By far one of the greatest benefits of my local theater growing up was its close proximity to what was essentially large, open-aired food court. Composed primarily of fast-casual chains, none of the food was particularly revolutionary (or cheap). Yet to middle-class suburbanites with cash to spare like ourselves, the consistency of well-regulated mediocrity tapped into the beating heart of our essence and we simply couldn’t get enough.
Before going to a movie, we’d congregate like a cult of locusts around the mall and swarm on whatever met our fancy for that evening. For me (and most of us), that tended to be a burrito from Chipotle. Overstuffed with a smore-gus-board of Mexican culinary staples, from the sizzling and oh so juicy meats and beans to the snap of fiery spices and freshly sliced vegetables, and all topped off with just a sprinkle of Ecoli. It was definitely worth at least 7 of the 9 dollars I ended up paying for it. Besides just the trivial taste factor though, it carried the unparalleled benefit of its transportability. Neatly wrapped in shimmer tin foil it was of little contest to carry and eat it anywhere, but most importantly the theater itself. Now the movie was obviously the main event, but my habit of eating Chipotle during the show forced the two into an often indistinguishable symbiotic “Salsa” (oof).
I don’t remember what we were watching that night. In fact, don’t really remember much about the night at all. Per usual, my friends and I grabbed food from the mall and walked over to the theater. Then, I’m sure, we watched whatever mediocre flick happened to be playing before floating away together into the haze of another fun yet indistinguishable summer hang-out.
But it is what happened in the middle that I will never forget.
Immediately after taking our seats, the whole lot of us began acting as we always did: wisecracking jokes and playing crude verbal tennis. Nothing to truly offend the people around us, mind you we were older enough at this time that most of us to various degrees had developed something resembling a filter. But of course, a mass of high school boys isn’t exactly going to sound like a library. Now it’s important to note for this story that the movie had not yet started. In fact, not even the previews had begun. Instead, it was Maria Menounos’ voice that echoed around the auditorium, bringing with it the sweet sound of endless advertisements. The calm before the storm.
Maybe I was being particularly “rambunctious” compared to my smiling gang. Or perhaps it was just a matter of proximity. But just like that the man sitting in front of me whipped back and locked his cold, callous eyes with me.
And the world turned cold.
I still see the ghostly figure to this day. Sickly white skin painted the muscular outline of a balding-man closely reminiscent of the stereotypical Aryan prisoner. A pair of menacing caverns of darkness stared back at me, slicing cold icicles into my motionless soul. He screamed in ferocious whispers, berating me for the disrespect we showed by talking and even threatened to call management.
My response to the man, of course, was most eloquent and quickly diffused the situation: “Dude, the trailers haven’t even started yet!”.
Yeah. That went over great.
The lecture had been tinged with a deranged undertone (can you really expect any different) and there was a deeply unsettling menace radiating from the man, but none of it at all foreshadowed what came next.
Like the chest burster-from Alien, a hand, his hand, suddenly sliced through the air before smashing into my still warm burrito. The hand impaled the burrito and pressed hard against my chess. A mixture of Mexican food bleed onto the floor, as any illusion of restraint from the man disappeared in the blink of an eye. I tried to save face with a small sardonic smirk, but make no mistake: I was frozen to my very core. Evidently, the man did not appreciate my impudently carved mask. He finished his fearsome rant by tossing my mushed burrito to the ground. Bits of chicken and rice flew in a serene arch through the air and rained down upon the dim floor below. Then the man, mercifully, sulked back around and left me to bathe in my indescribable shock.
But my burrito- my lovely, tasty burrito- was no more.
The man turned around sometime later to apologize for his outburst before suddenly getting up and leaving midway through the movie. I must admit after recent theater shootings in the news I was definitely (but not at all rightfully) on edge for the next half hour. But thankfully he vanished into the night, never to be seen by me again. In truth, I still feel bad for the man. He was obviously sick, and despite the obstacles our country’s healthcare system provides I hope he gets the help he needs. And while I’ll still laugh about the incident with my friends today, it is nothing but a joke now. A meme. Not some scarring assault. But nevertheless, something did strike me hard that night and leave a mark: the sinking disappointment that I would no longer be allowed to crack jokes or observations with my friends for the rest of the movie.
I try not to be a talker during movies. Truly. I can’t stand people that are. But what in God’s name is the purpose of watching a movie with other people, especially a mediocre one, if we have to be stone-cold statues the entire time? I don’t just mean talking loudly, of course, that’s infuriating to sit next to. But even whispering. Even breathing emotions into our company’s ears gives the experience a purpose.
What’s the point otherwise?
And indeed I have wondered exactly this to this very day. So many hangouts either culminating in or more often originating for, the purpose of watching a movie together. And yet, despite the rare garbage dump which allowed us the opportunity to turn into the shadows from “Midnight Science Theater 3000”, watching a movie was a silent experience. Like a less holy version of Synagogue. No doubt it gave us a reason to hang out, but all too often that was its main purpose. Sure there’s the element of shared experience, and for the film geeks in our group, it gave something to analyze and debate for hours together. But more so the lack of conversation blasted my ears, and the movie felt like the mandatory commercial break for our hangout. The price of admission for getting to enjoy each other’s company.
So what’s the point of it all? Why in our film culture in America, is everything so precipitated on dead silent theaters being a social experience?
(Part 2 will be released soon.)