Our Daily Correspondent

Popcorn, 2008

Andrew Stevovich, Popcorn, 2008.

To those of us who enjoy seeing movies alone, the practice does not require any defense; it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. While—obviously—everyone likes seeing a film with a like-minded friend, and while some (The Room springs to mind) derive half their pleasure from the shared experience, there’s a lot to be said for the total lack of self-consciousness inspired by a solo venture. The practical benefits are self-evident—seeing what you prefer, sitting where you like, leaving if you want—but those of reacting in a vacuum are even greater. However independent-minded you might be, it is hard not to be aware of your companion’s amusement, or disdain, or (in the case of my dad) checking of his watch whenever he gets bored. How much more relaxing to sit alone and let your impressions form, and then digest and recollect in tranquility.

Last night, I went to see Gone Girl. It struck me as a perfect movie to see alone; unlike much of the English-speaking world, I didn’t know the plot, and looked forward to thoroughly losing myself in an absorbing story. With this in mind, I purchased a ticket for one of the stand-alone seats at the back of the theater; this multiplex has assigned seating. I figured the privacy—the space to react—mitigated the distance.

But when I arrived for my showing, it was to find that, in fact, these seats were not stand-alone; while my seat was indeed isolated from the general aisle, it was one of a pair. And there was an older man already occupying the other half of what, basically, amounted to a love seat. I should perhaps add here that this theater is famously romantic; since its 2013 remodel, its fully reclining, softly padded seats, with their removable armrests, have been a destination spot for teens on the make. Not only would I not have privacy; I would be relegated in bizarre intimacy with this stranger. I had a horrible flashback to the time in seventh grade when I was invited to a bar mitzvah where I didn’t know anyone and we were seated in the order in which we filed in and I ended up sitting next to three random boys for the duration of a joust at Medieval Times.

Appalled, I scampered away without my seatmate seeing me and sat down in another, empty, pair, only to be routed five minutes later by the seats’ rightful occupants—a couple. This happened twice. It was clear that the show was sold out, and that I’d have to take my assigned place. I slipped into my seat sullenly, didn’t make eye contact (so as to better preserve the illusion of privacy) and slid as far as I could to the right. My neighbor lowered the armrest.

Chill out, you neurotic fool, I told myself, Once the film starts, you won’t even know he’s there. Then, of course, came the opening strains of that slow reboot of “Crazy in Love” that indicates the Fifty Shades of Grey preview, and everything was unspeakably awkward.

I wish I could say matters improved during the film, but the truth is that, every time I forgot myself enough to react at all—to laugh or gasp—my neighbor would echo me. I’d chuckle and then he would—and only then! Did he want my approval? Was he so unsure of his own responses as to need the validation of a stranger’s? Plus, it made me uncomfortably aware of my own actions. Why had I laughed at that not-funny line? And if I laughed now—experimentally—would he follow suit? The answer was yes. It was like the worst date in history.

I planned to run. I wanted to save us both the awkwardness of acknowledgment. And I was the first one out of the theater. But as I stood up to go, I gave into a sudden impulse, grabbed my half-eaten box of Junior Mints, and thrust it awkwardly into his hand. Then I bolted.