Once, we gathered in theaters, sharing sweat-stained spaces and popcorn. And there were many of us who comprised the we, a sum total of Is. Mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters. Self-proclaimed adorkables like yours truly who laughed at dark news stories about train crashes and could recite every member of the Romanov family from memory. We flocked to parking lots and relished the experience of bodies converging, the slam of car doors, the click of the real world and the entrance into indulgence. We laughed at Forgetting Sarah Marshall, roared at The Hangover. We laughed at adult crises, sympathized with the biggest man-children who pined for lost girlfriends and made infants mime masturbation at tables in Vegas, laughed because people’s foibles made our own lives of needy emails to friends or rough and ubiquitous tempers seem all too insignificant. They made us look like Joan of Arc or Jesus by comparison. We relished our friendships and families, clustered in seats, relished the claustrophobia. We smiled at each other and snuck Skittles in because it was fun to break the rules and not just because we were indignant. We looked at each other, relished the shared experience, seeing X character doing Y in the precise moments. I loved looking back and seeing how many seats were filled. How I adored the filled theaters, how we all did, to be frank.
Once we laughed in unison, the families and the lone moviegoers of whom there were too many. We took cues from each other, the laughter a beautiful chorus, a roar, an apotheosis. We carried the laughter outside with us, carried it back into the weekends and the ensuing weeks, especially those of us who wandered through wonderlands alone. Some of us were alone because friends had moved on, friends from high school, MFA programs. We pretended it was something all our own. The loners among us imagined being friends with the girls with the big glasses and the more desperate among us wanted to be chums with the bros with the crew cuts. Me, I wanted the big glasses and awkwardness, a girl to laugh with me and acknowledge my adorkability. Her name would be Anastasia and she’d wear frumpy sweaters and don berets rakishly. Or Claire. Tatiana would be apropos also.
Once we relished the chaos after movies, leaving the theaters in swarms. We pretended to be grumpy, but we felt the warmth in jostling bodies, in the slowness of movement, in fellow moviegoers reluctant to surrender to the world.
Once, so long ago, but not really, we relished multiplexes, but also the charming dollar theaters where we could catch some rom-com we missed. Or the indie theaters that served beer and pretzels and showed things like Cyrus, mumblecore galore, where Jonah Hill was uncomfortably close to his mother, played by Marisa Tomei, and John C. Reilly struggled to find love after seven fucking years of being divorced. Or some of us loved, loved, loved, Midnight In Paris, where golden age thinking abounded and Owen Wilson practically creamed his shorts meeting Hemingway. We loved the notion of Hemingway hating our novels, or at least I did.
Then we got the rise of streaming services. Netflix. Prime. HBO. Original programming replaced big screens, show by show. iPhones were quislings in this conspiracy. Drama on phones replaced the thrill of parking lots. Succession, The Crown, Barry, psychological drama kept us glued to our sofas, our beds, our toilets even. We discarded movie nights for binges, promised it was a one-time thing, until the three-hundredth time. Some of us found it easier in its own way because everyone was alone now. We weren’t losers because friends had taken off and started worlds anew, we were part of a rush, the whirl of the world, and no one bothered to dissect us when we holed up, phone in hand, watching Bill Hader as a sad sack ostracized hitman and whispering, “I feel your pain, Barry.”
Some of us lamented the loss of theaters. Vowed to do something. We lamented dark spaces and empty rows, fallen cathedrals, concession stands without lines. But new original programming soothed us. Bribed us, to be blunt. We could stop and start episodes. Watch X or Y at our convenience. Sure, we were alone, but our friends watched the same programs in nearby apartments, across town, even in the same rooms for the luckiest of us, a precious few.
But if only original programming came with laughter. If only there were a way to insert movie theater laughter, natural, yet perfectly timed. All the swearing and the fuckups without laughter rang hollow. Motherfucker, motherfucker, where’s the live laugh track? Where?
Another generation of friends gone.
How long until they bribe us with electronic friendship?
Why bother? They’ll leave too. They’ll leave us all at some point, the electronic friends, whatever form they take. Android movie chums or Alexa ready made for movie dates. Alexa, laugh on command. Now. Please.
Somewhere, we dreamed of the theaters, the neon purple and pink flickering, on and off, on and off, waiting for people to come, watching as a few lone comrades streamed in, their old natural gait disrupted. Even those of us who were nerds forgot the parlance of the theater, forgot to look at the garish carpeting with awe, forgot to relish the posters for coming attractions and savor them with greed. We forgot to look back, to absorb and carry the laughter, to lean out into the audience, the Is, a sea of wes.
As they say in foreign films,
About the Author:
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. Yash’s work is forthcoming or has been published in WestWard Quarterly, Café Lit, and Ariel Chart, among others.