Before I discovered that I am in fact capable of buying a theater ticket without someone by my side, I thought that going to the movies alone on a weekday afternoon was only for the sad and the friendless. I imagined the judgmental glances behind the glass of the ticket vendors, letting their coworkers know that the girl in old exercise shorts and ponytail was, in fact, walking into the theater alone, and was probably always companionless. Not to say any of that was true, but when I was a teenager, that was one of my worst fears.
After an opportunity arose to see Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by myself last spring, my opinions on going to the movies on my own were soon changed. It took real bravery to overcome that mountain of public embarrassment; I had to act like I was too cool to care (though I was far from it). The experience changed my view of cinema completely, as I was able to be comfortably alone on an oddly independent adventure at the same time that Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori went on one of their own.
As I prepared to enter into the historical Tower Theater on that Monday morning, I explored a world that wouldl soon become my sanctuary. The sound of my muffled footsteps on the timeworn carpet did not stop next to the candy counter, since I didn’t have to wait for a partner to decide whether or not to buy expensive popcorn and a Coke. Besides, I already had a bag of Sour Patch Kids in my purse, and didn’t even have to share. When I sat down there was no one sitting immediately around me, I was fully converted to the lifestyle of the senior citizens sitting in the back. I was taken to an ambiguous time and place, both in the Sacramento theater as well as in the majesty of Wes Anderson’s latest work, where dreams and reality intertwined.
Since that first time visiting the theater on my own terms, I have seen many movies alone, including the summer flicks “What If” (2014), “Begin Again” (2014) and the recent “Big Eyes” (2014) which I would’ve enjoyed much less with an uninterested escort by my side. Now, whenever I feel the need to get away, or just have an afternoon off, I can go to the movies for a few hours of air-conditioned paradise.
Though seeing a movie alone may be a relief, it does come at a cost. Most often, going to the movies is an exciting event, with big groups leaving the theater reenacting favorite scenes and furiously blinking in the sudden daylight. Alone, you could try to do these things by yourself, but maniacally laughing to an unheard joke usually reinforces the ticket vendors’ first impressions of you. Also, there is the issue of using the restroom on these solo trips. Who’s going to watch your purse? And you’ll probably never find your original seat again.
Experiencing a movie on your own terms can be relaxing, contemplative and a bit pretentious, depending on your mood, but never lonely. I’ve learned that a big part of growing up is being able to handle situations like this yourself, with nothing standing in your way from a fun afternoon. It is a way to be connected to your community and being able to watch a movie collectively, but while still being independent and with your own opinions as the credits roll. It is comforting to know that I am able to explore my movie taste and, in an emergency, deny that I saw that cheesy romantic comedy without bribing witnesses. At our young age, spending personal time alone is essential for discovering oneself. And going to a movie on your own is a whole lot better than sitting on the computer; the screen is much bigger! It may be cliché, but it’s worth it.
So, no, paying for a ticket by yourself on a mental health day is not equivalent to a lack of social life or inability to handle movie-talkers. No one should shrink from an opportunity to connect with your own thoughts on a film in an undisturbed setting, or take a nap, whatever you want to do in a dark theater that’s legal. When there isn’t someone to whisper predictions in your ear, or wonder out loud where that one guy was from (“Ugh, this is going to bother me the whole time!”), you could even learn more about yourself, your preferences and your community. Take this huge risk and I promise you won’t embarrass yourself too much.
Let me know how your adventure, or embarrassment, goes on twitter (@emdefaz10) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
Graphic by Tiffany Choi
Comic by Evan Lilley