Can We Stop Pretending that Going to Movies Alone Makes You Quirky
Art is a personal thing, it should be a personal experience
Searching the simple phrase "going to the movies alone" garners 748 million results, the first being an /r/AskReddit thread titled, "Is it weird to go see a movie alone?" Scroll a little farther and you’ll be met with headlines such as "An Evening Spent Going to the Movies Alone," "6 Rules for Solo Movie-Going," and "Forget Netflix: Going to the cinema alone is life’s greatest guilty pleasure." People are equal parts scared of going to the movies alone in fear of looking sad and lonely and invigorated by the concept of solitary cinema-going as though it makes us a cut above other moviegoers. The truth is that going to the movies by yourself won’t make the other people in the theatre laugh at you for being the poor sap with no friends, but it also won’t earn you a gold star on your manic pixie dream person checklist. I’m aware that taking advice on what is and isn’t quirky from a person who once got up early on a Sunday to attend a showing of Gone With the Wind, of which the only patrons were a handful of senior citizens, my $9 cup of frozen yogurt, and myself, might seem strange. Hear me out.
I used to be young and naive just like you. I used to be afraid of looking like a friendless loser, and I needed people to like me and listen to my opinions so much. Then, I graduated to treating solo movie dates to weird movies like doing so made me the rightful heir to the Lumiere Brothers as a Pioneer of Cinema. And then I learned how to chill out.
Some people (like the person reading this perhaps) may be suited to going to see movies with a whole row of friends so they have ample post-film debate opportunities. Maybe you just like spending time with your friends, or maybe it enhances the experience for you. And some people (like me) are simply suited to going to the movies alone. You see, I have particular movie needs.
My local cinema chain does discount admission for Tuesdays and special events (i.e. classics, cult favourites) which are usually when I go because I’m a student and can’t afford to be slinging out $11 for a ticket alone every week. I arrive early and take my seat—snacks are hit or miss, though the aforementioned $9 frozen yogurt is generally reserved for special occasions—slightly more than halfway up and dead centre. That way I can maximize my intake of the movie without having to crane my neck to see or getting my eardrums blown out. Then, I aimlessly scroll through Twitter until the previews start. After the movie, I always, always keep my ticket stub because I’m the sort of person who needs a physical memento to make a memory real. If possible, I like to walk home because the half-hour window of magic after the film ends when you’re still in the world of it is the best part of the whole experience.
Of course, I also go to the movies alone because I need minimal distractions. I'm the sort of person to get anxious over whether I’m having the correct reaction to the movie. Did my friend laugh at that joke? Should I have laughed at that joke? Is it weird that I’m crying at this part? Nobody else is crying, oh god I’m the weirdo who’s way too invested in this! The third time I went to see The Shape of Water (yes, you read that correctly, I saw the sexy fishman movie three times in theatres), I practically begged my roommates to come with me and spent hours hyping it up, trying to explain why it was such a special film to me. I spent the entire runtime conscious that they were not having the same experience I had during previous viewings. While there were several points which made me cry these awful shuddering gasps I couldn’t choke down, my roommates were watching with a sort of intrigued confusion. Afterwards, they let me down easy by saying it wasn't what they expected. I cried in my room for at least an hour.
The fact that I have as tenuous a grasp on my emotions as a foppish Romantic poet who’s slowly dying of consumption notwithstanding, sometimes going to the movies by yourself isn’t as scary or as quirky as people believe it to be.
People are scared of doing things alone because they’re scared of being alone. They’re scared of being perceived as lonely by other people who could likely not care less. They’re scared of living their lives uninhibited by the constant pressure to present a highly stylized view of their lives for their Instagram followers. In other words: we’re scared of doing something we do in private (watching movies) in a public setting. Because we’re used to doing things for the observation and consumption of others, it feels strange when we’re not.
But let me tell you a secret: doing things without feeling the need to document it is great. In fact, it’s really great. Want to go see that movie nobody else is interested in? Go for it! Hated something you thought you’d love or vice versa? You don’t need to worry about validating your opinions to anyone but yourself if you go alone! Are you a weeper? Do you have big feelings and feel self-conscious about expressing them? You can’t get roasted by your friends for sobbing when the dog dies if you go alone!
Art is a personal thing, it should be a personal experience. When you enter that cinema untethered, you don’t need to minimize your emotions. There are no rules. Nothing is stopping you from crying when the sexy fishman starts glowing. Your reactions are beholden to only yourself and the movie. But, also, don’t think that being alone gives you the right to pull out your phone, like my dad in during Ocean's 8 before I whisper-yelled at him. Don’t be a jerk, please.
Embrace moments of your own solidarity, revel in them. Go to that German Expressionist film festival yourself! Take yourself out for dinner afterwards without the pressure of having to make small talk with a person who you hardly know which is now rendered awkward because Gone Girl was a really, really bad choice of a date movie! Drop by that art gallery to check out some weirdly proportioned Renaissance babies! Exist without the pressure to live the sort of life that looks good in 4 x 4 squares which people will like and then scroll past!
Seriously though, while I give you permission to enjoy going to the movies by yourself, I absolutely do not give you permission to behave like you were raised in a barn. Make sure your phone’s on silent, don’t open your snack during the tensest moment, and don’t assume that the audience wants your running commentary on how stupid the characters are for running up the stairs from the killer when the front door is right there. We’ve all seen Scream, we know how to appropriately respond to media, thanks.