Saturday, 28 November 2015

In defence of solo cinema trips

Last week, I was telling a friend about an amazing film I'd seen the previous day (Brooklyn, in case you're wondering). "Who did you go with?", she asked.

"Oh no one – I just went by myself", I replied.

"Awwww why?!" She came back with, her tone an unmistakable mixture of pity and bewilderment.

This, I'd wager, is the standard response to news of a solo outing like the one I'd been on. But I'm here to state the case for solitary cinema trips being one of the best things you can possibly do.

My own me, myself and I movie experiences started at uni. I lived with a bunch of film students and for them, taking yourself off to the cinema for an afternoon with no one else in tow was officially NBD. In the middle of a film module myself, I'd been watching the likes of The Birds and Psycho and fancied seeing the new Hitchcock biopic. 

With my English degree amounting to a far from intensive eight hours of contact time a week, and most of my time otherwise spent hungover/ reading a book/ frantically reading the Sparknotes of a book I should have read, I had a fair bit to spare. So one chilly winter afternoon, I bit the bullet and headed off to York's Picturehouse – a cosy cinema in the city centre and one that's still one of my all-time favourites.

Shuffling up to the counter to purchase my ticket, that potent popcorn smell in the air, I felt none of the mortification you might expect. If anything, I felt a bit of a pathetic thrill about it. Here I was, all on my lonesome, embarking on what for me ranks up there among the most grown up activities you can do.

Admittedly, my confidence foundered a little as I sidled into the cinema alongside a middle-aged couple, hoping not to draw attention to my solo status. Those stupid niggling thoughts started to cross my mind: what if people thought I'd been stood up? Or that I was a pathetic loser with no friends?

But I went in, and it was an alright film, and no one took their eyes off Helen Mirren to point and laugh. I realised I could see whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted - with no need for debates over which blockbuster to go to or how far away from the screen to sit. It was a whole new world!

There's a scene in 500 Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon Levitt's character is shown alone in the middle of a cinema audience, grim-faced as he watches miserable films that match his recently-dumped state of mind – and a purposefully sharp contrast to the care-free days of Zooey Deschanel sitting alongside him, playfully throwing popcorn at his head. In pop culture, cinemas are often painted as the domain of couples...and the back row doesn't have a reputation for nothing.

But steering clear of the cinema because you don't have a boyfriend in tow (which a friend of mine going through a break up recently admitted she was doing, since it felt like a 'them' kind of activity) would be the truly sad thing to do. It's like songs that remind you of your ex – play that shit on repeat until you no longer associate it with them.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes the best cinema experiences are collective ones. I'm still going on annual pilgrimages to the Hunger Games with fellow J-Law worshiping pals, and it's lovely to leave a cinema and discover what your fellow film-goer thought. But the next time you're feeling bored on a Sunday afternoon and you fancy seeing something but your friends can't be bothered, remember: the magic, the tears and the thrills to be found in the cinema are just as good – if not sometimes even better – when you experience them alone.