So I had an unpleasant encounter at the movies this weekend. At a Saturday night screening of Noah the guy in the row ahead of me and a couple seats over was using his smart phone through the first ten minutes of the movie. The glare from it was as bright as the film itself and incredibly distracting. Finally I leaned over and hissed, “Could you turn off your phone please?” He didn’t hear me. I tapped the back corner of his seat and repeated myself. (It would probably be fair to say that I tapped his seat harder than I intended, and my “tap” could reasonably be described as a “swat.”) He turned his phone off, then a moment later glared at me and growled in a dim-witted bully voice, “Don’t hit me again, do you understand?” He definitely sounded ready to fight. I said, “Yes,” and he turned back to the screen. He spent the rest of the movie talking and gesturing emphatically at the screen, seemingly exasperated and confused by the movie. I spent the rest of the movie tense and distracted, wondering if any further conflict would ensue. (At times like these you can’t help but think of Chad Oulson.) Fortunately it didn’t, but the movie was ruined for me, as was my mood for many hours afterward.
Today I spent several hours googling phrases like “glowing phone movie” to see what other people think about this sort of thing. Plenty of people are as aggravated about it as I am. Every movie screening at every theater I’ve ever seen has warned the audience not to talk or text during the movie. This particular screening featured not one but two animated shorts devoted to asking people to turn off their phones. One of these shorts features the theater’s mascot as a superhero blasting giant phones out of the sky. Obviously people watch these messages hundreds of times, so they’re hardly unaware that they’re being rude and annoying everyone around them, but they do it anyway, I guess because they’re just selfish, obnoxious dicks. The question is, is there anything you can do about it?
You can try to politely ask people to stop, but in my experience this is only intermittently successful, and risks an ugly confrontation, especially if as in my case your irritation overwhelms your attempts to be civil. I’ve seen various other strategies aired online. You can move away from the annoying person. (Though this can be a real pain and may not be practical in a crowded theater like the one I was at on Saturday.) You can complain to the theater staff. (Though this means missing a good chunk of the movie, and seems unlikely to have much effect.) You can walk out of the movie and ask for a refund. (Even if you get the refund you’ve wasted a lot of time and energy going to the theater.) I’ve seen other more severe strategies proposed, such as “pretending” to spill a drink on the offending filmgoer or taking their phone from them by force, but none of these seem particularly attractive options.
It would be nice if theaters would do something about the problem. The Alamo Draft House in Austin has a zero-tolerance policy toward talking or texting during the movie that sounds pretty good. (They even use the fact that dipshits complain about this policy as a selling point.) I don’t know if there’s anything like that in New York, but if there is I’d love to know about it. The Oatmeal has a funny take on theater design which actually contains some pretty good ideas, such as theaters giving you the option of plugging in noise-canceling headphones like you can on an airplane.
Other options include going to movies only during times and dates that you expect the theater to be mostly empty, or just not going to the movies at all. (I actually mostly stayed away from theaters for several years because I’d had so many evenings ruined by obnoxious audiences.)
It would be nice if there were some sort of private club where you could go to watch movies with other filmgoers who are committed to not talking or texting. Membership would be based on a proven track record of good manners, and could be revoked at the drop of a hat if someone lit up a smart phone during the show.