This past Wednesday evening, a sweltering one where your skin seems permanently shrouded with an unsexy dew, I was feeling antsy and bored. Not, however, to the point that venturing entirely across town to join my friends at a movie in Hudson Park seemed feasible. Too far, too hot—and, most importantly, I didn’t trust myself not to splurge on a cab at some point only to later regret it. It’s borderline pathetic how easily seduced by those yellow lorries I am, with their promise of air conditioning-induced bliss (if you’re lucky) and a faded leather seat on which to rest your tired cheeks.
But I really couldn’t afford to give in to that temptation, because, well, weekends exist, and, you know, Thursdays, with their promise of overpriced alcohol and poor judgments about who’s worthy of your flirtation and who’s not. So I settled on the next best thing, seeing Boyhood by myself at my favorite city movie theater, Lincoln Plaza, in a negligee for added comfort/forced intrigue. It felt like the kind of gesture the movie-version of myself would perform often: independent and romantic, honorable for its simplicity and “Real New Yorker” appeal. Because the movie-version of myself would much rather spend evenings increasing her cultural intake as such, rather than staying in my apartment chained to the artificial cool air and the Sunday Review that I am slowly making my way through.
I actually did have a yearlong phase where I did this almost daily, before I lived in New York City but had to be here regularly for the sake of anorexia treatment: an effort to re-line my stomach with necessary carbohydrates and fats, while reacquainting me with foods that the average American celebrates—pizza, and tacos, and apple pie. Having no apartment to return to post-meal to nurture my food coma or cry over my increasingly bloated belly, going to the movies became the best solution. Sitting in a café allowed too much time to reflect, and at that point in my life, reflection was almost only self-destructive.
So I went to see film after film, some amazing and some god-awful, though when strung together, the overall experience was simply great. Oddly, I felt more tuned in to the world by constantly tuning out, allowing new perspectives to wash over me every day and shake me out of my limited eyesight. It’s very likely that this is revisionist history, that I’m taking a note from writers everywhere and sentimentalizing that time. Either way, I find myself missing what I perceive to be a less self-absorbed period in my life, one that was filled with perhaps more interesting ideas brought on simply by the constant collaboration between my brain and the unique products of various directors.
And, another perk that I remembered last night while seeing Boyhood, is the pleasure of sitting in a dark room with strangers as a truly wonderful film unfolds on the screen in front of you. When a film is that good, the room seems set to a low-vibration, the result of all your mingled emotions and plot-induced empathy. Boyhood was the perfect film for this, as its stripped down, seemingly simple storyline ended up highlighting so much that is true to human experience, realities that often get lost beneath a facade (whether those facades are of our own making, or are the machinations of overdone movies). And yes, there’s a place for fantasy, too, but that place was not Lincoln Plaza, Theater 5, last night.
That space instead made room for reality. It sidled up between ancient-looking couples, the French and Russian families exchanging words loudly amongst their English counterparts, eventually weaving it’s way through thrilling first dates and the duller, hundredth dates between couples whose boredom with each other was almost palpable.
I sat next to another lone wolf, a woman probably in her forties, and an old couple whose penchant to comment on every scene drove me nuts at first. But whatever irritations were present at the onset seemed to melt away as the nearly three-hour-long film progressed. I began to share laughter with my seatmates—we were in on the jokes together, mutually understanding the neuroses that director Richard Linklater was so expertly splashing across the screen. The running commentary by the elderly couple to my left (they were shocked by many of the most vanilla moments) became less irksome, more acceptable. At certain moments, I exchanged knowing glances with my fellow single lady, and without saying much to each other at all, I felt briefly like I knew her, at least for those few hours, in that cozily anonymous room.
At the very end of the film, when one character groans painfully “I just thought there would be more,” and what she means is, more to life—her life, the words seemed to settle heavily atop every shoulder in the room. I looked around as I cried and spotted many others doing the same, or suddenly touching their partners, or children, or friends. I could have made this up—it would close this piece perfectly, true—but it really happened. For a few seconds, it really felt like the world was being orchestrated by an auteur, rather than random—and often unattractive—chance.
It was beautiful in a way that calling it beautiful can’t portray, as that word feels too trite and overused to mean much of anything at all. It was a mini mass of people acknowledging the occasional emptiness of life—it’s deficiencies—right as they were celebrating it, too. I cried not because I was happy or sad, really, but because it had hit on something baldly human—one of those truths we often search for but rarely find. Life itself is ambivalent, it seemed to say, but there are invigorating moments sprinkled throughout, and sitting alone in that room, in my vaguely sweaty nightgown with a rumbling tummy, I really felt that I was in the midst of one.