours we get lost in a world crafted by storytellers to take us away from it all. We forget how all of the outside world bleeds away as the lights dim and the projector flickers those glorious moving pictures. Next time take care, consider your actions in that palace of memories and dreams. It may not be as big of an escape for you, but for some it might mean two hours away from unhappiness or pain, so don’t take that away.