Social Habits at the Cinema

Yesterday, my partner and I went to see two movies at our local theater. It had been months since our last real day off together, and so we wanted to make the most of it. We went and saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi (which needs no introduction), and Insidious: The Last Key. I’ve never been much of a horror film fanatic, but my partner NJ loves them, so we decided to watch the latest installment of the Insidious franchise at the theater.

There was something I noticed immediately when I sat down in my seat for Insidious (despite the fact that I had lost my wallet at the first movie…): the other moviegoers were talking.

It was an interesting experience—at Star Wars, the social expectations were to be silent. To keep the tension of the cinematic experience palpable. To forget you were in a theater and be transported to a world of spaceships and Jedi and floating rocks (inside joke).

But in the theater for Insidious, the expectations were really different. No one seemed to mind that people around them were laughing and involving the rest of the theater patrons in the experience. It felt more like the line up to a roller coaster at a theme park than the credits before a feature film.

During Insidious, there were a few times when the whole crowd jumped simultaneously, when NJ’s nails bit into my arm or thigh, or when a particularly jumpy girl shrieked and cut the tension so quickly that the entire audience broke into laughter. It was a group experience, rather than a singular one.

It made me think about how a horror film like Insidious is not trying to do the same things that a film like Star Wars or Jumanji is trying to do. Insidious is a horror film, so naturally the producers are looking to get a few good scares out of their audience, while Jumanji is probably more about getting viewers to laugh at a few key jokes or gags. Star Wars‘s producers are probably hoping more people remember a few key scenes or characters—they are all looking for what lingers, but none of them are trying to be all things at once.

As a writer, it was a good reminder: not every story has to be all things, but it’s a good idea to know what a story’s goals for the reader are when you’re starting out. If you’re writing a story that is supposed to make people cry or feel pain for a character, it’s probably a good idea to not cut the tension too much with side plot or humor (my only real complaint with Thor: Ragnarok, which was amazing in every other aspect, was that there was so little tension that it was hard to feel anything for a few key characters at their black points.)

Have any of you seen any good movies recently (and are there any you’re looking forward to seeing)? What did you like about them? (Feel free to go spoiler crazy for Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the comment section!)

My most-anticipated 2018 film (besides Marvel franchise releases) is Downsizing, which looks like it will just be a really fun movie:

16 thoughts on “Social Habits at the Cinema

  1. You know what? My guy and I have not had a date in months either, and we just got out to see Star Wars, too! I was making similar observation about the audience and was happy at what a diverse crowd Star Wars drew—lots of ages, races, etc all to see the same movie.

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    1. Yeah, I really appreciated a lot about that movie. I actually read a really good article about how it was diverging from the original series in that there is not black and white good and evil, and also that “noble self-sacrifice” is not as noble as the original movies made it out to be. The scene with Finn and Luke at the crystal creature planet was probably one of the best in the movie–but it also reminded me a lot of the Battle for Helm’s Deep… 😂

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  2. That is such an interesting observation about going to the movies. I watched Star Wars recently and like your experience, the theater was silent for most part except for a scene with Chewie and the Porgs, where quite a few movie-goers laughed. Not entirely happy with how the film turned out but that’s another story altogether. Most of the time I prefer the theatre to be silent…even it’s a funny lightedhearted movie – really like to focus on the show and not get distracted 😊

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    1. I agree! The scene with Chewie, the one where Luke milked the sea-cow-alien, and the opening scene crank call were all the exceptions. Plenty of people laughing. 🙂 I’d be curious to know what you didn’t like about the film! It really has divided a lot of the fan base. But I agree with you, I tend to enjoy when it’s more quiet at the theatre. 🙂

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      1. For me, I felt that a lo of the scenes could have been shortened – the casino part, felt Rey’s back story dragged on. That said, I do felt a lot of the film was written to set up the last in the trilogy…and that film would be interesting to watch 🙂

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  3. I watched Star Wars with some trepidation as many people I know hated it, most of them fans of the old movies, like me. I left the theatre excited and looking forward to the next instalment. What I loved about the movie was the messiness, the chance to connect with the characters and watch them grow, the shifting themes, and that it wasn’t two and a half hours full of special effects but little substance.

