Going solo at the movie theater

I figured I would use the weekend to muse a bit more often that I’ve been doing lately. Today, I thought I would discuss my thoughts on what it’s like seeing movies in the theater by myself and why it’s not the ideal situation for a film critic.

As an independent film blogger and section editor/chief critic for a website, I’ve had to do something these past few months that I’d never done more than maybe twice my entire life prior: go see movies alone.

It must be a terrifying thought to the average theater-goer. There you are in a giant theater with nothing but your cell phone handy to either occupy time or pretend that you’re waiting for someone who never shows up. Imagine doing this in the ’90s or earlier and not even having your cell phone. Sorry, I didn’t mean to take you down that dark pit of despair. But this has been my reality on a few occasions lately.

When you’re working on a “deadline” aka getting it onto the site as soon as possible so that your review is relevant, you can’t wait until you find someone to go with. If it works out that someone can accompany you, great, if not, tough.

In actuality it’s not so bad — just a bit weird. Right now, the “luxury” of not having a full-time job allows me to make a Friday morning showing and have a review up by Friday afternoon. At that hour, there’s usually fewer than 20 people in the theater and half of them are probably lamer than me even though they went there with somebody.

My fear is that should God grace me with salaried employment that I will be relegated to attending films at more populous hours of the day such as in the evening. At the moment, I’m not sure if I could handle the shame of such a situation. If I bring a notepad to broadcast the fact that I’m here with some kind of responsibility, I won’t know if I’ll look professional or just weirder than I did without it.

But going to the movies alone is more than about social perception and self-inflicted awkwardness. Just because I consider myself a film critic doesn’t mean I don’t want or care about the opinions of others. The presumption is that film critics don’t want to be influenced by others’ opinions, but movies — among their many intentions — are supposed to create a dialogue. We wouldn’t care about going to the movies alone if there weren’t a value in the collective watching experience.

There’s something about sharing a film with others that allows us to enjoy it more. Part of it is testing our own interpretations and validating our own thoughts. The critic wants to tap into that experience just as much as he or she wants to draw on his or her own encyclopedia of film knowledge and analysis.

When I was little, I remember leaving the movie theater and always being asked the same question: “what did you think?” I’m pretty sure that nine times out of ten I would answer “it was good” with a hint of uncertainty in my voice. I think there was always reluctance to express my excitement about a film because I needed to have a sense that others would validate my response.

Even to this day, when you see a film with someone there is always a raw tension afterward. Sometimes either you or someone else you went with will have a strong opinion and will share it afterward because of that unshakable need to comment when you think you’ve put your finger on a film or something about it. Sometimes you’re the one who isn’t sure and you need to hear that from someone before you share. Either way, sharing is instinctive when it comes to film.

When I go by myself, I miss out on this experience. I formulate my own opinions and assertions and test them on no one but myself. I have to guess as to whether my opinions make sense, are compelling and are justified. I certainly trust myself to have valid thoughts because I’ve been doing this long enough, but it’s much more challenging to speculate as to how others that don’t have your biases will feel. As a reviewer, I try and provide the widest amount of perspective — to suggest what types of people might most enjoy or dislike a film — which is nearly impossible to calculate within one’s own head. This is the true detriment of the solitary movie theater experience.

That said, it’s still really awkward too.


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