The Merits of Seeing Movies Alone

I was eighteen when I saw my first movie alone. It had been a grueling day of classes. My dorm felt three feet small and my mom had just called with scary news about my granddad. I felt helpless, untethered, and generally melodramatic in the way only first semester college students can. Something had to be done about this weighty grey-ness. I zipped up my down parka to the chin and marched to the nearest movie theater. My palms sweat just a little as I passed my card under the plexi glass divide. The butterflies I’d imagined would accompany dates came gently as I asked for a ticket for one. I felt warm and a little nervous and totally grown up. The title of the film has been forgotten, but what I remember is that feeling of slipping into the seat just four rows from the screen. It arises every time I sit down in a theater alone-a feeling of gratitude, anticipation, and presence.

And now, four years and many grey afternoons later, I still treasure the practice of seeing movies solo. The attention the whole act requires is an important practice in a world of constant connection. I secretly delight in any opportunity to turn my phone on airplane mode. Being unreachable creates space for unwavering attention to the moment at hand. When I traveled to Honduras with my family as a teenager, my phone was disconnected for the whole trip and I recall begrudgingly turning it on when we’d landed back in Iowa. There’s always been an attraction to the autonomy of cell-phone free space.

But it’s obviously about more than shutting my phone off; that can be done anywhere. It’s also about the meditative state movie watching in the good, old fashioned sense, ushers in. Too often, I turn on a film I’ve been recommended on my laptop, set the best intentions, and by minute twelve am deep in the world of the Instagram Discover tab. It’s no way to enjoy art and always leaves me feeling restless versus relaxed. But in a theater, the work of atmosphere is done for you. And so is the work of focused consumption. You’re here for this one thing, not the endless, multiplying things of the internet. It’s a practice of presence, of showing up with the hope of being changed in exchange for your attention.

Movie nights in the Veurink household are a production. In the rare case all four of us are in the same city, we always try for a night at the theater. First, the inevitable clash of tastes in initial selection. Next, blocking off an evening that works for all of us. Finally, after tickets and snacks and refill duties have been accounted for, the movie is enjoyed-only to be picked apart by four budding film critics on the ride back to the house.

I adore this beautiful, familial chaos. But so much of what makes seeing a movie alone special is your right to the entire experience-start to end. Dying to see the latest thriller? Great. Secretly been counting down until the release of an indie starring your celebrity crush? Perfect. The choices that shape the experience are all your own. Time of day, snacks, even the details as specific as what row you land on. And best of all, after the film, discussing the merits of what you just saw is totally up to you, as well. You can phone your best friend for an instant debrief or never think of the movie again. The experience is yours.

If you haven’t tried seeing a movie alone, do! And if it’s something you already adore, do it more. Because in that dark, cushioned space, something magical happens-a feature length exhale.