The Social Experience of Going to the Movies

Written by  //  May 2, 2012  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  2 Comments

Sometime back, in response to a comment that I seem to have all the time in the world to watch every single movie that is released, I cited my lack of social life as a definite advantage. Although I only wanted to sound funny but this did get me thinking about the social nature of the act of watching movies. Going to the movies is widely regarded as an acceptable form of casual social interaction almost at par with dinners and drinks although on some occasions it also goes together with those two. We are talking about going to a cinema hall to watch a movie. Watching a movie at home, whether on TV or computer is barring some exceptions not a communal affair.

When people do go out to watch a movie, they do so in a group. This can be attributed to the fact that going to the movies has for long provided people a reason to go out and do something together which is not as expensive or unhealthy as dinner and kills much more time. It also gives couples an opportunity to spend time together without having to talk too much. Same goes for casual acquaintances and work friends. Nowadays, the entire process of going to the movies is usually preceded or followed by food/ drinks or as has become the norm recently, (window) shopping at the malls. It is rarely just about watching the movie and that is what necessarily makes it a social experience.

After the lights go dim though, it’s a different matter. In an ideal situation, well behaving audience are expected to engage directly with what’s happening on the screen and not with the person sitting beside them. Of course more often than not, people do talk a lot between the movie. They try to act wiser than the actors on the screen to get the approval of the people accompanying them. In a lot of cases they proclaim the makers of the movie as complete idiots just in case the person(s) sitting beside them could not process that on his/ her own.

The best form of social interaction while watching a movie is to be part of an audience and its collective reactions. Simultaneous cheers and claps during a heroic act, whistles during corny one liners or shrieks during a thrilling sequence accentuate the experience of watching a movie. This is what you miss when you watch a movie sitting at home. Of course, the big screen and dolby sound speakers are also hard to recreate. A lot of times, the theatre and by that I mean the kind of audience you watch a movie with can affect whether you enjoy a movie or hate it. An out and out crowd entertainer like a typical Salman Khan movie is more enjoyable in a single screen whereas a movie like Drive or Descendants can be enjoyed only around a serious and subdued late night multiplex audience. But then, the thing about being part of such a collective experience is that you are sharing in the reactions and experiences of complete strangers; people, whom you have never spoken to and barring some strange coincidence, never will. So then, does this qualify as a socializing experience? Can I say that I have socialized if I went and watched a movie in theatre where other people also came and watched a movie?

For some people watching a movie alone is a big taboo but personally I don’t see anything wrong with it. I mean it’s not as if you have been caught in public with a blood dripping axe. Sorry, that image transposed from American Psycho probably made things worse here. Anyways, the point that I am trying to make is that there is or at least there should be some merit in watching a movie for the sake of watching the movie itself rather than the whole social activity of going to watch a movie.

So then may be there is a difference between going to a movie and going for a movie. In the former category are people who want to go to movie because they have to meet someone and watching a movie is a good way to go around that. If they do not get tickets to a particular movie, they’ll probably watch some other movie. If someone comes up with a more ingenious way to spend time, they would much rather go for that. If however, you are going for a movie, then everything revolves around that, including I would assume, the people that you could watch it with. In the former case, watching a movie is just a form of social interaction whereas in the latter watching a movie in the theatre in itself is the motive and the social interaction is just a byproduct of the same. It is the former kind of people who make up the majority of numbers but it’s more people of the latter kind who pre book for the first show and watch a movie many times over.

With the increasing sizes of television screens with astounding number of pixels per square inch (or something like that), it would have been expected that the number of people going to the cinema halls would fall but the recent trends indicate to the contrary. More and more people today go to watch movies in theaters. The primary reason probably not being the cinematic experience but the fact that for a lot of people going to the movies is a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family; an outdoor activity of sorts. This is certainly not a bad thing (or at least I am not judging such people). I am just wondering if watching a movie minus this socializing experience is.

2 Comments on "The Social Experience of Going to the Movies"

  1. Anonymous May 3, 2012 at 11:19 am ·

    Very well written Mukul! I have had occasions when I went for the movie alone for the uninterrupted experience of just watching the movie and then same day had to go with family who were not aware of my prior plans! lunch/dinner post a movie s a lot more fun than before the movie, thats purposeful socializing and then there can always be something to talk about

  2. Harsh May 3, 2012 at 11:22 am ·

    Ibid 🙂 I forgot to put in my name actually

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