For me, movie-going is self-care.
Happiness, to me, is taking myself to an afternoon showing at the movies—whisper it—on a WEEKDAY. “I’ll have a ticket for the 2pm showing, please,” I say, blissfully aware of the indulgence of that statement: It’s the early afternoon and I’m not at work. I’m not pretending to work. I’m doing nothing but buying a ticket and a big bucket of salty popcorn so that I can sit in a comfy chair for two hours and watch other people’s dramas unfold.
The sun is blazing outside, but here, in the space of the cinema, I am cool and comfortable. A matinee is the ultimate escape from mundane routines, chores, and errands—this is, for me, self-care at its most glorious. It’s just me, my feet up, decompressing, taking it all in.
I’m grateful that I live in London, where there is an abundance of film choices—and at 2pm, no less—this is no little thing. My friends in the country tell me they are envious that I have this plethora of choice available to me, and I don’t take it for granted.
Netflix? Sure. But Going To The Movies is an event. Sitting in a beautiful historic movie theater (Victorian, ornate, chandeliers and ceiling roses if I’m lucky) and awaiting the start of a film is, for me, a not-so-secret tonic, a pleasure to be consumed with some regularity, but certainly not every day, lest the experience lose its “special” factor.
Waiting for the film to start, a kind of nostalgia creeps in. I remember when my summer movie habit started: this ritual of taking myself to the movies came to me from my Great Aunt Ida, who, at 94, living on her own and widowed for 40 years, took herself out to the local independent movie theater at least once a week.
Over time, as Ida became less able to walk, I wheeled her across an avenue and five blocks in her wheelchair and accompanied her for movie afternoons. She told me that when she was in a dark theater watching a good film, it was the only time that she didn’t feel the chronic pain in her back that had been persistently irking her. In the theater, she was carried away, out of her wheelchair, into a different world—a world where she was healthy and happy, fully present, but not with her pain—with something else—escape.
When the trailers finish and the thick red velvet curtains open, there’s a heightened sense of anticipation. The theater blackens and I get my first glimpse of the opening scene and hear the first notes of music. I’m expectant: Will I like this movie; will it lure me into its world? I can relate to what Ida said all those years ago: Spending two hours of my life not thinking about the taxes I have to pay or the work I have to do and, instead, being swept up in the stories of other people’s lives is a gift that cinema gives us. When it’s good, I can quickly lose myself in it: A beautiful film is a panacea to the routines and rhythms of life—the unpredictability, intelligence or beauty of a film can cause my heart to race, my eyes to widen.
When the credits roll, I may feel a little different than I did before the movie started. Even just a bit changed is good—this means that the movie has done its intended work—made me laugh, made me forget, made me wonder, made me cry, made me awestruck, made me feel. Sometimes a movie will stay with me for a very long time; that’s the best kind of movie.
I see going to the movies as one way for me to get a need met—solitude, intellectual stimulation, relaxation and, of course, a release of emotions. If I need to cry, I’ll choose a sad film to help get my tears out. Alone amongst strangers I’ll never see again, I can let the tears fall down my face, unabashed. Or, sometimes I’ll choose to see a comedy, because I know that I just really need to laugh. If I’m feeling lonely, a documentary can help me feel connected with something greater than myself.
Living alone and being single, I’m on my phone or laptop a lot—it’s a way of connecting to others. But in this “on” world that we live in, movie theaters are more sacred than ever—it’s a time I can comfortably switch off. I won’t ever pull my phone out during a film—to do so would feel like sacrilege. In my everyday life, I’m often lured into checking my phone too often, so the chance to watch a movie and forget about my phone for a few hours is a healthy rebalancer for me, a way to decompress.
I’m a teacher, which means I have nine weeks of free time between June and August every year. I see lots more movies at this time of year and I see many of them alone. With friends at the beach or abroad, I take advantage of a quieter city and matinee prices. Seeing a movie in the afternoon on a sunny day can feel a bit counter-intuitive, but it works for me. Summer days see children everywhere—at the pool, at the beach, in the coffee shops. But when I go to an afternoon showing, choosing the movie wisely, not the kind of movie that attracts kids, the theater is a child-free, retreat-like zone. Much like my friends who have kids must feel, time at the movies feels like quality “me” time to take in something artful, to enjoy an adult activity.
Some of my friends ask me if I feel lonely sitting in a movie theater by myself. It’s the opposite, really. I might feel lonely before I go, but at the movies, I’m in a happy place, a place where I am giving myself what I need. If there’s nobody around to go with me, it’s empowering to take myself to the movies. What feels important is that I am participating in something I want to do regardless of if anyone is free at that moment to join me. And at the movies there is always someone else sitting alone, which makes me feel less alone. I like to discuss the film afterward, which is the only real downside to going to the movies solo.
One of my close friends has a husband who loves action films, whereas she prefers arty documentaries. They just go to the movies without each other, happily. I relate to this—when I’ve been in a relationship, I’ve done the same thing many times—I really enjoyed those times alone at the movies, watching a film my boyfriend didn’t want to see.
Recently, I read a study that stated that many single women (and men) tend, broadly speaking, to avoid taking themselves out to restaurants, concerts, movies or the theater alone—they prefer to do these things with others because they are seen as “pleasurable” activities. But the research also shows that partaking in pleasurable activities alone is actually (shocker) more fun than avoiding them altogether—this has been my experience, for sure.
For me, movie-going is self-care. I don’t need always need someone by my side to enjoy doing what I love, and treating myself to one of life’s great pleasures—the movies—feels fabulous.
Amy Schreibman Walter is an American writer and teacher living in London. Follow her on Twitter @amyswalter or find her at www.amyschreibmanwalter.com