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The Underrated Bliss of Sitting in the Front Row at Movie Theaters

3 minute read

It’s easier than ever to watch whatever movie you want, whenever and wherever you want. You can download Casablanca on your tablet and watch it while riding a bus, or stream Sunset Boulevard on your laptop while you fold your laundry. As a millennial-by-age but baby-boomer-at-heart, I am guilty of such cinematic crimes of convenience, and I feel that guilt.

So when I go to the movies, I like to do it properly. I sit in the front row.

Most people gravitate to the center or the back of a theater and find the front uncomfortable—too loud, too much neck-craning. But to front-row enthusiasts like me, the sensory overload is exactly what makes the zone so appealing.

The whole point of going to the movies is immersing yourself in another world, with vistas, characters and sounds that are entirely outside of your daily existence, or that distill your daily existence into something much more poignant. How can you immerse yourself when in front of you is a sea of people—potentially tall people—fidgeting in their seats, whispering in each other’s ears and reaching for popcorn? Sitting behind other people at the movies serves as a constant reminder that you’re in a theater, not at Rick’s Café Américain or Norma Desmond’s L.A. mansion.

Note: The second row can be perfectly fine if it’s a reasonably empty theater, and it eases up the neck-craning issue in theaters whose front rows are unreasonably close to the screen. However, latecomers might pop in front of you if you’re in the second row, but never in the first.

But sitting there is not just about eliminating other people from your field of vision. It’s about completely filling that field—otherwise, why not stay home and watch on your TV? I want to feel immersed in the action, not underwhelmed or simply whelmed, but overwhelmed. I want to pivot my gaze ever so slightly to see how a character reacts to a big moment, as if I’m in the scene myself. I want to jump in my seat when a monster pops out. I want to cry and I don’t want anyone to see.

If all this bashing of tall people and fidgeters sounds misanthropic, think of it this way: You wouldn’t want extra people hanging around when you’re on a first date. You’d want to be alone together. This summer, we front row-dwellers want to be alone together with Dory, the BFG, Jason Bourne and those ghostbusting gals, at a cinematic version of a table for two.

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