What I think about when I think about going to the movies in Thunder Bay (when I can hear myself think)

angry Gatsby I took myself to the local (read: only one in town) movie theatre to see The Great Gatsby the other night.

Quick crowdsource poll: How many of you go to movies by yourselves? Some people are horrified, or at least somewhat skeptical, when I mention going to movies by myself. Which I really don’t get — I mean, first of all there’s the whole child-care issue: if Rachel and I had to hire a sitter every time we wanted to see a movie, would see far fewer movies than the scant few we already do. Further, if we do splurge on a sitter, then I generally want to spend the time actually talking to her, not sitting side by side in the dark. I’m as happy as the next person for movie company, but, really, it’s not like we’re going to have a conversation, or anything.

Except. Except that I live here, in Thunder Bay, where people do. They do have conversations. People in this city chat all the way through the commercials (including that asinine anti-obesity commercial sponsored by, of all companies Coca-Cola, that protector of all things healthy) and the previews and the film itself. Sometimes they talk to their seatmates — usually inane comments like “Didja see that?” or “She looks pretty angry!” or “Now, Doris, what is the name of that actress again? Oh! Oh! She’s the one from that show!”— and sometimes they talk directly to the characters in the movie themselves. It’s like watching Dora the Explorer with a bunch of adult-sized toddlers yelling “Backpack!” Except that they’re yelling things like “Yeah! Get him!”

All this talking irritates me. And not just because I came here from Toronto, where nobody talks during the movies — where nobody you don’t know might talk to you at all, for days. Similarly, Toronto supermarket cashiers do not comment on or question your purchases the way they do here.

No, all this talking irritates me because it means — drumroll please — I’m a bitch I CAN’T HEAR THE MOVIE. Look. I already live with two young children who make it nearly impossible to have any kind of continuous conversation, and on the rare evening that I get to fully immerse myself in some kind of cultural production, I don’t need fully grown adults treating a public movie theatre like their own private living room.

I snagged a seat on the aisle for Gatsby, all the better to stretch out my right leg with its wonky knee. I dutifully put my phone away when the commercial told me to, and then I listened to the two older women behind me chat. I don’t remember the content of their conversation, just that there was one, one that continued through the previews (that new Tom Hanks movie looks pretty good, I think, but how would I know for sure, ladies?), through the opening credits, and then into the opening scenes.

Usually, I try to give people at least the previews to get the verbiage out of their systems. I pretend that once the movie starts they will actually smarten up, and sometimes I am correct in that assumption, but more often than not I am not. And as much as I am trying to focus on the previews, I am also mentally rehearsing my next steps. Which means gritting my teeth and thinking of a suitably friendly yet firm way to turn around at an appropriate moment and say something brief yet coherent that will put an end to the problem, but what I actually said at Gatsby was something like, “Hi sorry, but when you talk I can’t focus on the movie so could you please … not?” So smooth, but it worked: they stopped, their momentarily stunned silence and looks of horror fading into the comfortable silence of people actually watching the movie with their mouths shut. Except for popcorn. I heard one person ask, “What did she say?” but other than that I got no blowback. Which I was thankful for, because, on occasion, I have received blowback. Not pretty.

Is it so hard, people of Thunder Bay? Is it so hard to just keep quiet for the couple of hours that the film is showing? I don’t think so, but maybe I’m just that crazy lady who came to see a movie all by herself.

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PS — If you haven't already, please do leave a comment here to win a copy of Stealing Time magazine, which includes my essay, "A Version of Upright."I have to say, your chances are looking pretty good right now, so go. Click. Comment.just not out loud at the movie theatre.