Date Yourself

No one wanted to see I, Tonya with me. But Allison Janney was about to win the Oscar for her portrayal of LaVona Harding, and I would be crazy if I missed that in theaters. I drove myself to my favorite theater, purchased one ticket and a small popcorn, and sat in the third row of a nearly full theater to watch what would become one of my favorite movies of the Oscar season.

A few months before I saw I, Tonya, no one wanted to see Lady Bird with me. I announced that I was going to go see it alone if I had to, and then chickened out when my parents said it was lame to go to the movies alone. More people than my parents hold that opinion. Consider the last movie you saw in the theater, and then consider how many people in the audience were there alone. You probably can’t remember who was there alone because no one cares enough to retain that kind of information, or because no one was confident enough to go alone. In response to the first point, why is it that when our friends are self-conscious we tell them that no one is focused on them because everyone is focused on themselves, but that advice never seems to pertain to us? No one cares if Stacy’s shirt had a button undone for the better part of an evening, but everyone would care and the ground would open up and swallow you whole if your shirt had the same problem.

Confidence is what I developed by going to the movies by myself. What I learned is that confidence is not something you must have initially, but something to be gained from new experiences. I was shaking when I asked for one ticket to I, Tonya. Why? What was so bad about wanting to see a movie alone? Nothing, but it was different, and different is often scary. But once I did it, I was confident enough to go see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Call Me By Your Name by myself.

My film theory class explored the space of the theater. Filmmakers want their viewers to be sutured into their film, and we as viewers give ourselves up to the filmmakers’ desires. In film jargon, we call this process suturing, because the goal is to stitch the viewer into the film. Part of our suturing in the theater is to sit down in this darkened room and pretend that no one else is there to share in the experience of the film. My parents went to see Marley & Me in theaters, and even though everyone in the theater walked out sobbing, the audience members could not look at each other. They did not want to acknowledge what had just happened in that theater, that they had all been sutured into the same film and shared in the sadness that came with the ending. This phenomenon is unique to the theater and fairly universal. If we do not pretend we are alone in the space, we can become desutured.

As was the case with I, Tonya, a woman was coughing every fifteen minutes or so consistently throughout the movie. At one climactic point, she had a coughing fit so bad that another viewer turned around and shouted, “Would you like to get a drink of water?” Another viewer then responded to the shouter, “Would you like to go home?” All of these outbursts, from the coughing to the shouting to a previously unmentioned viewer who was chewing his popcorn a little too loudly, forced us to reckon with the other people in the space and interrupted our suturing into the film. They are disruptions then because they create interactions between the viewer and the space rather than the viewer and the film. We are not in the theater to interact with any other viewers, including any we may have gone with. And if you are interacting with the people you came with during the movie, you may want to consider streaming.

To return to my initial lesson, with my confidence came a newfound sense of independence. I am a barely adult woman out on the town doing things I enjoy and developing my interests. Seeing films by myself has been a gift. It is like I am dating myself. I can go on my own schedule and form my own opinions on the film. When I saw Hail, Caesar! with two friends who did not like the film, I felt self-conscious because I had loved it. When I gave myself the space to develop my own opinions, I found that my post-film experience was more enjoyable. After I, Tonya, I found the soundtrack on Spotify and blasted it the whole drive home. It was glorious.

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