There is something profoundly lonely about sitting in a movie theater, watching something you know to be bad, while people around you enjoy it. I had such an experience recently: the movie had been rhapsodically reviewed, was as full and red a tomato as I’d ever seen on the Internet, had been enthusiastically recommended by people whose tastes I trust. I bought my ticket with high hopes. We want every movie to be fantastic, to change our lives or at least our day. And how rarely we have reason for such hopes! Nevertheless, it was with such an unusually optimistic outlook that I settled into my seat and cracked open my box of Junior Mints.
My first doubts crept in quickly. A joke was cracked; it wasn’t funny. Chill, I told myself. Go with it. It’ll get better. The dialogue was forced and unnatural. Everyone around me was laughing. There’s that moment in a movie when you can’t pretend anymore: when the unassailable realization sets in that, simply put, you’re not in safe hands. Maybe it’s a stupid twist or bad line; more often, it’s just the cumulative stupidity outweighing anything redeeming. You can’t trust the filmmakers anymore, and as a result, you can no longer relax. Besides everything else, it’s exhausting. This movie got worse and worse: clichéd, pretentious, clumsy, vain. I was cringing; the women next to me were laughing heartily. At the end of the movie, much of the audience rose for a spontaneous standing ovation.
It did not occur to me for a moment that I was mistaken. No: they were wrong. The movie was bad. Is this sort of certainty merely arrogance or some sort of madness? Either way, it’s not fun. I’m much too old to derive any satisfaction from poking holes in other people’s pleasure. At $14.50, there are cheaper ways to feel lonely.
* * *
Once, I was riding the subway and this homeless guy got on. I’d seen him before—he rides the same line I do, and he’s hard to miss, at almost seven feet, usually barefoot and dressed in what appears to be a filth-encrusted monk’s cowl. Anyway, it was rush hour, and in the scuffle, maybe my paper grocery bag brushed him. (I don’t think so, but maybe.) The homeless giant turned on me.
“HOW DARE YOU GRAB MY ASS?” he shouted, pointing a menacing finger at me. “DON’T PRETEND YOU DIDN’T DO IT! YOU GRABBED MY ASS! SHE GRABBED MY ASS! EVERYONE, SEE THIS GIRL? SHE GRABBED MY ASS! THAT’S SEXUAL HARASSMENT! IF IT WERE THE OTHER WAY AROUND, I’D BE ARRESTED, BUT SHE’S JUST ALLOWED TO GO AROUND GRABBING MY ASS?”
It did not end there. It went on for at least ten minutes—we were on an express—which is like two hours in rush-hour time. No one really knew where to look. I was beet red. I kept my eyes down while he yelled at me. Did I defend myself? Deny it? No, better to ignore the whole thing. After all, maybe it was good that he had the self-respect to think someone might fancy him enough to sexually harass him, when the truth was, everyone on the train was giving him as wide a berth as was humanly possible. One thing was certain: whatever the truth, he was very sure that I had grabbed his ass.
In Madness and Civilization, Foucault writes that,
Confined on the ship, from which there is no escape, the madman is delivered to the river with its thousand arms, the sea with its thousand roads, to that great uncertainty external to everything. He is a prisoner in the midst of what is the freest, the openest of routes: bound fast at the infinite crossroads. He is the Passenger par excellence: that is, the prisoner of the passage. And the land he will come to is unknown—as is, once he disembarks, the land from which he comes. He has his truth and his homeland only in that fruitless expanse between two countries that cannot belong to him.
Here is what I can tell you: that movie was terrible. And we all need our truths, no?