Losing Myself At the Movies

By Andrew Urie

Recently, I stumbled across an August 2015 Journal of Consumer Research article that indicates that going to the movies alone can actually be good for you.

Although I’m sure this information will be revelatory for some people, for me it only confirms the benefits of something that I’ve been doing for a long time. After all, I’ve been going to the movies alone, on and off, for close to three decades.

I first acquired the habit back in the fall of 1991. I’d just started high school, and my father was suddenly diagnosed with an early form of cancer that saw him placed in the hospital for a prolonged stay. I was stressed out about his illness and the changes in my life that my transition to high school had wrought, so I’d often tune out and skip class or bail on friends to go watch movies alone. I saw a lot of movies that fall: Necessary Roughness, The Super, House Party 2, Ernest Scared Stupid, Shattered.

Though these films were basically forgettable in and of themselves, what I remember most are the experiences of strolling to a local Scarborough theatre on crisp fall afternoons and subsequently losing myself in the darkness of a cinema. There was something inherently calming about the whole process. Today, of course, the key theatres I attended are no more: Cedarbrae Cinemas 8 shutdown in 2003, and the old Scarborough Town Centre Cineplex Odeon multiplex closed in 2000.

Thankfully, my father fully recovered from his illness (he recently celebrated his eighty-third birthday) and my life picked up again, so I stopped going to the movies by myself as a general routine. Nonetheless, I can vividly recall sitting alone in the now defunct Victoria Park Famous Players on a cold February afternoon a few years later – 1996, to be precise – and watching Heat in order to distract myself from the heartache that I’d developed over a girl. As events turned out, we ended up dating (still friends to this day). She also worked at a movie theatre, so I spent the next couple of years going to the movies for free with her and her friends.

By the time I finally started university undergrad in 1998, my life became dedicated to studying, working part-time, and partying and clubbing with friends on weekends. I didn’t go solo to many movies throughout my undergraduate years, though I would sometimes take a break from cramming for mid-terms and finals to catch the occasional movie by myself. I have fond memories of dashing out of the old UTSC campus library on evenings to catch late shows during peak study seasons.

When the practice of going-it-alone to the movies really returned for me was when I made the still questionable decision of committing myself to graduate school and pursuing a course of study that would culminate with me earning a PhD in Social and Political Thought. This turned out to be an arduous, prolonged journey that alienated me from many of my friends, who went different directions in life that entailed establishing successful careers and getting married and having kids. At this point, I was stretched thin when it came to time, as I was studying and working part-time as a bookstore clerk and a Teaching Assistant.

Throughout this stage of my life, the very experience of attending the movies alone saved me. It became a weekly ritual that infused my life with a sense of balance and enjoyment. I made a practice of planning in advance what movies I’d see and where, and I’d generally show up an hour or two early at the given theatre and take refuge in an in-house bar or nearby restaurant, where I’d study and work on my papers or do my grading.

Although this was a stressful time for me personally, the perspective of hindsight leaves me with a melancholic longing for those evenings when I’d sip a glass of wine and go about my work while savouring the anticipation of my upcoming viewing experience. I saw everything from arthouse films to low-budget horror flicks during this period, but what I remember most is the calming ritual that I had going.

Flash ahead to the present, and I have a new circle of friends and a variety of pressing commitments and responsibilities. Though I still go to the movies frequently, I rarely go solo. Nonetheless, the occasional window of opportunity still allows me to venture off to a theatre alone and simply lose myself and my worries in the sublime darkness of a cinema.

~ Andrew Urie is an independent scholar who recently completed his PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University. He’s a fan of the work of the late, great film critic Pauline Kael (1919-2001), author of I Lost It at the Movies (1965), though he thinks that she generally got it wrong when it came to Clint Eastwood.