For years, I have had the dream of going to see a movie in a theater and being the only one there. As a person that often attends movies solo, I have seen that dream dashed multiple times throughout my life. Most often, “latecomers” have ruined my imagined idyllic experience. I had settled down with my snacks, smiled at my luck, and then silently stewed when a family walked in to disrupt what I assumed would have been an amazing experience. I had a small taste of the awesomeness when I saw Spotlight with my brother-in-law last year. He and I bought tickets to a late showing and then a blizzard hit. He lived close, so he was able to make it there fairly easily. I did not, but braved the driving snow and my sliding tires to make it there in time. It was quite the treat. When we felt like it, we talked about what we loved. When there was a good line, we mentioned it to one another. When we were mad, we yelled at the screen. (This is true. We did it self-consciously BECAUSE we knew we could, but it was still fun.) And, when we wanted to check our phones and make sure that our families were doing okay, we just took them out and checked. The freedom was intoxicating. (And the movie, one of the best of that year.)
I could only imagine that, if I were by myself, the experience would be even more liberating. So, a few weeks ago, when I was the only one in the theater for a late night showing of The Edge of Seventeen, I felt a surge of excitement. The previews had ended and it was still just me, at 10:30 at night, sitting in the darkened theater, alone. What an opportunity! I envisioned switching seats every few minutes. I contemplated standing up, walking all the way up to the screen, and seeing what it felt like from inches away. I even thought that I might Snapchat looooong portions of the movie for my wife and friends stuck at home with, you know, OTHER PEOPLE. What I knew was that it would be unlike any other time I had ever been to the movies. And I was very right about that, just not in the way I imagined. First of all, when one is alone in a darkened theater, one’s thoughts can sometimes drift to weird and dark places. I began to imagine that I was going to get murdered. It may sound blackly comic but there was nothing comic about me worrying that a killer would come in and murder me and there would be no witnesses. It squelched a lot of the fun I expected to have in the theater. An employee of the theater kept coming in during the first 25 minutes of the movie and watching the screen for 30 or so seconds and then looking at me and then leaving again. It was creepy and weird. Perhaps he was fulfilling some aspect of his job, but I have no idea what that could have been. Maybe he was checking to see how many people actually came to the movie so that they could make decisions about how many future showings to have. I don’t know. In my mind, he was contemplating if he could get away with homicide. Obviously, we will never know.
What we will know is how much I missed the communal aspect of the movie-going adventure. My sister and I are famous for laughing in theaters loudly and often when no one else is laughing. I figured that being in the theater by myself would free me up from feeling self-conscious at those moments. Not so. I realized that instead of being glad that I was not being judged, I missed the opportunity to judge others for not laughing with me! My smug air of superiority at getting the joke no longer got to surface. I have always known that watching a movie with others carried with it a special feeling–especially when one is sharing a favorite movie with loved ones–but I did not realize that the freedom to behave however I wanted in an empty theater would not outweigh that wonderful feeling of sharing. Even though participating with a theater of random people who I have never met does not necessarily carry with it a feeling of comfort, it IS comforting to know that everyone is interpreting the audio and visuals with you at the same time. I lament that my dream was shattered so completely. But, like with most dreams or goals, I am glad that I finally achieved it, even if it could not live up to my lofty expectations. It was a unique–nay, singular–experience, no doubt. And there was a part of me that felt privileged that I was the only one that was receiving the movie’s message at that exact moment. However, more of me yearned for the knowledge that the power of movies was transmitting to a large crowd of ready, expectant viewers.