By Adriana Lecuona | One night, several months after my family left our sidewalk-lined, hipster-inhabited neighborhood in South Philadelphia for the wooded back roads of a Delaware County suburb, I journeyed back into the city for a date. Though the date was not with my husband, he blessed it with his approval. In fact, he gladly assumed parenting duties during the witching hours of dinner and bedtime, for this date was for me, and me alone.
Heeding a tip from a friend, I would see Beasts of the Southern Wild at an art cinema in Old City. I took a train into the heart of the business district and, from there, passed by the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall with sentimental pride on my way to the Ritz at the Bourse. This was no time to reminisce, however. I rushed on, excited by the prospect of a film without superheroes or animated prehistoric beasts. I paid for my single ticket at a booth inhabited by a twentysomething wearing stone orbs embedded in his earlobes. He seemed more keenly attuned to the cabs and buses passing behind me than to my enthusiasm. Down the escalator I went, with just enough time to stop at the luxe concession stand and buy an organic dark chocolate bar. Delectably supplied, I plunged into the blackened space of the screening room, padding down the aisle past a smattering of viewers to plop myself in the middle seat of the fourth row. No one sat ahead of me and no one sat directly behind. An immense visual and auditory field was mine to experience free of any distraction.
For most people, watching a movie alone tends to be a home-based experience. Why bother going out by oneself? For me, it’s a question of why bother even trying at home. Even if I wait until my son has gone to bed—so that my movie choices aren’t limited to talking animals or absurdly-inflated men in tights—I’m all too aware of the laundry that needs folding and the mail that needs sorting, the kitties that need brushing and the husband who peers in to say, “You’re watching that?”
Conversely, going out to a movie theater is often a social experience above all else. Sitting next to someone you know, you share smiles, laughter, and puzzled expressions, maybe even popcorn or—less willingly—chocolate. Discussion after the movie allows the exchange of opinions and interpretations—even if requires sometimes seems like the more accurate word.
It would have been nice to have taken advantage of a trip into town to see friends. But what I really needed was to forget about everything and everyone, just for a while. For two hours I wouldn’t make concessions about what movie to watch or where to sit in the theater, I wouldn’t feel inhibited about the amount of chocolate I was ready to devour, and I would feel free to take as long as I liked to make up my own opinions about what I’d experienced. Going to a movie alone is like visiting a spa without disrobing, taking a vacation without the actual trip. (And compare that $12 ticket price, endlessly lamented, to the going rate for a massage or a Caribbean get-away!) Sitting alone in a dark theater, as a dramatic experience unfolds in the projection ahead while the audio system blocks out all the sounds of everything that’s extraneous to the screen, offers me a fully immersive experience that drowns out the ever-present background noise of my life. For a couple of hours, I feel anonymous, floating, and free.
It’s a revelation I’ve held tight for a long time, since Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom. I was newly enrolled at Penn and, as an older student, a little lost amid the “freedom at last” hoopla of my well-heeled 19-year-old classmates. I was anxious about grades and living up to expectations. I overheard mention of the film in class and then summoned the courage one afternoon to venture alone into that same Ritz at the Bourse. Self-conscious at first, within minutes I was transported from my insecurities. I laughed as I empathized with Fran, whose gawky beginnings at dance and romance were skillfully portrayed by Tara Morice. The character’s subsequent transformation in the final dance performance had me bursting with sympathetic triumph. During that first semester, I saw the movie four more times by myself, each time imbibing a lesson about hope and transformation until I had finally realized confidence in my academic abilities. And discovered something else that was perhaps just as valuable: that going to the movies solo is different than going alone.
But life had gotten busy and full, and the last time I’d gone solo was a few years ago. I was working in a development office headed by three women known throughout the organization, for good reason, as the “Dragon Ladies.” I’d been wanting to give notice, but I was wavering, feeling insecure. One fall afternoon, when the ladies had left their den, I stole an extra 45 minutes for lunch and saw Coco Before Chanel. Portrayed by Audrey Tautou, Coco had a deep self-confidence from which her ambition and determination grew forth. The movie not only raised my spirits but emboldened me and, with my husband’s help, I hatched my escape out of that lair of a workplace.
For me, going to a film solo is a retreat that offers rest, renewal, learning, and, at times, inspiration. I’m able to put aside my concerns as I sit marveling at the sights, characters, and situations projected in front of me. On this occasion, after watching Beasts of the Southern Wild, I walked back to the train station still affected by the most emotionally wrenching yet uplifting cinematic experience I’d had in a long while. Hushpuppy’s perceptive imaginings about the aurochs and the depth of her father’s love served as meditation on the train ride home. I thought about the joy and beauty possible everywhere and anywhere, the confusion of love, and the depths of our need for meaningful connection. By the time I reached home, everything I saw seemed to have greater preciousness: the glow of the porch light on the stone walls of my new house, the warmth of my husband’s hug hello, the slightly salty taste of a goodnight kiss on my son’s forehead.
Adriana Lecuona C’95 lives with her husband and son in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.