A Gift from God
By Bradley Frese
It’s Sunday. The day of rest and reflection. I throw on some comfortable clothes, check the time and hurry out the door. I’m running late. I hate being late, especially where I am headed. Nothing is more awkward than having to find a seat after it’s already started (and plus I love getting the best seat). I make it out the door and get to the parking lot with 5 minutes to spare. I walk up, hurry through the doors and find a seat before everything starts. This week's lesson is about revealing your insecurities and how to resolve them to take charge of your life. It’s a story that I've been looking forward to and I am excited to seehow I can apply the teachings to my own life.
You probably think I’m talking about church, but I’m not religious by any definition of the word. I don’t believe in a higher being. I am a bit of a materialist, if you will. So where am I, you ask? I sitting in the middle of a movie theater. I’m by myself and in my Happy place (Happy Gilmore reference, anybody?) I ameagerly waiting for the show to start.
The theater is my sanctuary. This is where I learn lessons from the different gospels; the Book of Kubrick, the Book of Hughes, the Book of Spielberg, the Book of Linklater, and these are just a few of my favorites. I have learned more about myself, and how to be a better person through movies than I have anywhere else. It’s really not that different than going to church every Sunday. I mean the floors are a bit stickier and there are probably a few more stoned people, but the message I receive is all the same.
I have been going to movies by myself for six years now. Dozens upon dozens of movies later, and I still remember the first movie I saw by myself: 2010’s classic comedy MacGruber. This masterpiece was the brainchild of Will Forte and some of the other guys from Saturday Night Live. I was home for the summer and it was my firsta new town. I was upheaved from the comfort of my childhood home and thrown into a new state some 600 miles away. I left the safety and serenity of my lifelong friends and the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, and put into a touristy Florida beach town full of old farts. I may have been in town for a couple weeks, at the most, and I didn’t know anyone, but I wasn’t going to let my lack of friends stop me from seeing a movie that I had been dying to see. I guess at the time, my love for low brow comedy was greater than the possible awkwardness of being seen alone in the movie. I remember being crippled with anxiety about the prospect of seeing a movie alone. At the time, I still viewed the act of going to movies as a social activity that you do with friends and family and what I was about to do was considered blasphemy. I was preparing myself to be burned at the stake.
To add insult to injury, I had to drive 25 minutes away because the theater in town wasn’t showing it. This only provided me more of an opportunity to psych myself out. I remember driving past exits on the freeway and thinking I could turn around. I didn’t. Mustering all my strength to prepare myself for the social embarrassment of being seen alone in a customary social environment, I bought my ticket and walked in the designated theater. I was a bit late due to the internal arguments between my anxiety and my confidence. I walked in to see literally no one. I was the single person in the movie. I let out audible laugh and, with that, all my anxiety melted away. I sat down with the Milk Duds I had snuck in and I was forever changed. This was the birth of a new ritual and I didn’t even realize it at the time.
I can’t remember the next movie I saw by myself, but I can almost guarantee it was during that same summer. The act of going stag to a movie awoke something in my mind. I was free. The movie theater is something of a safe space for me. When the lights go down and the trailers start rolling, I am instantly transported to a different reality. I might as well be in a different universe. Spacetime ceases to exist. I leave my perspective of the world for a couple hours and see the world in adifferent way. I can think and reflect and let my emotions do what they feel. If I need to cry, I cry. If I need to feel sad, I let the sadness fill me. If I need a good laugh, I will laugh until my stomach hurts. This is my therapy and this is my meditation. Whatever worries or anxiety I have disappear. It is hard for me to find anything else that affects me like a movie or TV show. Some people get this feeling from church, but for me, I get it from the emotion and energy pouring out from the screen.
