The Best Reasons for Going to the Movies Alone
All the great, new films are playing now. If you're single and on your own, get thee to a cineplex!
John Stark has held top writing and editing positions at such magazines as Cooks' Illustrated, Body + Soul and People. For 14 years, he was a feature writer and movie critic at the San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle. Follow John on Twitter @jrstark.
I saw 10 movies in a two-week period last month. That’s not to say I didn’t attend holiday parties — I did, including a Christmas Eve and Christmas night dinner with good friends. But because I no longer have a partner, parents or close relatives, I didn’t have to buy, wrap or mail gifts. I’m no longer obliged to host family get-togethers or put up a tree. I had time to see as many new films as I wanted.
Of course, the holidays are a difficult time for singles. They are and always have been. You need to keep active. Get out of the house. Not dwell on being alone.
Like most singles, I don't like to go places by myself. A table for one at a trendy restaurant only makes me feel more alone. Plays and concerts are more rewarding when you have someone to talk to and sip champagne with at intermission.
But going to the movies is different. In a darkened movie house you can be anonymous. Unseen. Nobody looks twice at a person who shows up at the ticket counter alone. The cinema hall is a social setting, but it’s not a place where you’re encouraged to socialize. Talk during a movie and you’ll be told to shut up. At the movies you’re by yourself, but you’re not. You’re laughing and crying with others in the dark.
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It seems older people are more open to going to movies by themselves. "Yahoo! Answers" recently posed the question, “Do you go to the movies alone?” Younger respondents said they would never do it. For them, going to the movies is a date night. One said she would feel socially stigmatized if friends saw her by herself. But older respondents said they loved going alone and gave selfish reasons: They can see whatever film they want to see, don’t have to wait for someone who arrives late and can sit anywhere. "I feel more confident in my skin now," one woman wrote. "I can see a movie by myself."
To that list of perks let me add this: I don't have to deal with film snobs or rubes. I like most movies, even artistic failures. I can't stand sitting next to a friend who continually checks his watch or says, "I'll meet you later in the lobby," and gets up. A Debbie Downer destroys my enjoyment.
Over the holidays I saw lots of older, single people in movie theaters. “They’re not hard to spot, they tend to sit on the aisle,” noted my friend, Heidi Schulman, author of The Original Dog Tarot. When going solo, I too sit on the aisle. I can easily change seats if I don’t like who’s next to me. I can relax knowing I can slip out to use the restroom if I have to.
Today’s modern cinemas can actually make going to the movies on your own inviting. They are often located in upscale malls. There are two new cineplexes that I go to in Minneapolis that are more deluxe than the old art deco movie palaces. They have reserved, stadium seats. The ticket takers wear tuxedos, like they did in the old days. They have full-service bars with bistro-style food. You can even be served at your seat. Prior to the previews, a theater employee address the audience, thanking everyone for coming, and reminding them to turn off their phones. How civilized.
This December there were a lot of movies that had themes relevant to boomers. The Sessions and Rust and Bone are about physically challenged people who want to experience passionate love. To do so, they have to spiritually transcend their physical imperfections. I can relate — hello gravity, gray hair and low T!
The Life of Pi deals with loss and survival. I didn’t see it alone. I went with two friends who are my age. We were all weeping at the end, thinking of the people we have said goodbye to; especially the ones that left us without closure. I found Anna Karenina a lesson in downsizing and reinvention, themes that aren't associated with Tolstoy's novel. Because the filmmakers couldn’t raise enough money to shoot on location in Russia, they were forced to use their imaginations. What they came up with is a stage play within a movie. Dance and movement define its characters more than dialog. Rather than being yet another telling of Tolstoy’s tragic love story, this Anna Karenina stands on its own.
Being a boomer brings a perspective to movies that younger people don’t have, even if the film is marketed to them. I was the only one in the theater chuckling at Django Unchained’s retro opening credits and campy theme song, which are straight out of a 1960s spaghetti western. Do young people who are flocking to see Silver Linings Playbook realize just how old-fashioned the movie is? Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence never once take their clothes off or hop into bed together. And yet the film sizzles with sexual tension.
As we get older, we become more secure with who we are. For that reason I defend Les Misérables against anyone who says it’s too long. To me it embraces and flaunts what it is: a musical. Not only did the filmmakers leave in all the songs from the stage version, they added a new one. They used actors who could actually sing. A movie musical that won't apologize for what it is. I like to think that’s me.
January is the month where people write notes acknowledging the wonderful gifts they received during the holidays. I’m writing just one this year, and it’s to Hollywood: Once again, thank you for seeing me through.