Do Singaporeans Need to be Taught Movie Theater Etiquette?

Watching Top Gun: Maverick reminded me of why the movie experience in Singapore leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

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Lights dim into darkness. After a series of commercials and propaganda bombarding our eyes, the gigantic flat screen cuts to black. The opening of the movie greets us with the production studio’s logo. It’s finally starting.

The aroma of popcorn and nacho cheese diffuse into my nose. The ruffling and crunching of popcorn fade into white noise as the surround sound in the Black Box drowns them out.

As I began to immerse myself in a new world, I was rudely brought back to reality by chatter. A group of boys in front of me was discussing the movie, updating their friends about the backstory of the sequel. The chatter didn’t stop. It continued throughout the entire 131 minutes. They commented on almost everything that happened in the movie.

My husband shuffled in his seat, distracted and deeply annoyed, our movie experience ruined, coming in and out of the film. When the music and dialogue were loud, it was easier to engage in the film. But when it got quiet, their voices took us out of it again.

This was not a new encounter. This wasn’t a stand-alone experience. Being away from my home country for more than two years because of Covid, I had forgotten how dissatisfying the movie experience at home could be. Not because of the theater. But because of the people.

Back in 2017, I watched The Greatest Showman twice. I was so in love with that movie musical. But the experience was wrecked by inconsiderate people. Both times.

On the first occasion, a couple at the end of the aisle had their phones out, engaging in their own screens in the dark. Any person would know even if you had the phone brightness at the lowest, when in a dark space, it’s as bright as the moon.

Whenever the movie would break out into another song, they would comment on how lame it was.

‘Another song again? Why do they keep singing?’

And when the movie transitioned into another song, another comment would be made.

‘See? I told you they would sing again. Sigh… so boring! Keep singing…’

Duh! It’s a musical! No shit! Did you do your research or watch the trailer before you decide to watch the movie?

Perhaps they were that ignorant. Perhaps they’re trying to be funny. I’ll never know.

All I know was that I paid the exact same amount of money as them to enjoy a movie experience at the cinemas. While I understand they wanted to watch and enjoy the movie their own way, they’re not at home. They’re in a public space with others who have paid their way into the Black Box to escape from reality. We were supposed to share our love, laughter, and tears for the movie that the filmmakers had created for us.

Aside from this particular experience, there would also be people who would arrive late for the movie. That’s fine. We all get caught up with life. What’s not okay is them shining their phone lights at our faces trying to look for their seats. When people would tell them to turn it off, all the more they wouldn’t listen in defiance.

Sometimes, phones would go off in the middle of the movie. Again, that’s fine if they cut it off quickly. You’ll be surprised how long these people allow their phones to ring. Some would even answer and talk loudly during the movie, unconsciously informing all of us about the dramas in their lives.

Many times, people would fish their phones out for whatever reasons that are a mystery to me. We pay to escape our oun lives and disconnect from our small screens and our lives. Yet, every time you feel a vibration or if your hand feels ‘itchy’, you return to them, unknowingly causing others to snap out of their world to turn to yours. Your phones are with you 24/7. You can take two hours away from your phone. I’m sure you’ll still live.

These days (or rather since 2015), it’s rare that I would come out of the cinemas in Singapore feeling refreshed and rejuvenated by the movie I just watched. Nowadays, it would be a clash of emotions. I would love the movie but I would be reeling by the unmindful people that had tainted my experience.

Trying to tune them out is not an easy feat. It’s like trying to sleep with neighbors drilling away at something or people screaming at the top of their lungs outside.

The boys’ chatter had me fuming. Many times in the past, I had always imagined myself screaming at these thoughtless people. But I never had the guts to make that a reality. Recently, I’ve been watching a few videos online about saying what you need to say without any regrets. We can speak our minds without being mean about it.

As my mind was flipping through these memories, the next thing I knew, I heard my own voice.

‘Hey guys, can you all please stop talking?’ The words escaped my lips.

The chatter went quiet. My husband heaved a huge sigh of relief.

My heart pounded heavily from what just happened. I couldn’t believe I did that. I was a nervous wreck despite knowing I had all the right to tell them to be quiet. We and other people had just as much right to be there as they were. It took a couple of minutes for my heart to finally settle down to its normal pace.

We could finally get back into Maverick’s world.

But it wasn’t completely over.

Occasionally, there would be a rise of whispers and chatters from the other end of the group. They just couldn’t help themselves. Sometimes, it was easy to tune them out. We would get annoyed again. But it was somewhat easier to manage.

Dear Singaporeans, if you feel the need to talk or use your phone while in the movie theater, I strongly encourage you to just save your money and stay at home. Don’t ruin the movie experience for others who paid the same amount as you.

Be patient. Download or stream the movie when it comes out. You can watch it in the comfort of your own home, talk and comment as loud and as much as you want with your friends and family or by yourself, and be distracted with your phone anytime you want without affecting others.

You wouldn’t have to experience being shushed at or feel embarrassed by your own actions.

You can save yourself face, time, and money.

And you’ll save us emotional and mental energy spent on being irritated with you when we could spend it on the movie.

You’d think this is common sense. Or perhaps it isn’t.

Perhaps it’s just selfishness. The lack of consideration for others. The over consideration of their own desires.

This doesn’t just happen amongst teenagers. It’s a sickness that breeds across people of all ages.

I didn’t think such simple movie theater etiquette have to be taught. It blows my mind.

At the end of the day, it’s more than just being considerate.

It’s respect.

Respect for the filmmakers, actors, and actresses who have worked tirelessly on the project.

Respect for the people around you who have waited for months or years in anticipation of the release of the movie and paid for the experience.

At its very core, it’s respect for yourself.

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