    They deconstructed the old Luke and created a relatable character in his place, one with problems and mental health issues, one I could understand and connect with. Kylo and Rey are not black-and-white (evil vs good) characters but rather people who based on their experiences, have reasons for being who they are now.

    The plot was messy much like life is, and even though they could have continued the old tropes, instead they chose to move in a new direction where the future is uncertain. And as a writer I think I can learn a few things there not only about character development but also about daring to move away from comfort zones.

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    1. I totally agree with you, Aura! It was absolutely an amazing shift in the stories. I was especially pleased with the deconstruction of Luke. I was surprised at the outcry against the character complaints… but I guess it is the same visceral reaction people tend to have when they meet an idol or hero and discover they are human, after all.

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  4. I like to be engrossed in the films I pay to watch, so I tend to go in the middle of the work day (when I can) so there’s less people and noise. It’s true that films like Insidious is all about the jump scares. I don’t think those films are intended to suck you in totally. I think the jump scares are there to assure you that none of it is true, a comfort in a twisted way.
    I appreciate the writing advice you shared.
    A film I recently watched and liked was The Shape of Water. It sucked me in and had wonderful, tender moments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really interesting way to think about the use of jump scares! I’d never really thought of them that way, but that can certainly be one of the reasons so many horror films include them these days.

      I’ve heard a lot about The Shape of Water in recent weeks, but not what it is actually about… I’ll have to check it out!

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  5. I’ll never forget going in to watch the 3rd Star Wars (prequel) which we thought at the time really would be the last one. There was happy chatting leading up to the film, then when the 20th Century Fox theme started there was cheering and clapping. The instant the theme for Star Wars started there was dead silence. I’ve never heard a crowd go that quiet that fast. It was pretty awesome and has obviously stuck with me.

    We just saw The Greatest Showman yesterday and WOW. IT’S SO GOOD. We also saw the preview for the first time for Peter Rabbit and surprisingly we are looking forward to it. We figured it was going to be another Paddington sort of franchise that just felt flat but we’ll see. We’re actually considering grabbing a matinee viewing of that when it comes out. I’ve promised my mother-in-law I’ll see Winchester with her. I don’t like scary movies, but that one looks good. I’ve always been interested in that story and I admire Helen Mirren as an actress anyway. I know there’s more other than Marvel I’m looking forward to, but I can’t remember right now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haven’t heard about The Greatest Showman, so I’ll have to go check that out! Thanks for the recommendation. It should be fun to do a matinee with Peter Rabbit! I really enjoyed Miss Potter when it came out years ago, but then Renée Zellweger is always light-hearted and fun to watch.

      There’s a bunch of movies/series that I want to watch from 2017, but I’m just not sure I can handle their content right now (Black Mirror, Get Out, Moonlight, Mudbound….), given the crazy political nature of that year. (So happy it is over!)

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  6. Interesting to hear your thoughts – everyone did initially go silent in the theatre where we watched Star wars The Last Jedi. But because the tension was constantly cut by jokes and attempts at humour (particularly from unlikely characters, e.g. Luke Skywalker milking a space cow…), the audience began to break out into laughter a bit more than they usually would in a Star Wars film. The tone was set right from the start with that rather odd ‘prank call’ from the resistance to General Hux. I don’t think the movie succeeded – precisely because, as you note, it is used to one type of reaction (quite absorbed and serious engagement) but put in the ingredients for something quite different. It was a confused film I think.

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    1. The prank call was definitely a different tone for Star Wars! I think it set people off their expectations right from the start (which maybe was a good thing?), but the jokes, I think, while cute/humorous, weren’t as funny as––say––the one-liners from Thor: Ragnarok.

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  7. I enjoyed reading your post and the comments, although my context is a little lacking. I’ve never seen one of the Star Wars films: not one. I’m not sure why that is, except that in 1977, when the first film was made, I was busy moving back to the States from Liberia and starting graduate school. After that, there was a long decade of being involved in other things.

    Some of its personal preference, too. Science fiction and fantasy never have appealed, so there’s that. In any event — your site looks great, and I enjoyed the post. While I appreciate a quiet theater, it can be fun when a film catches up an entire audience in emotional response.

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