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On going to the cinema alone 18, May 2012

Posted by Iphigenia in Films.

I’ll level with you wordpress blog. I’ve had a lot of issues. For a few years I was referred to various counselling services and even took part in group therapy for social anxiety issues. I was never the worst, I’ve had friends who had a rougher time than I did. However, I did go through phases when whatever was happening in my head almost paralysed me mentally. I was just going through the motions. Existing but not really feeling. All the usual stuff that is ridiculed by people who don’t understand. It’s very real and I won’t delve into it too deeply here.

After my group therapy sessions I continued seeing the therapist on an individual basis as I felt I wasn’t quite done yet. I recall in one of our sessions we got onto a fairly regular topic with me; how much I think everyone in public is looking at me, talking about me and laughing at me. I said I wished I could get to a point where I stopped caring so much. My therapist said that people often overcome such worries by doing something alone, such as going out for a meal. I asked if going to the cinema would count because during the film it’s dark and nobody really talks. I wasn’t sure if this broke the rules a little because nobody else was actively seeing you. He said that yes, of course it counts. Going to the cinema is seen as a social activity even though it’s decidedly anti-social once you’re in there. He told me to set a goal that at some point in the next year I’d go see a film alone. I graduated from university after that session so my contact with my therapist ended.

It took me a little bit longer than a year but I finally did it. I fancied going to see The Dark Knight for a second time (I went with my dad on opening night) and I didn’t know anyone who was available during the afternoon. I was writing up my masters thesis at the time so mornings were library time. I didn’t really have any buddies on my course who were into Batman. So I went alone.

It was fine. There were other people watching it on their own. Even better there were other women on their own!

I felt so liberated. I’d broken a social taboo that some people seem desperate to avoid to the point where they’ll look at you like you’ve sprouted a second head and slowly back away if you mention seeing a film alone. Some seem to break out in a cold sweat at just the thought of it. Just what is the problem? Other people will see you? They’ll make comments? Chances are that if they’re making comments, deep down they know they’re doing it because they’re too insecure to take the plunge themselves. I’m fine with people being insecure, I’m a fleshy bag of insecurity. But the ones who are nasty about it, I think they’re probably jealous they’re not as cool as you. You’ve gone to the cinema alone – you don’t give a shit!

I’ve been to the cinema alone a small handful of times since. I tend to go on my own when I want to watch a film for the second or third time. Yes, I’m one of those strange people who likes to watch a cinema release more than once sometimes. Since moving to Glasgow I got a Cineworld Unlimited card, so going to watch a film multiples of times has certainly become a lot cheaper now. And I know not everyone wants to see a film several times. Or they don’t want to go with someone who has already seen it because then they have to put up with you pulling a knowing “oh boy, THIS PART!” face when you know something good is about to happen. I try not to do that even at home with a DVD – but sorry, sometimes I just want to see how people react and I forget. I promise I won’t do it for every single joke or important plot point. In short, sometimes it really is better for everyone if you don’t bring a friend!

Yesterday I had a few hours to kill so I made good on my threat to go see The Avengers again. I wasn’t really in the mood for having to pay 100% attention so felt that going to see something completely new would be a bad idea. Seeing something I knew I’d enjoy was the sensible choice.

I arrived quite early (about 40 minutes early) so after swiping my card I just went to the level of my screen and waited on the benches outside. I played on my phone, listened to my iPod and read my book. You really don’t need other people so long as you’ve got things to do while you wait for the screen to be cleaned. I also got a chance to engage in a bit of people watching. Most customers ascending the escalator behind me were going to levels higher up. The Dictator is out at the moment so that’s probably the busiest film now. There were a couple of older ladies sitting nearby who I assumed were there to see some film I’ve never heard of but I was surprised to see them walking out of The Avengers at the same time as me. See, even I’m guilty of stereotyping. I hope that when I’m in my twilight years I’ll be cool enough to still go see a comic book film.

The staff let me into the actual screen with about 25 minutes to go. I decided to nip to the loo first. One of the downsides of solo cinema viewing is that there’s nobody to look after your stuff. I wasn’t going to take all my gear with me AFTER securing a seat because someone might steal it. I also didn’t want to leave my possessions unattended. So I made absolutely sure I’d got as much pee out of my system as humanly possible. I have quite an annoying bladder. It can go hours without needing to let go but then will hit phases of making me feel like a water balloon every half hour. It tends to pick these moments when I’ve not got easy access to a toilet, or don’t want to leave. Like at the cinema. I might miss something! So yes, now you know far too much about my bathroom habits…let’s move on.