I thought about why I take this solo pilgrimage to the movies, and I can’t really place why I prefer the unaccompanied version to that of seeing a flick with my friends. I go to movies with friends on occasion (mostly the big blockbusters), but I don’t get the same soul-quenching experience. This isn’t some tale of a forlorn excursion to escape some desolate life. It’s actually far from it. I love my life, and wouldn’t change much, but this ceremonial-like experience does something for me. Having a place to be alone, with the anonymity of the dark room, and a story that can speak to your feelings, provides a conducive atmosphere to explore some of the thoughts and worries that are floating around your head. Hearing dialogue between characters, or seeing a familiar situation unravel on the screen, can be the catalyst to figuring out why you feel a certain way and gives you the necessary tools to understand the emotions you may have.
I recently saw Swiss Army Man with Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. As most humans do from time to time, I get a bit lonely. I get stuck inside my head and over analyze my insecurities. This movie came out at the most ideal time. I was stuck in one of those funks and just couldn't shake it. My experience during the movie was incredible. Seeing Paul Dano's character go through similar emotional experiences and watching him progress through the resolution of his insecurities was refreshing. I walked out of the theater with my held high and feeling positive and happy.
Being alone, in general, isn’t something that I seek. I'm not socially awkward and I don't mind interacting and socializing with friends and people, but it is exhausting. If you know me, it isn’t that surprising to know how introverted I am. Watching movies, whether at home or in a theater, is how I recharge my batteries. It’s become much more than that, though. It is my ritual to cleanse my soul, work out internal conflicts, and cope with feelings I might be experiencing. I do my best thinking during and after watching a movie. It might seem contradictory to what I said earlier about being able to escape the current world, but my best thinking comes from when I am forcing myself to leave the world for a couple hours. It is a hard notion to put in words. Best I can describe is it’s like a palate cleanser. It gets all the stuff out of your head and lets you start fresh. People often say they feel rejuvenated and reenergized after leaving a church service. Well, that's how I feel post-movie. It a temporary reprieve from all your problems. It's just a dark room that's begging you to disconnect and get lost. I love getting lost.
The remarkable thing about movies is there are so many different types to choose from and cater to whatever you're feeling at that moment. Bad breakup? There is a movie for that. Feeling blue? There is a movie to cheer you up. Touch of wanderlust? Definitely a movie to scratch that itch. My absolute favorite genre is comedy, though. I love to laugh. Just an outward and involuntary emotion that bubbles out. It’s a great feeling. So, it’s not all deep and introspective stuff, but regardless it provides an escape. There is something so natural about laughter. It's instantaneous satisfaction that has these magical emotional and physical healing properties other things can't seem to provide. I am most myself when I'm laughing at an immature dick joke, or at well-written witty dialogue. Sometimes, I don't think people really appreciate the intelligence and skills required for writing something to be funny. It's an under appreciated art form that I have been drawn to since I was young. Saturday Night Live is where I first learned to appreciate the skills involved, and I think that is somehow elegantly tied into the first movie I saw alone and why it turned out to be so life-changing.
I look back on that solo excursion to see MacGruber and I see it as a pivotal moment in the way I view my thoughts on doing things alone. It gave me the understanding and confidence to put myself out there and not be worried about going against certain social norms. Who says the movies have to be a date night, or time spent with friends or families? Honestly, I feel that it’s quite the opposite. You don't have to worry about judgment from you peers. This socially constructed idea that movies are meant to be a group activity is misguided. Looking back on my first time, I was terrified. Why, though? I didn’t want anyone seeing me on my own, assuming I was a loser with no friends, and descending into whispers and finger pointing. How pathetic??
The whole theater experience is set up for the solo traveler and I have learned so much about myself through my travels. As weird as it sounds, the simple act of going to a movie solo gave me leaps and bounds of confidence to feel better in my own skin. If you let the movie theater work its magic, it can really transform you; the lessons, the adventures, the emotions. All can shape you to become a better person. Isn't that what church is supposed to be all about? So, maybe I actually am religious in a nontraditional way. It's just, for me, the stained glass windows are replaced with movie posters, the flesh and blood of Christ are replaced with Milk Duds and a Coke, and my Holy Trinity consists of Scorsese, Fincher, and Rogen.