My Story: Culture clash at Cinema City

Enjoying a movie in relative silence? You must be kidding.

Movies 311 (photo credit: San Jose Mercury News/ MCT)
Movies 311
(photo credit: San Jose Mercury News/ MCT)
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 misery.
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 out 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 and a woman who appeared to be his girlfriend wearing a short red mini-dress – arrived and sat down next to us. Right away they started up a loud conversation. I hoped they would mellow out when the film itself started, but they continued on. It was hard to make out what they were talking about, but it didn’t seem to be 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 relief. Five minutes later, though, they returned, chatting like they were alone in some sort of parallel universe where the other theatergoers had been rendered invisible by their undying elaboration of all things irrelevant.
I was finding it harder and harder to concentrate on the film, waiting for the next outburst of inappropriate public elocution. Finally, I turned to the man with the goatee and whispered “shhh.” OK, OK, he said, but continued to jabber.
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 movie, 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 for attempting to enjoy a movie in relative silence. I tried briefly to argue with 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 here,” he offered timidly.
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 pit 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 side with the talker. “Well, maybe he can speak a little softer,” he suggested, taking a highly un-Israeli nonconfrontational approach.
As I began to calmly restate my assertion that talking was inappropriate during a movie, the man with the goatee shot out, “And he didn’t say ‘please,’ just ‘shhh.’” It was then that I realized I must have violated some sort of cultural norm. Despite what I perceived as undeniable rudeness on his part, he was accusing me of being the aggressor. This wasn’t just a movie; it was a microcosm of the entire Middle East.
At that point, I knew what I had to do: call a truce.
“You’re right,” I said. “That wasn’t nice of me. I’m sorry.
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 asked.
“OK,” he grunted and we returned to our seats.
For the remainder of the movie, there was nary a word between the couple. I was still on edge – although I’m not sure it was out of anxiety that the jabbering would return or from the 45-minute nonstop pyrotechnics finale of the film.
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.
I later asked a few Israeli friends about the altercation.
Apparently, by “shhhing” him, I had issued a “command” which – in a country where nearly everyone serves in the army – put him in a clearly subordinate position, causing him to lose face in front of his girlfriend. Asking “please” would have allowed him to respond to a request on his own accord, rather than bristle at a reprimand.
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 some quiet, he restored his pride and war was narrowly averted – at least here in the tony aisles of Cinema City.
The writer blogs about life in Israel at