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As you’ve likely heard, some monster in Lafayette, Louisiana went into a movie theater last night, murdered two people, and injured eight more before killing himself.
Much has been written — deservedly so, I think — of the sacrilege and perversity of the way Dylann Roof abused the welcome and hospitality offered by the Bible study group in Charleston before he murdered them. That evil is, of course, mere flourish on the crime of taking eight lives — and attempting to adjudicate it is a waste of time — but it’s significant and real nonetheless.
But, as Alyssa Rosenberg writes in today’s Washington Post, what happened last night also involves a huge violation of trust on top of the murder:
When you go to a movie theater, you are deciding to sit for two hours in the dark with dozens, even hundreds of people, you don’t know. Unlike on a plane, or even in a live theater or concert performance, to name other captive experiences that put us in close proximity with strangers, there often aren’t paid staff in the theater with you, watching for disruptions or quietly managing other people’s behavior. Often, if you’re polite, and if you want to give yourself fully over to the experience unfolding on the screen, you’ve turned off your phone, putting another step between yourself and calling for help if it should suddenly prove necessary.
Once the lights go down and the previews (and pre-previews, sadly) come up, we’re giving ourselves over not just to the conditions of the movie theater, but to the story on screen. … Whatever divides us before we take our plushly cushioned stadium seats or our places in community theater chairs worn thin by decades of showings, we’ve been drawn together by the same story. And that story will continue to unite us, at least for a little while, as we spill back into the bright heat of summer daylight, or the cool of the evening, and talk about what we’ve just seen.
This is why I always love going to theaters. I mean, sure, you can lure me in almost anywhere with promises of air-conditioning and popcorn (however overpriced), but it’s that bizarrely focused, communal experience that always gets me. There’s nothing like laughing along with, or holding your breath at the same time as, a roomful of other people there to enjoy themselves for much the same reason as yourself. As great as home theaters can be, they can’t provide that experience.
If you get a chance this weekend, go see a movie (or a live play, if you prefer); I plan to. We can’t let the occasional maniac or villian ruin our fun.