Friends tell each other the truth. They tell you when you have mustard on your face, or when your fly’s down. They tell you when you’re dating an awful harpy of a woman simply because she’s gorgeous and gravity hasn’t been cruel to her yet. A true friend isn’t afraid to acknowledge your shadow; they respect you enough to help you confront your flaws, rather than step around them and pretend they doesn’t exist. I’ve lived in Humboldt County for eight-and-a-half years now, and I consider us to be friends. So I think it’s time for me to be honest about something that’s been on my mind for years now:
You guys are terrible at going to the movies. I mean, you’re really, really bad at it.
Maybe that sounds petty given what’s going on in the world, but hear me out. I’ve been going to the movies for as long as I can remember. Walking through the dark and settling into one of those filthy, stinking red seats, prying the soles of your shoes off a floor coated in some composite adhesive made of soda, 15-year-old Milk Duds and a host of unholy unidentifiable fluids. All so I could get my eardrums blown out by the descending hum of the THX theme and to be transported to a new world with a group of total strangers for 120 minutes. There’s a beautiful sense of community during a showing of a great film. People gasp, scream, laugh, cry. Together. The darkness gives us cover to be vulnerable, to open ourselves up in public. Going to the movies is one of my favorite things in the world. The list of things I would rather do than go see a movie in theaters is short and unfit to print, so you’ll just have to trust me here.
And you’ll have to trust me when I say that I’m not one of those insane people who gets livid with someone five rows up for eating popcorn during a quiet scene, or leers at folks who heed the call of nature right at the end of the second act. I really only ask one thing:
That’s it. Slurp your soda, chew your ice, I don’t care. Just sit down and shut your mouth from the end of the trailers to when the credits roll.
Now, I’m not saying Humboldt County is the only place in the world where people talk during movies, but I can say with confidence that y’all are worse than anywhere I’ve ever been. Part of me wants to take this wide and launch into a pseudo-psychological diatribe about how the strong sense of independence people have here and the persistent current of counterculture influences this phenomenon. But that’s phony, it dilutes my point, and it’s not particularly interesting. I’m done with college, I don’t need to stretch something to 10 pages by bloviating. And the reason people talk during a movie is the same reason why people think its okay to heckle a comic: They’re selfish, rude and lack etiquette.
To quote the great Hannibal Lecter, from The Silence of the Lambs: “Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me.” And talking during a movie is, to me, the height of discourtesy. Movie theaters aren’t cheap. If I go to the Minor for an evening showing — boom, I’m out 10 bucks. And if I want a beer (or more likely two) and some popcorn, that’s one less Jackson populating my wallet. That’s a lot of money, especially in a time where I could just as easily torrent an HD copy of the same movie and watch it in the comfort of my own home. But listening to Les Mis isn’t the same thing as seeing it on Broadway, and neither is torrenting No Country for Old Men the day someone rips a screener and puts it online. There’s something inimitable about seeing a movie in theaters, and that’s why I go. I think that’s why we all go. If there wasn’t some magic to the experience, every theater in the country would be apartments or a Denny’s, because who wants to stand in line just for the pleasure of spending $20 and sitting next to some odiferous stranger eating a noxious combination of Sour Patch Kids and Raisinets with his mouth open?
So, when I hear someone talk during a movie, I don’t hear excitement, or someone so overcome with joy and pleasure that they simply can’t help themselves from asking their friend, “DID YOU SEE THAT??!” All I hear is someone who thinks their opinion is more important than anything else in the room. It says to me, “I couldn’t care less that there’s 40 other people here trying to focus on something, Tessa needs to know I recognize that actor from something.” It’s a lot like leaving your shopping cart in the middle of a too-small grocery aisle while you’re 15 feet away comparing crackers, or taking up two spaces in a crowded parking lot because your car is new, or walking in the bike lane.
It’s not hard to be quiet for 90 minutes. It’s not hard to be quiet for two hours. It’s not hard to be quiet for three hours. If you’ve ever lived alone, you can attest to this. If you’ve ever lived with roommates and had the place to yourself for the weekend, or even the afternoon, you know this. Silence takes no effort, no muscle movement. It’s our resting state. That’s why sleep-talking is a parasomnia.
If you’ve been thinking, “Yeesh, this is an awfully specific rant. I wonder if something happened to this guy to spur this,” you’re absolutely right.
About a month ago, I went to go see The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the Minor Theater. It’s an incredibly taut, cruel film. I sat in the third row (of like six-and-a-half, it was in the little theater) on the right side. In the last full row, on the left side, there were two women and a younger boy (a son or relative I’d imagine) who would not stop talking. I asked them, fairly politely, to stop the first time I heard them. One of the employees was in the theater taking orders for the amazing table service they provide and spoke to them as well on his way out. And yet, sure enough, they kept talking. So, about a half hour later, I asked them to stop again. Of course, they didn’t. Rather than scream into the abyss and continue to ask them for a modicum of basic courtesy, I seethed and watched Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman endure unspeakable tragedy with jarring formality and apathy. The movie ended, and the lights came up, and I had one of the moments that reminds you just how small this town is. The woman next to me, raven-haired and well-pierced, said to me, “You’re the guy who sat next to us when we saw It. I just wanted to thank you. It’s really nice to know there’s someone else in this town who can tell people to shut up during a movie.”
I tell you this not to paint myself as some warrior for simple justice in a dark, mean world. I just want you to know there’s at least two of us.