Now Playing At The Theaters: Fear of Catharsis

Going to the movies an alien concept for my eleven-year old. He likes his gaming and science videos on YouTube just fine, thank you very much, and sees no point in leaving the comfort of his own living room. He has a point there. Why NOT sit in front of the TV with NO PANTS,  snack of your choice on hand? Why sit in a dark space full of strangers for two hours? Why test your patience watching an endless run of ads and trailers? AND some movies make you feel sad. You’re forced to watch characters struggle at some point in most movies. For a highly sensitive boy who doesn’t enjoy watching people suffer, talk about stepping out of his comfort zone.   

My kiddo’s aversion to movie theaters breaks my heart though. My husband and I love going to the movies. And they have reclining seats now! Reclining seats! That you can reserve! Reclining seats or bust! But I digress.

I actually believe that watching movies (and narrative TV shows) is a vital part of understanding the human condition. They can be any genre. Even the silliest of comedies force us to see things from a character’s point-of-view. Skillfully told stories activate empathy. We’ve all identified with characters on screen at some point. More importantly, watching an abundance of narrative movies or TV can make us more media savvy. In the age of fake news and false narratives, you might not be able to spot disingenuous emotional manipulation so easily f you don’t know any cinematic or narrative conventions on screen.

Lofty ideas aside, I just want me and my husband to be able to enjoy a superhero flick or two with our kiddo, OK? Achievable, do you think? We’ve figured out some things that can make going to the movies easier for my highly-sensitive boy. Maybe they can help your movie theater-averse child too. 

Big Screens = Big Emotions

Even when watching YouTube videos or Netflix shows, my eleven-year old prefers science documentaries to narrative shows. It makes sense. No one is likely to encounter emotional trials or experience profound loss in a documentary about the Solar System. That isn’t to say he doesn’t like narratives. He loves to read. It’s just that watching real people (actors) or even animated characters recreate a narrative makes the emotional experience too intense for him. Big emotions are hard, even on the small screen. I’ve seen him walk away from the TV or turn his attention to a comic book in his lap when watching movies at home. And bigger the screen, bigger the emotion. There’s also nowhere to run when seated in a theater — though we usually go to the cheapest showing in the morning if we do need to walk out. (We’ve never had to do that, thankfully,)

Minimizing The Impact

We still don’t take the kiddo to the movies all that much, but here are some simple things my husband and I do to make the experience as enjoyable as possible:

  1. The one thing I always do is to sit in the last row, farthest away from the screen. Being able to see the shape of the screen, as opposed to being immersed in it, seems to make the experience similar to watching a (gigantic) TV.
  2. If loud sound is an issue, bring a headphone to cover ears. This hasn’t been an issue with my kiddo.
  3. I love movie trailers, but they can contain trailers to scary films. Since we always go to theaters with reserved seats, we have the option of walking in after the last trailer without losing our seats of choice. Lately, trailers haven’t posed much of an issue as he gets older.

Greatest Hits

Movie review time! Let’s see what my kiddo thought of some of the movies we watched over the last couple years. (My comments in parenthesis)

Thor: Ragnarok  Awesome. So funny! One of my favorites. (Comedy is always a winner)

Spider-Man: Homecoming  It was okay. (Very fun, but he thought the villain was scary and probably didn’t like that he betrayed his family)

Coco  The worst. All the skeletons looked spooky and it was too sad. (I loved it!)

Spider-man: Into The Spider-verse  Fun! (Indeed)

Frozen  Pretty good, I guess. (Lies. We watched it multiple times)

Moana  Good songs. (I mean, Shiny is so good)

In the end, his two favorite films turned out to be ones we watched at home: The Martian (science wins the day!) and The Meg (because kids love giant sharks and mayhem).

Happy watching!

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