I’ve been going to the movies frequently of late. More times since January than in the preceding five years, I think. Thanks to MoviePass, I can now go to films that I’d be willing to pay, say, $7 to see, but not $17.
I love movie theaters — the chairs, the screen, the sound, the darkness. It’s designed as a distraction-free setting in which you can experience the film as the director intended.
When it all goes right, it’s a moment to relish. You leave feeling refreshed. Maybe, on occasion, even changed.
But more and more, I’ve found, it has become harder and harder to get the movie theater experience at movie theaters.
And it’s because of the one variable aside from the film itself: the people. The one or two people who treat movie theaters like it’s their living room. They’ve graciously invited you into their home to watch a movie, so they’ll do as they damn well please.
Talk, text, tap their feet, kick the back of the seat in front them, “whisper” when there’s no dialogue on screen — as if the actors’ lines are the only important thing in a film.
I estimate that a member of this degenerate 1% has appeared at nearly half the movies I’ve gone to in the past year. I’m surprised when I go to the movies and there isn’t a barbarian, an adult who’s mucking it up for the 99%.
Not to sound sentimental, but it feels like it’s gotten worse over time. Ten or fifteen years ago, I recall the norm being that not one, single, grown human would dare disturb the people around them. Sure, there were exceptions, and yes, maybe a guy would continue his conversation as the previews spilled into the intro credits, but then someone would shush him and he’d slink down in shame.
Last fall, at a theater in not the best part of Los Angeles, I saw The Foreigner, a fun action thriller with Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan. It was an early evening screening during the week, so attendance was sparse.
But not sparse enough.
About ten rows below me was a young couple with two or three young kids. The kids were acting like little kids, so my quarrel is not with them. It’s with the adults, who were also acting like little kids.
Who brings young children to a R-rated movie with plenty of violence and cursing? These parents were hurting not only their kids, but everyone in the theater. They made us suffer a G-rated audience in a R-rated movie.
The man was also talking to his significant other and the kids at near full-volume for much of the film, even after I shushed him. He also felt the need to exclaim his approval whenever Jackie Chan did things that Jackie Chan does in Jackie Chan movies, which was many times.
A few months later I saw Hostiles, an excellent Western starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. I went to a Sunday evening showing at a fancy theater in Santa Monica. One with those thick reclining seats.
Behind me was a middle-aged couple, possibly married. For the first 30 minutes of the film, the man would regularly “whisper” loudly to his wife; but only, mind you, when there was no dialogue in the film. Unfortunately for me and anyone else within earshot, this mindless bumpkin was ruining the beautiful film score and the dramatic tension that the absence of dialogue serves to heighten.
Finally, at the same exact moment, I and a woman two seats over simultaneously turned around and told this idiot to shut his trap. It was a thing of beauty.
He of course didn’t look embarrassed, because if he had any shame in the first place he never would’ve put himself in a situation in which other people might shame him.
But his wife looked mortified. She told him — too nicely in my opinion — to not talk. But why did she let him blabber for 30 minutes? Isn’t she embarrassed to be seen with him? Why is she even dating or married to him? Repeated rejection by women is one of the most effective socializers of anti-social men. Which means this guy is screwed.
Last weekend I saw Death Wish, a vigilante action film starring Bruce Willis. A few seats to my left were a middle-aged couple who would not infrequently talk to each other in Spanish. I think it was related to the movie, but it's not like the plot of Death Wish is exactly Inception. Nothing in the film really needs explanation. It’s a visceral revenge-thriller that hangs, quite well, on its action scenes.
When I shushed the couple and gave them the “We’re watching a movie here” hand motion, the woman looked at me as if I had pulled a chewed piece of gum off the bottom of my shoe and popped it in my mouth. Which is exactly how a narcissist like her would react. “How dare you?!”
She gave me dirty looks for the rest of the movie, and at one point she started tapping her feet so loudly that I’m convinced it was to provoke a reaction. Instead, I held onto my anger for four days until I was ready to write this piece.
If my anecdotal experience in movie theaters is representative, I think there are a few possible explanations.
America’s narcissism “epidemic” is an obvious one. More and more people are increasingly obsessed with themselves, which means they’re less and less aware of how their actions impact others. And some people who are aware just don’t care.
Another is that fewer and fewer moviegoers have the bare minimum amount of courage needed to tell someone to quiet down. I’m no hero for wanting to enjoy the movie I've committed two hours of my evening too. What kind of society is it when a slim minority can ruin it for the majority only because everyone is too afraid to engage in two mildly uncomfortable seconds of confrontation?
A third is that we are so used to the inmates running the asylum that we’ve dumbed down our expectations and have conditioned ourselves to be less bothered by disruptive behavior.
A fourth and most depressing explanation is that MoviePass is doing to the theaters what cheap airline tickets have done to the airlines — opened them to everyone, including people whose poor social tact previously made it difficult for them to hold down a job long enough so that they could earn enough money to regularly fly or go to the theaters.
These movie theater monsters aren’t going anywhere. Theater staff will never remove them except in extreme cases. It’s sad that they even need to play the “Don’t Talk Or Text” announcement before the movie starts.
It’s on us decent human beings to grow a pair and bring back a useful little tool that helps a society civilize its barbarians: shame.