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How A Quiet Place became a cause clbre for anti-popcorn crusaders

Purists want to enjoy the Emily Blunt film in silence but its not the only part of cinema etiquette that could do with a 21st-century update

Motion pictures regularly strike a nerve, causing audiences to rethink their views about politics, sex, religion and drugs. This is true of films as varied as the spectacularly racist silent movie The Birth of a Nation, the deeply disturbing and uncompromisingly antisemitic The Passion of the Christ and the futuristic, immensely thought-provoking 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But it is also true of Jaws, Psycho and Deliverance, all of which traumatised filmgoers to such a degree that they afterwards avoided going into the ocean, the shower, the basement, or the rural American south. These are films that generate passion or controversy by virtue of their troubling subject matter and their powerful images. For better or worse, they change the way we think and the way we behave outside the theatre once they are over.

But few films affect the way we behave inside the cinema. This is what sets the newly released A Quiet Place apart. Because of the unique demands it places on viewers, it raises vexing questions about how one goes about watching a film in the 21st century. Its premise is that, in a few years, our planet will be taken over by murderous, sightless creatures endowed with extraordinarily good hearing. To avoid being hunted down and killed by the merciless invaders, the few surviving humans on Earth must remain as quiet as church mice.

Heres where the trouble starts. Cinemas have long been considered safe havens where patrons can joyously munch on popcorn, sweets, pretzels and crisps. A Quiet Place aficionados want to change all that, reversing more than a century of socially acceptable antisocial behaviour in the cinema.

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The protagonists in A Quiet Place must stay quiet to survive. Some cinema-goers think audiences should stay silent, too. Photograph: Jonny Cournoyer/AP

Many people, on both sides of the Atlantic, have become enraged at those who noisily consume food during A Quiet Place, saying it wrecks the atmosphere the film is trying to create. Their position is that people attending a movie with virtually no sound are morally obligated to keep their mouths shut. That means no talking, no giggling, no coughing and, most important of all, no eating. Otherwise, boisterous moviegoers are being deeply, unforgivably disrespectful both to the film itself and to those members of the audience who fall into the non-peckish category.

Alas, if cinemas followed such draconian rules, they would be out of business. The fact is, a lot of people go to the movies because its raining or they are between sales calls or retired. They dont care what movie they see. To say they cant eat because the characters on screen are keeping a lid on it isnt fair. Once you have paid for your ticket, you can chomp as much as you damn well please.

As the old saying goes: be careful what you wish for. What happens when popcorn-chomping bumpkins, tired of being told to remain absolutely still during serious, arty films such as Phantom Thread, start turning up at arty movie houses for the specific purpose of annoying hard-core aficionados? Already, all over Britain and the US, battalions of loud, unsophisticated moviegoers are showing up at screenings of A Quiet Place and munching on snacks as if they were famished sows. And they are doing it for no other reason than to annoy the gentry.

The furore over noisy patrons at A Quiet Place underscores the need to develop sensible filmgoing etiquette for the modern world. Kids text constantly during movies, often to friends three seats away, and there is nothing that can be done. You cant persuade or prevent moviegoers from using their phones just as you cant persuade or prevent patrons bothered by the chatter and the clacking and the LCD glare from spilling popcorn and soda over the phone abusers, a tactic often referred to as direct democracy.

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Eating popcorn at the cinema is a tradition. Photograph: Eric Raptosh Photography/Getty Images/Blend Images

Is it still OK to drop your sweet wrappers and popcorn containers on the floor? Yes, because such slovenly behaviour is a cinematic tradition, the cornerstone of the moviegoing experience. That said, it is not permissible to drop Kleenexes, fish bones, lasagna, fish-and-chip wrappers or refuse you have brought from home. It is not fair to the cleaning staff and it can cause other patrons to slip.

But theatres should forbid patrons from wearing hoodies to horror films, because hoodies, hats with low brims and thick scarves make it impossible for others to tell whether the spawn of Satan is sitting at the other end of the aisle.

Finally, there is the matter of disruptive toilet breaks, where patrons noisily clamber over other filmgoers and then, when they return, belligerently ask their companions: Did I miss anything? Theatres should take a lead from opera houses and stipulate that those who leave the room once the performance has started will not be readmitted until there is a break in the action. If you dont have enough respect for the movie industry to tend to your needs before the film starts, you really have no business being at the multiplex. Try pro wrestling instead.

If all these measures fail, cinema chains might consider designating individual theatres as quiet rooms. Here, patrons will not be allowed to talk, unless they are speaking French, and no one will be allowed to eat. Including the French. Snickering, chortling and tittering will be forbidden. Theatre staff should screen filmgoers, much like airport security, pulling anyone out of line who looks like a slob, a spoilsport giggler, a dog-whisperer or a noisy eater and refuse to sell them tickets. This way, purists who want everyone to remain silent as the grave during the screening of an Emily Blunt film can huddle together in a small, dark room and stay there for ever. Which would suit everyone else just fine.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/apr/12/how-a-quiet-place-became-a-cause-celebre-for-anti-popcorn-crusaders

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