I love movies. I the dark theater and the sense of anticipation right before the movie starts. I love the communal feeling, of experiencing something in a crowd that makes everyone laugh or cry (or just get misty) or scream. I love when you are walking out of a just finished great movie and you look at a total stranger and you see in that person’s eyes that he or she just had the same experience as you and you know that you both understand that something meaningful just took place. Watching a great movie is one of the pleasures of life. Still, I rarely go to the movies anymore.
I have many problems with going to the movies. For one, it’s impossible to know beforehand if the movie is going to be satisfying or not. I hate to sound like an old crank, but movies in New York are expensive and it’s disappointing to spend the money and then leave dissatisfied. But this never used to bother me, so what changed?
I think people changed. People now think its okay to talk during the movie as if they are in their own living room. They think its okay to put their feet on the back of your seat or kick your seat. They think its okay to make a lot of noise opening the packages of food that they smuggled in from outside the theater. In general, the behavior of the movie-going public has deteriorated to the point that I’m tense from the moment I sit down in the theater. I’m looking and listening before the movie starts, trying to figure out from where the problems are going to come. Maybe its confirmation bias, but it seems like the problems always come.
Another issue is that watching movies at home has never been easier or more enjoyable. Movies are available on cable (on demand or at air time), or from the ether through Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes and no doubt a number of other services. And our TVs are much bigger now. My smallest TV (33″) may be embarrassingly small by today’s standards but it is significantly bigger than any previous TV that I owned. The picture quality in the movies I watch is HD. Plus, I still get all the other benefits of being at home that I always had; I can put my feet where I want, talk when I want (until the wife shushes me), I can pause the movie to use the bathroom or to get food or to send an important text. I miss the magic of the theater but there is a version of that magic in the home now.
The other great thing about watching at home is that the stakes are much lower. By not trying to make sure that I spend my movie money wisely, I am spared having to expose myself to the movie hype machine. I don’t need a bunch of articles and commercials and reviewers and friends telling me how great a movie is, raising my expectations to an unreasonable level. I can go into most movies with a clean slate, with little expectations. My wife and I recently watched two really good movies, “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Dogtooth”. I had not heard of either movie and I recognized a total of one actor from the two movies combined. It didn’t matter. I watched “Red Road” a couple months ago, same thing. I started watching these movies with little to no expectation and was rewarded.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever completely stop going to the movies. At some point you want to join in the conversation, even if it means sitting through a movie like “Avatar”. Sometimes I want to be part of a community. The good thing is that watching a movie at home no longer means that you’re not part of a community. Thanks to the internet, a community is only always seconds away.