Date Night is Over

I want to go to a movie… fifteen years ago.

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I know it’s silly. Fifteen years ago there was the same sticky floor and exorbitantly-priced popcorn, but back then there were not cell phones glowing from every row of the theatre. If a person bumped your seat, they said, “excuse me” and had the decency to look embarrassed. Those days are gone.

Over the last year, my husband and I have gone to watch a movie at our local theatre four times, maybe five. We start the trip with high hopes.

We get there early. We drop a small fortune on tickets and snacks without complaining. We find our seats—not too close or too far from the screen. We watch twenty minutes or so of commercials before the previews for coming attractions even begin. We silence our phones and put them out of sight. The lights dim and we smile and hold hands. And then…

A very tall couple ambles in late and sits directly in front of us.They must stretch, pushing their seat backs firmly against out knees, and then complain because they’re too cramped. They argue with each other as the opening credits begin—not quietly—they’re mad, after all.

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Suddenly a cell phone goes off behind us. The teenage owner of the phone with the Beyonce ringtone answers it without shame.She takes a minute to explain that she can’t talk because she’s in a movie theatre, and another minute to tell her friend what movie she’s about to watch. And one last minute to promise to call back with a review.

Once the movie really starts the theatre starts to settle down. Until the toddler at the end of our row has to use the restroom. Mom and Dad decide who gets to accompany the little angel with a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Dad “wins” and quickly drags Joey across the knees of everyone down the row. Yes, they might have gone the other direction, but Mom didn’t feel like standing up to let them pass.

The next ninety minutes include much of the same, from all corners of the auditorium. Upset children, glowing smartphones, bathroom and concession breaks, all set the framework for our date night movie. By the end credits, we’re exhausted. I can barely tell you what the movie was about.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a little. Maybe I’m getting old. But I miss going out to the movies. I miss manners. Maybe that’s why we have invested in our own home theatre system. We have a huge screen and surround sound, and we sit in comfy seats. We can pause the movie if we need a break for anything. The popcorn is cheaper, too.

But I still miss the theatre. I miss being able to share the experience of a story with a few hundred other people who might have the same hopes and expectations. I can’t imagine that I’m the only person who longs for that. Sure, home theatre systems have amazing advantages, but they lack community. I wonder, even as I type this, if that sense of fellowship can ever be recaptured. Was I just imagining it in the first place?

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I understand that things change. Lots of things change for the better every day. But this isn’t better, is it? How did we get here, and how do we get back?

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.