For me, the joy of any theatrical experience, be it a play, tv show, or movie, is immersing myself in what is being presented. Acting works because the audience willfully suspends their disbelief and says, “OK, we will buy that you are trapped in a submarine with your ex-wife” or whatever the scenario is. And in that one act of mutual agreement between actor and audience, magic is created. That’s how I approach all such entertainment. And it is very rare that a movie is so bad that I cannot suspend any disbelief at all and enjoy the movie (Kenneth Brannagh’s Frankenstein was one such movie. Yeesh!)
So, I have grow ever more frustrated with audiences in recent years. And before you roll your eyes and say that this is another one of those, “Damn these kids today!” old man posts, stay with me a moment. It’s not the damn kids (well, it sometimes is, but they are not the only problem.) It is people in general. People are far more selfish today than they were in the past. I remember movie experiences where the loud moron in the theater was the exception, not the rule. People generally enjoyed a production and respected the wishes of their fellow audience members to enjoy it as well. Collectively, we laughed, cried, cheered, booed, and otherwise enjoyed something together. When we needed to ask a question, we whispered so as to not disturb others.
But more and more people have become more selfish and self-centered. They don’t care about anyone else in the theater just their own selves. If they want to talk, they talk. They make no effort to be quiet about it. They use their phones or even throw popcorn at each other. Even parents of kids make no effort to teach their kids to whisper and be quiet in movies. If the kids ask a question or make a comment, the parents don’t quiet them and often answer just as loudly as their kids.
And it frustrates me to no end. Suspension of disbelief needs immersion. And while I can ignore a lot of things (popcorn chewing, wrapper crlnkling, coughing, etc. A conversation between people or other such behavior is too much. And that ruins the experience for me.
I go to movies far more rarely than I used to. It’s just too expensive to be that tense waiting for some inconsiderate jerk to ruin it. And when I go, I am generally not let down. Usually if the problem people are not near me, I can tune them out and enjoy myself. But if they are close by, I either have to move or do the one thing I hate doing: shush them. I’m non-confrontational by nature. I don’t like getting in people’s faces about anything. So, shushing someone is something I rarely ever do and is saved for the most obnoxious of cases.
Twice in recent memory, I have had incredible experiences. The first was in Traverse City, MI at the gorgeous movie theater there in town where I saw The Artist. The audience was silent through the whole movie and we all had an amazing time watching a gorgeous movie. The other was tonight when we went to see The Martian.The audience was quiet and really into the movie. All except one person. And she just happened to be sitting next to me.
She sat to my left and was older than I am by at least a decade if not two. She and the man she was with came in during the previews and plopped down right next to me in the only open two seats left in our row. I politely let her have the arm rest and leaned a bit closer to Ann. Throughout the whole movie, she kept a running dialog with the man next to her. Generally in the form of questions. It was clear to me that she did not really understand a lot of what was going on. In one scene, something really bad happens to Matt Damon’s character and when he is upset and having a bit of a tantrum about it, she asked aloud, “What’s the matter with him?” Twice during the movie (both after the half-way mark when I just couldn’t take it anymore) I shushed her. The first time was a quiet “Shh.” The second time was a more annoyed, “SHHH.” Followed either by a “Please” or a “C’mon” or something similar. Neither time worked. She kept right on asking her inane questions. I never heard what the guy she was with said in reply. He clearly knew how to whisper. But it was enough to pull me out of a fantastic movie (and it was a fantastic movie) and be annoyed at her.
Ultimately, the movie won out and I put her out of my mind as best I could. But the kicker is what happened when the movie ended. She got up and I could see out of the corner of my eye while I read the cast list that she was staring daggers at me. I began saying something to Ann about the movie when I heard her say (while still looking at me), “…piece of shit.” I had to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. So I turned partially to Ann and said loud enough for her to hear, “She talks through the whole movie and I’m the bad guy.” She walked out of the row, down the stairs, and then across the front of the section to the exit, never taking her eyes off of me. I made a point of ignoring her until finally I acted like I just noticed her, pointed, and laughed because it was so inane.
What did we learn from this? Too many people today are just too selfish. She did not care for anyone around her and spoke loud enough to be heard by everyone nearby and was offended when I called her out on it. It’s like when someone runs a stop sign, you honk at them, and they flip you off for honking at them.
I have no solutions except to wish that people could be more considerate of one another. I think things would be considerably better in virtually every aspect of life if we could collectively do that. But instead, I save my trips to the movies only for the movies I cannot wait to hit iTunes (or whatever) or that are loud enough that I can’t hear anything nearby anyway. As for that woman, I wish that there was some way she could see herself from another perspective; that she could see that her disruptive behavior was the problem, not my asking her to be quiet. But seeing ourselves from another’s perspective is hard work and our too-fragile egos make that far too difficult much of the time. Oh well. Hopefully the audience at Star Wars VII this December will be fans and we can all have fun together.