I was really looking forward to seeing A Single Man. By myself. A single man. Or at least a singular man. Is that irony? I sat down in my preferred row-the one with the railing that you can sit your feet on. I was the only one there until about ten minutes before the movie when an elderly couple sat down in the back.
Five minutes into the movie, an African American woman came in to the theatre. Now that I think of it, I think she came in multiple times-checking things out? Then the moment came when she fully entered the space and says to me me at room volume: "Don't tell me you're here all by yourself!"
"Y-yes," I said.
"A Single Man?! Single?! Are you single?"
"Heh...I'm killing time."
She rushes over to me. She sits down. RIght next to me. In an empty movie theatre. Did something I say sound like an invitation? Hardly. She was committed.
There is rustling. Intense rustling-going on as she situates herself in her seat.
"What happened? Is it good?"
Oh my lord. No. I should have taken a clue and moved right then. But, how? I whisper, "This is a day in his life. His partner just died. It's set in..."
Again, at full volume, "He's GAY?!"
She cuts me off as I say, "...in 1962."
"They were GAY then?!"
"Where's my candy bag?.." She pulls out a plastic bag, unwrapping what I assume is the remnants of a Hershey's bar due to the unmistakable aroma of wax and sweaty chocolate.
I am frozen. I continue to debate with myself whether I should move. Through the movie I press (read slam) my body further into the armrest opposite her, legs curling up against the other chair.
Colin Firth's character looks at a woman. Close up on her large eyes, soft lips. Cue violins.
"Is he not gay anymore?!" she asks.
Firth speaks in a lecture hall (I paraphrase): "Let's leave the jews aside for a moment. There are other minorities that are perceived a threat to people-either real or imagined..."
"Black people!" she exclaims in a harsh whisper.
"Please. Please, I'm trying to watch," is my cry. In the darkness. She acknowledges this only by looking at me and placing another piece of chocolate in her mouth.
Her commentary continues. I am fleeing. But only inside. I can't bring myself to escape.
Every few minutes: "What's a puff?" "What's tonic?" "Is he bisexual?" "Is that the Mashed Potato dance?" Additionally, any time there was sexual tension-which Tom Ford handled like a seasoned film master, incidentally-or skin on the screen, she would gasp, or giggle, or cackle. Or all three in some unholy trinity of inappropriate reaction. At one point towards the third quarter of the film, it sounded like she was chewing her teeth.
I kept asking her to be quiet. This never worked. I began to believe she was incapable of not commenting during movies. Actually, I imagined she did this in everyday life. It was easier to accept that she did this all the time in conversation with people-or by herself-than to think she would somehow not be aware of the impropriety of talking to one's self or others during a film.
I can't help but wonder whether this was a fated encounter. Whose cosmic choice mattered more? Me seeing the movie or her choosing to come in five minutes late and approach me? A Single Man-which I had wanted to see-was felicitously the only movie playing at the time. At a time that I wanted to go to a movie. That was it. It was that moment; it was then she chose. And I was there. I was the chosen.
A Single Man-as a film, not the experience-was extraordinary. I was misty-eyed minutes into the movie but what gave me that immediate reaction in the beginning transformed into something deeper, more subtle, electric, and nostalgic. Yes, it was emotional and the filmmaking beautiful, but it is so purposeful, so personal. It pulls you, stretches you, and surprises you-not by shock, but by its play with sensuality and proximity if not intimacy.