(This is a preview of the PopRox column that will appear in Sunday’s Pocono Record.)
In my 37 years, there are very few places I’ve consistently considered a true sanctuary.
The movie theater is probably the biggest one, even more so at this point in my life. But there have been threats to that sanctuary recently.
Higher ticket prices make me wonder if the shared experience of watching a movie in a theater is worth what is being charged. The opening weekend crowds make me wonder if I can be comfortable, or whether I’d be sitting in between a lady who won’t stop texting and a guy who never learned the basic art of whispering.
But we’ve never seen a threat like we did last week when a clearly troubled man walked into a Colorado movie theater — one that looks like every other movie theater around the world — and opened fire.
By the time he was done, he killed 12 people and injured dozens more at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
Then that little voice in the back of my head starts thinking, That could have been me. Then the mind starts to wander and you finally have to ask yourself:
For almost every pro argument, there’s a con that follows. I was at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises last week at the Casino Theatre in Mount Pocono and felt nothing but comfort, welcome and safety. Earlier in the night, I had visited the three other Monroe County movie theaters, and the feeling was no different, even though the costumes might have been a little scary. (That’s exactly what the Colorado victims thought.) Something like that could never happen here. (That’s also what the victims thought.)
Life is about risk assessment. Most of us observe a situation and immediately determine how dangerous it really is. You take chances going to the bank, to the community pool, to your next-door neighbor’s house, or to walk your dog.
The chances anything bad will happen to you in those everyday scenarios are minutely slim. But last week, didn’t we think the same thing about movie theaters?
The risk of heading to the movie theater may be slightly increased, but it’s not nearly enough to keep me away from a movie theater. Not now, not ever.
Maybe it’s spite. Maybe it’s my own way of telling the world I’m not afraid of this guy, or any others deranged enough to have thought about something like shooting up a crowded, public place in any way.
Or maybe I’m just not willing to give up the theater experience. Movie theaters and movies are voyeurism at its best. We want to look into someone’s life without being noticed. We want to see how other people may live without the threat of a restraining order hanging over our heads.
And we’re encouraged to bring friends along with us to share that experience. How cool is that?
There’s a nostalgia to theaters. Ask me any movie, and there’s a good chance I’ll immediately tell you where I saw it, who I was with, what we did before/after and what I immediately thought of that movie. If you asked me about a movie I saw on DVD or OnDemand, I won’t have nearly that kind of memory recognition.
Then there is the evolving role movie theaters can play in our lives. How many general places are there left that you can have your phone off and not get in trouble? Five, maybe? Three? (I’m thinking church, movie theater, the theater, doctor’s office, maybe golf course … where else?)
The movie theater is one of them. Your wife/husband/boss/kids/parents can’t get mad at you because their call went straight to voice mail. It’s not only socially responsible to keep your phone off, it’s practically demanded. Don’t get confused by the “please” in the theater message of “Please silence all communication devices.” They’re really telling you, “Turn it off or we’ll have problems.”
Whatever the new risk assessment is to head to the theater, it’s nothing to me. Or it’s at least not enough to make me blink about heading to the theater any time in the future. I would have gone back Friday if I wasn’t sleep-deprived. And I don’t want metal detectors at every door, or a cop patting me down as I walk in, or security guards walking through the theater while the movie is playing.
I’ll keep my movie theaters how they are, thanks. I’m comfortable taking my chances — which probably aren’t much different than the chances I’ll come home safely from driving to Mass on Sunday.