On Being Alone With An Unknown Man In A Soundproof Room

One of my favorite things to do when I have free time is go to the movies alone. It’s not too popular an activity for a 19-year-old college girl, I know, but it’s relaxing, and if I go by myself then I don’t have to worry about taking another person’s movie preferences into consideration (sorry!). Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. I’ve been to enough movie theaters now that I know which ones are date spots, where I, as a loner, will stick out like a sore thumb, and which actually attract other people like me.

Anyone who says movie theaters are dying has never been to the opening night of a Matt Damon flick at a New York City Regal. But there are some smaller, arthouse cinemas that don’t get that kind of traffic. When I lived in New York last year, I most enjoyed finding tiny cinemas playing unpopular flicks, especially at lean times.

The only time I didn’t enjoy this modus operandi was one Thursday at City Cinemas Village East for a 1:20 PM showing of the film “Southbound.” It was a weird place and time to see a movie that didn’t even have a description on Fandango, so I didn’t expect much company. And until ten minutes before showtime, I found myself the only one in the audience.

Now, I’ve seen movies before during which I was the only person in attendance. Even in New York City, if your cinema, film, and showtime are obscure enough, you can block out the other eight million people in your five boroughs and have one entire movie screen to yourself. But I’ve also seen movies during which it was just me and one other couple in attendance, or me and two or more loners. It’s never been just me and one other person I don’t know from Adam.

That is, except for that 1:20 PM showing of “Southbound.” Like I said, I was alone for a good while before anyone else came in. But when the previews started to roll, I noticed a 40s-something man enter through the double doors in the back and take a seat about ten rows behind me.

When the opening credits for “Southbound” appeared on the screen and it was still just me and this man in the audience, I started to panic. Movies are loud and theaters are soundproofed. This would be the perfect place for an assault. The feminist in me said I shouldn’t have to leave a movie I already paid for because of a middle aged man's arrival, and the humanist said so far this man was just minding his own business so this was all unnecessary worry. But the realist in me said either way, I left my pepper spray at home.

I ended up finding a compromise between the conflicting voices in my head and moved to the very back row. It’s not my preferred seating option—certainly not where I should have to sit when almost every other seat is empty—but it worked. For the better part of two hours, I kept one eye on the movie and one eye on the back of my unwanted companion’s head. He never once looked back at me, and when the end credits started rolling, I scurried out before he even moved.

In the end, it turned out that the humanist in me was right. The only “danger” I perceived was in my head. This man did nothing to make me feel unsafe except for choosing the same weird movie time, and wherever you are, sir, I’m sorry for my extreme wariness and I hope you enjoyed that particular movie experience much more than me.

See, I wish I could have watched “Southbound” with that stranger feeling only mild annoyance at not being alone, not a definite fear. But patriarchal society and rape culture have advised me to always be on guard. I had no reason to be afraid of my surroundings during that movie except for the statistics stacked against me, but in times such as those, statistics weigh a lot.

The feminist in me keeps going to the movies alone, strange men notwithstanding. But now, I keep the pepper spray in my purse—just in case.

Feature photo: Llyod Dirks/ VIA Unsplash.