I am not particularly fond of going out to the movies here. The audience jabbers
away incessantly, cellphones never cease to ring and the infamous movie theater
hafsaka breaks the film into two parts, often cutting for intermission while the
main character is delivering a critical monologue and always in the middle of an
intense action or love scene.
So when we bought our 42-inch plasma a few
years back, I swore off all but the most artsy films (the annual Jerusalem Film
Festival being the obvious exception). It was with no small amount of
trepidation, then, that I gave in to the kids’ entreaties to take them out to
the summer blockbuster Inception. The argument that won me over was that this
would not be at our local Jerusalem multiplex but at the Cinema City near
Herzliya – 21 screens of big-screen goodness with state-of-the-art sound systems
and serious, respectful theater attendees who wouldn’t act, I was assured, like
the back street bumpkins in the ragged-at-the-edges capital of movie-going
On the night of our show, the place was packed – not just our
theater, but all 21, it seemed. We settled into our seats (nicely decked
with soda holders on each arm rest).
Midway through the 20 minutes of
vapid commercials, a young couple – a man with a neatly trimmed goatee
woman who appeared to be his girlfriend wearing a short red mini-dress –
and sat down next to us. Right away they started up a loud conversation.
they would mellow out when the film itself started, but they continued
was hard to make out what they were talking about, but it didn’t seem to
about the movie.
Did I mention that they were loud? At one point, about
20 minutes into the film, they both got up and left. I let out a sigh of
Five minutes later, though, they returned, chatting like they were alone
sort of parallel universe where the other theatergoers had been rendered
invisible by their undying elaboration of all things irrelevant.
finding it harder and harder to concentrate on the film, waiting for the
outburst of inappropriate public elocution. Finally, I turned to the man
the goatee and whispered “shhh.” OK, OK, he said, but continued to
At the intermission, as I was getting up to stretch my legs, the
man with the goatee suddenly confronted me.
“Listen,” he said, “I paid
for these tickets and if I want to talk to my girlfriend during the
that’s what I’m going to do.”
I was flabbergasted. I have suffered before
in films. I’ve had to change seats. But never has someone told me off
attempting to enjoy a movie in relative silence. I tried briefly to
him but he shot me down again.
“Forget it, I’m not going to be quiet for
you,” he barked.
“Then I’ll speak to the staff,” I countered, and got up
to find the nearest usher.
A young man in a Cinema City polo shirt was
hovering in the hallways. I explained my predicament. He seemed
reluctant to get
involved but followed me back into the theater. “I’ll watch him from
But my cinematic tormenter was quickly on his feet – and
in my face. He was shorter than I expected, a kind of sabra version of a
bull in baggy cargo shorts.
“I paid for these tickets,” he repeated (as
if I had gotten mine for free). Then, to my horror, the usher started to
with the talker. “Well, maybe he can speak a little softer,” he
taking a highly un-Israeli nonconfrontational approach.
As I began to
calmly restate my assertion that talking was inappropriate during a
man with the goatee shot out, “And he didn’t say ‘please,’ just ‘shhh.’”
then that I realized I must have violated some sort of cultural norm.
what I perceived as undeniable rudeness on his part, he was accusing me
the aggressor. This wasn’t just a movie; it was a microcosm of the
At that point, I knew what I had to do: call a
“You’re right,” I said. “That wasn’t nice of me. I’m
I should have said ‘please.’ So I’m saying it now, can you please
be a little more quiet during the film.”
The man in the goatee’s body
posture began to relax.
“So we have an understanding?” I
“OK,” he grunted and we returned to our seats.
remainder of the movie, there was nary a word between the couple. I was
edge – although I’m not sure it was out of anxiety that the jabbering
return or from the 45-minute nonstop pyrotechnics finale of the
When the film was over, we filed out silently, avoiding eye
contact. But later, we passed each other in the mall and I quietly said
“thanks.” He didn’t reply, but he didn’t punch me out either.
asked a few Israeli friends about the altercation.
“shhhing” him, I had issued a “command” which – in a country where
everyone serves in the army – put him in a clearly subordinate position,
him to lose face in front of his girlfriend. Asking “please” would have
him to respond to a request on his own accord, rather than bristle at a
Still, it wasn’t clear to me: Was I a coward who backed down
or a peacemaker in training? What mattered in the end was that I got
he restored his pride and war was narrowly averted – at least here in
aisles of Cinema City.The writer blogs about life in Israel