A grumpy middle-aged man who smuggles Junior Mints into matinees is all that’s left for the cinema
I am the Last Moviegoer.
Last Sunday, I went to see the documentary about the FBI spying on Martin Luther King, Jr. They screened the movie in a several-hundred-seat auditorium at the Alamo Drafthouse theater up the highway from where I live. When I checked the app before I left, it looked like my life’s dream was going to come true. Not only was I the only person in the theater, the entire 10-screen complex was completely deserted. There were only about 10 cars in the parking lot.
What would people go see, anyway? Back to the Future Part 2? The Wonder Woman movie that everyone watched at home and hated? One Night In Miami, which is airing for free as part of Amazon Prime? Of course not.
No one’s going to see anything.
I felt like Burgess Meredith in one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes. I could finally sit in a theater by myself. I had Time Enough At Last.
In the last year, since the COVID curse descended, I haven’t done much. I could count on my fingers, and not even my toes, the number of times I’ve left the house other than to walk my dog or run errands, with the exception of two activities. I’ve volunteered at the mobile food pantry for the Central Texas Food Bank. And I’ve been to the movies about a dozen times.
Last May, I went to the movies as a kind of tightrope-walking experiment. Like everyone else, I thought it was crazy that they were opening movie theaters. I bought a ticket to see Bloodshot, starring Vin Diesel. At that awful multiplex in Kyle, Texas, a photographer from the Austin American-Statesman snapped shots of me like I was an alien who’d just crash-landed in the parking lot. I refused to give him my name.
Two months later, I went to see “Unhinged” at the theater down the street. Then I saw Tenet and the Bill & Ted movie on consecutive days, and lived.
There were other screenings. Netflix opened Mank and The Trial Of The Chicago Seven in theaters for a weekend so they could be eligible for the Oscars they’re not going to win. Right after Christmas, I saw WW84, News of the World, and Promising Young Woman, all on consecutive days. Again, I survived.
Several times, on this site, I’ve bleated out that it’s safe to go to the movies. To this day, there has still not been one COVID-19 case related to a moviegoer, at any time, anywhere in the world. But no one’s listening to me. No one ever listens to me. People have called me irresponsible, a murderer, or worse. But I’m none of those things. Everyone wants someone to blame for the pandemic. And a moviegoer is an easy and isolated target.
I can think of fewer public activities safer than going to the movies right now. There’s no one in the theaters. The most people in any theater I’ve encountered was about 30. One other time, there was 20. Most of the time, it’s been fewer than 10. And then, last Sunday, my destiny revealed itself. I was alone.
This is how I liked to go to the movies before the pandemic anyway. When movie theaters used to be open on Tuesdays, I was quite the habitué of the 2 pm Tuesday show, when I had the likelihood of encountering the fewest number of people. I could do that because I’ve been working at home since the last pandemic. So I know firsthand that movies are better on the big screen, and they’re better still when that auditorium is empty.
That’s still the case, because people have forgotten how to go to the movies. At News of the World, a woman sat two rows behind me and talked on her phone the entire time. Goddammit! At Promising Young Woman, a couple of unpromising young women sat down the row from me and narrated the entire movie. And this is at the Alamo, a theater that precedes every movie with two minutes of warnings that you’re not supposed to talk during the movie. People, you aren’t on your couches. You are in public.
So why have I continued to go to the movies? The answer is simple, and selfish: Because I want to go to the movies. I have nothing else to do. It’s safe. The theaters are empty.
Did I mention that the theaters are empty?
They will continue to be empty. This week has seen a multitude of delays. Studios are pushing back movies that were supposed to screen in the spring of 2020 to the fall of 2021, or later, into 2022. Movies that no one has ever heard of are becoming that movies no one will ever hear of, ever.
I understand why no one’s going to the movies. There’s nothing to see. People are scared of getting sick. And it can be expensive. The Last Moviegoer is a grumpy middle-aged man who only goes to matinees and smuggles in a box of Junior Mints that he bought at Walgreens.
This week, my choices are The Marksman, starring Liam Neeson, which doesn’t interest me much, and Our Friend, starring the power trio of Jason Segel, Dakota Johnson, and Casey Affleck, “an inspiring story of friendship and true sacrifice.” Also, the same three movies I saw a month ago are still screening. I’m going to pass. I may still be a moviegoer, but I’m not desperate.
But at some point, something will appear in theaters that I want to see, or that I have to see, or that is the kind of loud and dumb action movie that I like to see in theaters. There won’t be a lot of people in there with me.
And then, at some point, the pandemic will end. Real movies will start to appear in theaters like they once did. People will return. I’ll be sitting there, alone in the dark, waiting for them to annoy me.