The most famous and quotable line in “The Martian” comes early on, when Mark Watney – played by Matt Damon – realizes how much brain power it’ll take to keep him alive after being marooned on Mars.
“I’m gonna have to science the s--- out of this.”
Except I didn’t actually get to hear it. I only heard Matt Damon say “I’m going to have to science the” before a young woman next to me interrupted him to say to her girlfriend: “You wouldn’t believe who I ran into at the grocery store yesterday!”
OK, maybe that’s not an exact quote. But she spoke at a volume level I imagine she’d use if she were hanging out at a bar, and this was about the 15th time in 15 minutes that she decided she had something to say that just could not possibly wait until they were, say, hanging out at a bar.
For decades, I’ve been patiently waiting and waiting for advances in – I don’t know, technology? Human development? – something, anything that will get everyone to actually heed theaters’ boilerplate request: Please don’t spoil the movie by adding your own soundtrack.
I used to think it was just my bad luck. The little boy who kicks seats and constantly asks his parents to explain the movie always sits right behind ME. The college buddies with the matching cellphone addictions always sit right in front of ME. The young woman who ran into someone unbelievable at the grocery store yesterday always sits right next to ME.
Then I realized it’s not ME; it’s that the world just so happens to be full of people who feel it’s appropriate to talk during movies.
Last Saturday, I was deeply absorbed in the drug-trade thriller “Sicario” when, about 45 minutes in, four teenagers wandered into the theater. Forty-five minutes later, they had completely lost interest in whether Emily Blunt’s character was going to live or die and were busily showing each other their phones while discussing Official Justin Bieber Fan Club business.
OK, maybe that’s not exactly what they were saying. But I mean, why are we still talking about this? How is it that theater owners have made almost zero progress when it comes to addressing the issue of obnoxious patrons? Why does the burden of policing still after all these years fall mainly on the people who buy the tickets?
Look, I’ve quietly fantasized about jerkish ways to get people to shush.
▪ Lean in close to the talker, flash a big wide-eyed grin as I leer at them through the darkness, then a very interested-sounding, “So, what are we talking about over here??”
▪ Or, with a concerned look on my face, “Hey, would you guys mind filling me in on what’s going on in the movie? I’m having trouble hearing what they’re saying.”
▪ Or even just focusing my full attention on them when they talk and nod vigorously and go, “Uh-huh! Uh-huh! Uh-huh! Hahahaha, that’s hilarious!”
But I never do any of these things. I just sit there and stew. Because even though shushing might work, let’s be honest: It probably won’t.
It’s kind of like when you accuse someone of being defensive. If they weren’t before, they are now! Or like telling someone to calm down. Want to see someone really blow their top? Tell a person who’s already agitated to calm down. Big fun!
So by the same token, if you tell a serial talker to be quiet at the movies, you run the risk of making things worse. And while you didn’t come to the movies to listen to someone blather on in the seat next to you, you also didn’t come for a fight.
I’d like to think there’s a solution out there. It probably involves technology that makes it easy for theaters to flag disruptive guests, although it would have to be cheap technology – theater owners will never spend piles of dough to fix a problem that has so little impact on their bottom lines.
But I’d like to think someone will figure it out, for all mankind. If Mark Watney proved anything in “The Martian,” it’s that through ingenuity, cooperation and can-do spirit, we can solve almost any problem.
At least, I think that was the message – it was kind of hard to hear him over the woman next to me.