Celebrating the Lone Moviegoer
Ah, the holidays! When the family from near and far can gather together and do the one thing you can stand to do with each other for long periods of time (i.e., more than an hour): eat and watch movies!
Maybe you’ll settle on a movie marathon that will make every generation happy. Start with the classics: It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street. Weepy, life-affirming, soul-expanding, bona fide “yes, I believe!” masterpieces. Then bring in some magic for the kiddos with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express. Then take a little break to let everyone retreat to their own little screens and watch bad Christmas pranks on YouTube. Regather with new bowls of popcorn and whiskey (yeah, mix it up!), the little kids all snuggled off in Sugar Plum land, and chase all those old sentiments with a stiff dose of Scroogery including Bad Santa and Krampus.
That’s 12 solid hours of Christmas movies. Your eyes will be blurrier than the tree lights after too much eggnog. It’s too much movie-binging, too much wishing your uncle would stop with the critical commentary already. It’s too much family.
We make so much of togetherness during precious holiday hours; but what of the lonely, those away from home, those with no family? Movies often act as a proxy for family, especially in times when culture and society are screaming the virtues of kith and kin. Ditch them for a couple of hours! Have you ever gone to the movie theatre on a major holiday by yourself?
True movie aficionados relish that viewing experience where they can sit alone, uninterrupted by questions and commentary, and lose themselves in the landscape of the film. And, have all the popcorn to themselves.
Movies can carry a lonely soul away, lift them out of the empty house, their woes faded by immersion into raunchy comedy, spaced-out fantasy, or the greater problems of characters far more pathetic. Or they can be an escape for an over-encumbered parent in desperate need of a break. Are laughs and tears richer when shared with someone, or do they go deeper when you absorb the full impact by yourself? For me, it’s always the latter. I watch movies alone (at least the first time) because it’s a richer, deeper experience; for the same reason, I read books by myself. I’m dining alone…the movie may be junk food or it may be a nutritious feast, but it’s all for me.
I remember spending one Christmas Day alone in a movie theatre watching Schindler’s List; the movie was of course depressingly bittersweet, a celluloid inoculation against smarmy cheer. I left the Chicago theatre and the snow had just started falling. The silence afforded by that journey from movie seat to car seat was a meditative balm for absorbing the movie and the powerful emotions it unleashed.
Here’s to the movie theatre on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day…the safe haven for the lonely, or for the escapees of family mayhem. The dark interior where a melancholy soul can escape the pressure of festivity, culture’s unrelenting drive to make “family” and togetherness the only paradigm that soothes the spirit.
Here’s to “going it alone” on the holiday and coming out with some real peace.