The wait for the film is definitely the worst part about being on your own. Once the house lights go down you have to take that as a hint to actually switch off your phone, or in this case iPod. I was also trying not to munch on too many of the crispy M&Ms I’d foolishly bought. At the same time I was worrying about my bladder causing an inconvenience. I’d picked the staircase end of a row just in case.

Speaking of seating, for all my past worries about people noticing me I’ve realised that when you’re on your own at the cinema most people treat you like you’re not there. Obviously they won’t sit in your seat with you sitting on it! They know there’s a person present, but you’re just not on their radar otherwise. People chat among themselves, people pick seats from the ever dwindling supply. I ended up with a big group of hooded teenagers sitting next to me. The only thing that was uncomfortable was that one of the guys who was on the heftier side of things picked the seat next to me. It meant I did have to restrict myself to only two thirds of my own seat as his arm was hanging over into my territory. Being so politely English, I didn’t say anything.

I’m always amazed at people who roll up to the cinema and end up arriving into a screening when the trailers have started. The look at confusion on the faces of a group of nine is amazing. What did they expect? The reason the times are given as they are is because the company knows that most people will turn up early. It’s guaranteed a lot of people will be watching the adverts and trailers. I would never leave it later than 15 minutes before the start time because finding a good seat is a nightmare. Yet people still keep doing it. Worse still are the ones who arrive when the film has actually started. So you often suffer the indignity of an usher shining a light in your face while Mr and Mrs Late Arrival shuffle past you with their mountains of popcorn and drinks into the only two seats left that are to their liking. If I was running that late, I wouldn’t have bothered with the snacks.

I get that everyone isn’t as time conscious as me. Personally I’d just wait around for a later showing if I got stuck in traffic or didn’t get out of work on time. But that’s because I value having a good seat. It’s an important part of the viewing experience for me. That’s why I didn’t care about sitting on my own for almost the best part of an hour where everyone could see me. I knew the good seat would be worth it!

I think I notice late arrivals a lot less when I go to the cinema with company. I always notice them, but in this case I was focusing on them more. It might be because I got the exact same adverts and trailers as last time so was looking for something to cure my boredom and frustration. I just wanted the film to start! I guess thinking “well at least I’m not that late,” made me feel a little bit better about being a solo viewer. Any residual social anxiety melted away. They may have two other people with them, but they might all have to split up anyway. I chose to be here on my own! Ha!

The thing is, a few years ago I would’ve been one of those people who judged lone cinema goers as losers with no friends. I also thought that only blokes did it. I think I thought this way because it was the prevailing opinion of my friends. Once I grew up and realised there was nothing wrong with thinking differently, I realised that maybe people go to the cinema alone because they just like watching films. I do still love going to the cinema as an event with friends or my partner. It’s always nice to go out for a meal before or after the film, or discuss what you thought over a pint. But sometimes you just want to watch a film and forget all that fancy social stuff.

I was also terrified of being seen out in public doing something that might be considered unusual. If you had told younger me that I’d one day manage to go to the cinema alone I would’ve laughed in your face. It wouldn’t have been because I thought I was too cool for that. It would’ve been because I was genuinely terrified of being out in public too long. In my mind being without other people gets you noticed more. But it really doesn’t.

When I walk through Glasgow city centre on the way to and from work, I don’t really notice anyone else. Why would they notice me? Chances are that a lot of them don’t. Getting over the fear that everyone was staring was a huge task for me. Sometimes I have relapses but I can fight them. I’ve come a long way. And sometimes I’ll reward myself with a quick trip to the cinema…


1. mizhenka - 28, May 2012

I’ve only been to the cinema once by myself, and that was to see Return of the King whilst skipping college. The entire time, I was so worried my parents would coincidently decide to the see the film at the same time, and found it hard to settle down. I did quite enjoy the experience, though, as the cinema was near-empty. It’s a bit like going to gigs, I suppose. The company is just for the journey there and back, and rarely do you need to/have the opportunity to talk to somebody during. I’ve been to several gigs alone, and found that quite liberating, and one day I hope to return to the cinema and visit alone. Especially considering I could do that during the day when it’s quiet.

Iphigenia - 28, May 2012

Ah I know that feeling. I got a bit like it the first time I went alone cos I was worried someone I know might walk in. I don’t know why I was worried!

If you go alone it does mean you don’t have to make sure everyone can go and you can see a film at a time when say, there’s no kids around cos they’re all in school. I agree with you – it’s similar to going to a gig alone! The only thing I didn’t enjoy about that one time was it was easier for me to notice the arseholes who talked all the way through the set.

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