I usually go to art-house movie theaters, the kind that screen witty, thoughtful films rather than blockbusters. No high-speed chases, exploding asteroids or mutant terminators for me, thank you. So, imagine my surprise when I recently went to a chain multiplex for the first time in years and the cashier asked me to choose my seat.
"What?" I stammered. "It's Thursday night. The theater's empty!"
"Stacia, you have to pick a seat," said my companion Gary.
The cashier's expression registered terminal boredom. She had seen my type before—a cultural Neanderthal.
"I'll pick one for you," she said in a monotone.
I was befuddled. The last time I had chosen a seat, it was for a nonstop flight to Paris. I had no idea that multiplexes across the country had changed the rules while I was snuggled on my couch, watching Netflix.
How could this happen? Half the pleasure of going to a movie theater is choosing my seat so I could put as much distance as possible between myself and popcorn munchers, talkers and people who keep one eye on their cell phone. Truth be told, I not only want to select my seat, but I believe it is my right to change my seat as often as necessary.
I had barely recovered from the first shock when the second one hit me between the eyes: These weren't standard movie theater seats. They were mammoth reclining chairs, the kind found in dialysis centers and shopping malls. They are wide enough to accommodate a rhinoceros. Or a human being with a three-bucket-a-day popcorn habit. I have always detested recliners and would go as far as to say that if my significant other, be he Gary or George Clooney, brought one home, I would kick him and the chair to the curb. (Sorry, George.)
Gary leads me to our gargantuan seats, in the middle of an almost empty movie theater, right next to another couple. Needless to say, they were as thrilled to see us as I was to see them.
"Let's move over one seat," I say.
"We can't," said Gary. "These are our seats."
Oy. Gary is conflict-avoidant. He'd rather turn into a pillar of salt than do anything that would attract attention. I, on the other hand, am something of a Molotov-throwing anarchist, at least when it comes to my personal comfort. If I had been alone, I would've quickly moved to an aisle seat several rows back. But I didn't want to cause a scene, knowing full well that Gary would refuse to move.
"How long has this reserved seat business been going on?" I asked.
Gary shrugged. "It's like this everywhere," he said. "People don't want to go to a movie theater unless it's as comfortable as their own home."
If that's true, there would be a refrigerator and a microwave under my seat, along with a polar fleece blanket and my cat! I have heard of movie theaters that serve food and alcoholic beverages, a concept I find abhorrent. Bad enough theater patrons noisily slurp Coke and chow down on candy bars the size of footballs. But chili dogs, burgers and beer? Spare me the aromatic confluence!
Ironically, the movie we had come to see, "The Post," is not the typical blockbuster. It focuses on the First Amendment, a cerebral film about Constitutional rights and government over-reach during the Nixon Administration. No sex. No violence. Just a lot of political intrigue, cigarettes and pearl-clutching. I was so immersed in the plot that a family of baboons could've plopped down next to me and I wouldn't have noticed. When the credits started to roll, I was the first to applaud.
Which all goes to show that movie theaters aren't about chairs that recline, vibrate or give you a massage, although I have no doubt that is in the works. They are about enveloping audiences in the miraculous medium of film. The magic! When I was a kid, I saw movies in "palaces" with crystal chandeliers, velvet seats, baroque mezzanines and gilded staircases. Now, theater chains seem to be going in the opposite direction, to some futuristic world in which—when it comes to chairs—size matters. Aesthetics don't.
Me? Now that I know what I've been missing, I will go happily back to my neighborhood art house that still retains some of its former art deco glory, where I can seat-hop to my heart's content.