In Defense of Seeing Movies Alone

Sitting solitary though a summer blockbuster has its perils. But that's OK.

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Photo by Chris Luckhardt

The summer movie season hit full mast less than a week ago, when millions of viewers took to the theaters for the highest-grossing Memorial Day weekend box office ever. I was one of those viewers. Something separated me from the rest, though. Along with most everyone, I love movies for what they have to offer: Namely, the chance to watch awesome stuff, like good-looking people blowing things up. But as I scanned the crowd in my theater, I noticed that I was alone--in that I'd come alone.

There I was: Between empty seats, eavesdropping on nearby teen chatter, chewing on my Red Vines, mentally participating in the on-screen trivia while intermittently answering, "No, this seat isn't taken. Go right ahead." The lights finally, graciously dimmed.

Some would find this embarrassing. I don't.

I go to the movies by myself. It's not from lack of friends (though I was never a threat to win Homecoming Court), and it's not because I am a House M.D.-level misanthrope. I just occasionally enjoy a night to myself and don't need the comfort of an acquaintance while starting at a giant projected screen in silence. This habit, I always knew, was uncommon, but I thought nothing of it—until one day, a few years back, when I told a friend that I went by myself to see The Devil Wears Prada. He called me, rather unsparingly, "a pathetic loser." He wasn't talking about my taste in movies.

It got me thinking: In today's highly individualized zeitgeist why is the loner—the isolated movie watcher, in particular—synonymous with "pathetic" and "loser"? If, say, you were in a theater and saw someone flanked by empty chairs, would you feel pity? Condescension? Would you nudge your companion to join in teasing?

Okay, you might not go that far. But you might just think, "I would never watch a movie alone."

Why?

Other enterprises are immune to the stigma. It's well within social norms to work out at the gym alone. The same is true with buying groceries, shopping at the mall or even watching cinema's cheaper, less-attractive sibling: television.

But not the movies.

I have yet to come across a satisfying answer as to why. The problem, I assume, lies in a self-consciousness ingrained by habit and ubiquitous reminders of "social standards." It sucks being alone when you're surrounded by a mass of people who all know each other. Ever gone to a party where you didn't know anyone? Yeah, me neither. Because that would be terrible. You appear unpopular and feel like an outcast, like a nerd who just transferred to a new school, where even the nerds won't talk to you.

The summer movie, in particular, is unruly for the loner because it attracts a certain audience. I know the crowd in, say, Transformers 3 will be different from the one when I saw The King's Speech, whose theater was half-filled with middle-aged couples, grandparents and other single parties like me. In other words, the crowd was sedate and un-hip, the type that frequents estate sales and the Hoover Dam. But it was also a decidedly less-harrowing experience for a loner. Everyone acts the same at these wintertime Oscar-buzz movies: reserved, quiet, almost embarrassed to make noise.

The summer blockbuster crowd is rowdier. Screenings of The Hangover 2, Super 8, and Captain America are likely to be filled with a motley crew of action junkies, crying kids and rambunctious teenyboppers with nowhere else to legally enjoy the night. Mob mentality emboldens them. They text. They chat. They provide unsolicited commentary or, like when I saw Cyrus last summer, drunkenly sing along to the soundtrack and ask aloud, "Hey, is that the chick from My Cousin Vinny?" They're more inclined to do this because it's the summer, the movie they are watching is blaring with the sounds of explosions and sex, and they're with a large, equally loud group. And it all serves to highlight that you, the loner, are alone.

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Chris Le is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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