“Please Turn Off All Distractions”

THE MIDDLE SEAT: Column by Steve Matuszak

When you are done reading this, you’ll wonder why I ever go to the movies. In upcoming entries, we’ll discuss the wonders of sharing a movie at the local cinema. But I must begin with the single worst atrocity – NOISE! Now I don’t mean to go on a rant here but…

I can’t stand it when people talk during a movie. It disrupts the flow of “losing myself in the film.” You know what I am talking about. We go to the movies to be a fly on the wall as we watch a story unfold. That’s why we scream (internally) “Look out!” when the killer is behind the woman. It’s why we long for the good guy to not walk out on his good wife.

We feel these intense feelings because we forget we are in a theatre, in a seat, with sticky floors, watching something previously recorded. We want to forget. We want to let go.

So, when you strike up a conversation, you drag me back to a reality I have purposefully left for a little while. And I do not choose to leave reality because I don’t like it, although “escapism” is a valid and common use of the movies. I choose to “leave reality” and lose myself in the movie because movies often stop me and make me think about my own reality more so than reality itself does. That is the purpose of good art – to make us pause and consider what we otherwise might not have stopped to consider.

So, when you talk, you disrupt that complex balance. So, to everyone everywhere who ever goes to a movie theatre I politely remind you to SHUT UP!

It’s just like when I traveled constantly and stayed in hotels. I am quiet in my room. I do not turn up the TV loud if I get in late nor do I talk at even a normal level when I awake. Why? Because hotels are for sleeping! Hotels are not for parties in your room, giant family reunions between your block of rooms in the morning or any other social gatherings (except in the banquet rooms designed for such gatherings). Hotels are for sleeping.

So, if you get up at 7AM for your meeting, you may be in a room next to a guy (me) who got in at 4AM and who can sleep in if you don’t talk loudly to your business partner while walking past my door. Your day’s schedule may not be mine. And you are a few feet away!

The same is true with movie theatres, what you do affects everyone around you, whether you can see it or not. And I have a very important message for all those parents out there with little kids, especially babies and toddlers – B-A-B-Y-S-I-T-T-E-R!

And if you cannot get a sitter, stay home. You decided to have children (as I did) so deal with the consequences! Besides the ethical considerations of letting little kids see R-rated films, there is also the noise factor! Yes, kids naturally make noise and cannot sit still for long, just like my little girl. Don’t have enough money for a sitter? Can’t find one last minute after yours cancelled? STAY HOME! (Unless it’s a kids film, then all bets are off).

Spreading your issues to other people is what burns me up. Talking in a theatre or bringing noisy children for cinema daycare is very similar to another rude phenomenon I hated when I lived in Chicago. This guy would pick up his friend for work in the morning and he would honk his horn for 5-10 minutes if the friend did not come out. I confronted the guy (because he was disrupting my SLEEP) and he told me he didn’t want to get out of his car in the freezing cold to get his friend (who admitted he often overslept).

He was basically saying that since his friend was not coming out to the car, instead of sacrificing his own comfort (getting out in the cold) he would discomfort everyone else in a one-mile radius by honking (this was at 5:45 am!). I agree his situation sucked and his friend was lame. So get a new friend! Or drive yourself to work and let him take the train!

This is what people do in movie theatres. The most egregious is when people not only leave their phone on but actually ANSWER the call during a movie! I seriously believe that any psychological issues and physical ailments related to stress that I have are all related to people who answer their cell phones in theatres. Or, how about those annoying people that TEXT during the movie. Hey, guess what!? You did not make any noise by talking but I had to see your GLARING PHONE SCREEN LIGHT IN MY EYE FOR 3 MINUTES! Any guess as to what that does for my movie experience? Can I come to your home and shine a pen laser light in your eye while your watching TV with your kids?

And if you cannot hear the film and thus feel the need to constantly banter back and forth with your partner about “What did he say? Who is he again?” then please watch films at home so that you can have cliff-notes, a translator and slow motion available to help you through the complexities of storyline, character and dialogue. Well, darnit I am mad!!

Why must people constantly bother other people with noise pollution? I can’t even enjoy a trip to the Caribbean on the beach without the local establishments pumping in loud music. Why do they play loud Caribbean music on the beach? I am trying to relax. You don’t need to convince me that I am in the Caribbean – I am actually there.

Everybody quit bothering me!!!! And you two in the buffet line ahead of me, pick a salad dressing and move on, I am hungry!! There is an etiquette to buffet lines, it’s called “choose and move!” I am on a roll! And you, the one who just missed your exit on the highway, deal with it! Go one more exit and stop jackknifing across 3 highway lanes to get off at the last second while my child and I are doing barrel rolls off the median from barely missing you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are certainly cinematic and cultural considerations to when talking in a theatre might be appropriate. I understand Rocky Horror Picture shows invites participation and toast. And some cultures enjoy interacting with live theatre and movies. But, except for those exceptions – get your inane cell phone conversations, life-or-death text messages about which Buffalo Wings joint your meeting at afterwards, wrapper crinkling, trips to the bathroom, teenage giggling, elderly hearing aide adjustments, mid-life marital crises and all other such human development challenges over with BEFORE you sit down. And then, enjoy the movie with me. We can discuss what we are experiencing AFTER!


  1. OK. I confess that, although I don’t usually talk during movies, I gave Hugh a running commentary during The King’s Speech about what was historically accurate & what wasn’t. I did try to be quiet & there weren’t many people in the theater. He started it when he asked me if Wallis Warfield Simpson was really that unattractive in real life (answer – yes).

  2. Too bad we never got the chance to watch movies together, we would have been a perfect match. I DETEST people talking to me during a movie. I want to soak it all in, not carry on a conversation with you during it…that is what the pause button on the remote is for when it comes out on blueray. I am trying to teach my kids the texting thing, but their generation does not get it. Look around at the teenagers the next time you are forced to share a theater with this particular life form. I don’t even know why they bother to pay that much to sit in the dark and text people three seats over from them…but I digress

    Good observations: keep the posts coming.

  3. Rayna,
    I understand. If there are historical inaccuracies and no one around, explain away. It is a duty!


    We should have seen some movies together. When you refer to teens as a “life form” I wonder, do you let your teenage daughter see that kind fo writing? You should, she would think it’s cool!!!

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