“Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently, I saw the Straw Dogs remake against my will. It was a mostly empty theater on an early afternoon. My companion and I took our customary seats near the front. About halfway through the first act, I heard some loud voices near the entrance. I was about to get up and close the door when two well-dressed elderly ladies and a younger woman who appeared to be their driver or caregiver entered the theater and proceeded to discuss—in conversational tones, as if disturbing no one—where they should sit. They concluded their negotiations and delicately ambled up a single dark step feeling their way along a dividing rail until they were seated about eight feet from me.
I’ve just primed you to join me in bemoaning the sorry state of moviegoing etiquette in our fractured, congenitally at-cross-purposes society. But you should know better. My Noisemaker columns thus far have championed the 3D experience, suggested that Terrence Malick’s public persona is more frustrating and put-on that Lars von Trier’s, and congratulated an Italian projectionist for jumbling the reels of The Tree of Life, thereby defying its maker’s intentions and possibly improving the viewer’s experience. In short, my rhetorical reflexes are somewhere between meddling and iconoclastic. I wouldn’t be caught dead flattering your values.
And so my story takes a sharp turn in a way that rhymes conveniently with the sexual-moral conundrums within Straw Dogs itself.
The ladies continued to talk and demonstrate their aloofness, but my importuned cranings of neck were slowly drained of irritation as their presence gained a what’s-wrong-with-this-picture component. These ladies were wearing nice jewelry. Their hair was done. A pungent air of widowhood. Had there been a brunch? Projected before them, several imposing, fleshy men leered at the sweaty, unfettered breasts of their prey. A rape was on its way. How informed were these matrons of the arts, so proud of bagging this demonstrably unengaging entertainment at matinee price? Was I going to let their bifocals fog up as they looked in the closet for themselves to discover the lynched cat, as it were?
I made the case to my companion that I should step briefly over to the ladies’ seats and ask if they were aware of the unsavory second-act perpetrations and penetrations that were being telegraphed with the subtlety of Thor’s hammer. But how would I phrase such a concern? My companion noted, logically, that one doesn’t usually approach other moviegoers to confirm that they know what they’ve gotten themselves into. That old saw about minding one’s own business. I conceded. After all, maybe my engorged sense of protectiveness toward the “village” was just a response to the themes of the film, the universe implausibly goading me to overstep my bounds and violate several comfort zones at once. So I sat there, antsy and complicit with the film’s dull remakey agenda.
But imagine my surprise when my companion excused herself to “powder her nose” (do I need to go on about the use of a euphemism so incommensurately delicate in face of Amy’s [Kate Bosworth] raw rapeability?) and suddenly veered toward the ladies seated behind us as if impelled by a bungee cord. Gesticulating wildly, eyes massive with concern, she conveyed the unconveyable. I heard disbelieving gasps followed by thanks-for-letting-us-know pleasantries. My woman had requisitioned my self-imposed mandate, executing it with a ladylike gingerliness that, nonetheless, did not motivate these ladies to evacuate the building.
Instead what we got from them was this:
[Charlie knocks on the door of the Sumner home.]
[Amy opens the door.]
[Charlie asks to come in.]
[Amy says no.]
[Charlie stops the closing door with his boot.]
[Charlie enters the Sumner home and rips off Amy’s panties and mounts her in the rapiest possible way for several minutes.]
I was not enough of a man that day.
This story is apples to the oranges of the point I came here to make, which is that any movie you’re watching with five people or 500 hundred people in a public setting is not YOURS. Those of you who hate actual people but want the social experience of moviegoing to be shrouded in some fascist-cult standard of behavior, please stay home and put your Blu-rays in alphabetical order.
Full disclosure: Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is my favorite film.
Alejandro Adams is the director of three feature films (Around the Bay, Canary, Babnik). He is currently de(con)structing the TV talk show format as creator/producer of Sara Vizcarrondo’s Look of the Week.