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TV and Movies

Forget Netflix. Going to the cinema alone is life's greatest guilty pleasure

Commentary: If you're not going to the theater by yourself, are you even living a full, rewarding life?

Man on a date at the movies, with a moose

Go to the cinema by yourself, you cowards.

Getty Images

I am here to tell you something that runs counter to decades of cultural programming. I am here to make your brain hurt. I am here to create a cognitive dissonance so dense your brain will short-circuit and implode beneath the sheer weight of how wrong you've been all these years.

I'm talking about going to the movies. During the day.

Alone.

Just try it. It will change your life for the better.

Right now you might think differently. You might think, as I once did, that going to the cinema by yourself is an activity for elderly gentlemen in flat caps and body warmers. Retired ladies of leisure armed with precisely made triangle sandwiches and warm flasks of peppermint tea. But you're wrong. You've never been more wrong.

In 2019, going to the cinema by yourself in the cold light of day is the purest of magical pursuits. If you're not already doing it, you're denying yourself one of life's secret pleasures.

Please listen.

For years you may have believed that the cinema day trip is the sole realm of the "weirdo," a hidey-hole for society's misbegotten tribe of undesirables. That approaching the box office, head bowed, and saying "just one ticket, please," is a modern-day "walk of shame."

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I understand this. In my midteens especially I felt it. Back in the mid-'90s when I started going to the cinema by myself, I was a spotty-faced, troubled kid who bore the weight of this mentality. I absolutely felt the pull of the solo cinema day trip, but also the shame. Not quite secure in my own (bad) skin, I'd awkwardly buy the ticket, sit in the back row, avoid eye contact and cower in the dark, skittishly scanning the cinema to see if I was the only loser who'd come to watch The Phantom Menace on his lonesome.

It felt weird. The world made it feel weird. My friends gave me grief. Even my parents thought it was strange. But despite how awkward it made me feel, it was always one of those "something wrong shouldn't feel so good" situations.

Later in life, I became more confident about it. After high school I traveled a lot overseas, alone. I worked in New York as a waiter, in Japan as a teacher. I would often go to the cinema to kill time waiting for buses or flights, or as an escape from bad service jobs taken to make ends meet.

I quickly found out the solo cinema day trip was the absolute best, and it was my job to preach the gospel.

Why? Loads of reasons, really.

The cinema day trip feels like skipping school. Going to the cinema at night, with a date or a rowdy horde of friends, is business as usual. It's what you're supposed to do. It's practically a job in and of itself. Going to the cinema during the day feels like a much-needed vacation from the harsh realities of real life. Like calling in sick from work, a tiny pointless rebellion. A sly indulgence. Day drinking without the evening hangover.

When I was a teenager I went to the cinema to hide, essentially. From exams, pressure, the zit on my forehead. As a 37-year-old man it's more like a release valve. From mortgages, Trump, global warming, trolls on Twitter, my noisy overbearing children.

It's a beautiful thing. The movie finishes. You emerge bleary-eyed. It should be nighttime, but no. Broad daylight. Because you forgot you went into the cinema at 1 p.m., not 9 p.m. What a joyous discovery. It's 3:30 p.m. and the rest of the day is yours to own and you've already seen Aquaman or Green Book or whatever degenerative garbage you've spent the last two hours vegging out to.

It's like waking up early and going to the gym. Without the exercise. Win the morning, win the day. You are an inspired human being, and you stride purposefully toward the sun. Time to go home and write that novel, finish that script, buy an easel and take up oil painting. You know what? I will apply to medical school.

Movies seen during the day feel different. Nowadays, default daytime consumption of media is the binge, accompanied by the "second screen" and perennial veneer of brain-twisting anxiety. A mind-numbing, multitasking hellscape that has you mainlining Netflix while live-tweeting your third rewatch of Mad Men in a pair of loosely fitted jogging pants, eating an oversized bowl of Lucky Charms.

That's not living.

Get on your glad rags. Emerge from your pit and head to the cinema, lay down 10 bucks, turn off your mobile phone, divorce yourself from all connections to the real world and disappear from the trappings of your oppressive digital life for a couple of hours.

It's magical. It's endlessly freeing. And we all should do it more often.