I remember going to see the movie Saving Private Ryan when it first came out, way back in 1998. I used to go to the movies alone quite a lot in those days; I am one of those movie goers who is very particular about movie etiquette (get there plenty early so you do not miss a single minute, not even the pre-movie previews, which are part and parcel of the experience; don’t talk incessantly – and preferably not at all – during the movie; laugh when it’s appropriate; take a bathroom break before the movie begins so you don’t miss a single minute; for the same reason, don’t finish your drink or you will have to get up and go to the bathroom while the movie is playing; leave your mobile phone at home or at least turn it off; stay until the credits have rolled and head home rather than purchase a ticket if the popcorn machine is broken).
As you can see, I am a little particular about the whole experience, so going to see a movie alone is a very logical option for me. I was living in Québec City and at the time, it was still possible to see limited showings of a movie in its original English version. The theatres were almost never full for movies showing in English (the reason, I suspect, that they don’t show them anymore) so you always had a range of choices regarding where to sit (I am particular about that, too).
Anyone who has seen Saving Private Ryan likely remembers that graphic, violent, wrenching, drawn-out opening scene as Allied Forces land on Normandy beach. To say that scene is difficult to watch is an understatement. I humbly (and gratefully) admit that I have only the vaguest understanding of war, but I feel Stephen Spielberg did an admirable job in helping the movie-goer appreciate how truly terrible it must have been.
I sat there in shock and in horror, popcorn forgotten (which is saying something, as another of my rules is to only noisily crunch on my popcorn during the loud scenes), my entire body frozen in place by the raw brutality I was witnessing. One row ahead of me, I was peripherally aware of three burly young men who were sitting just a few seats away from me. As the scene became increasingly louder and more brutal, the biggest man began to laugh. Not a quiet chuckle, but a deep, full-body belly laugh. As the mayhem intensified on the movie screen, his laughter increased in direct proportion.
It was a jarring juxtaposition to what was going on in the movie and I quickly became uneasy. I am not one of those folks who effortlessly shushes another in public and I instinctively knew that this was not the time to start. Quietly, I gathered up my sweater (another rule – movie theatres tend to be chilly, even in summer), my purse, my drink and my popcorn and just as silently, I crept away to another seat in the theatre, as far as I could get from that booming laughter.
That young man and his out-of-context hilarity have haunted me ever since. Because another thing I instinctively knew was not to be upset with him. Wary, oh yes. Because even then, before we were really hearing about soldiers coming back home with crippling PTSD, I had a sense that something must be terribly, terribly wrong for him to have such an inappropriate reaction to a scene of such horror.
Could I be wrong? Well of course I could.
But somehow, I don’t think I am.
And over twenty years later, I think of him still. Oh, I do hope he has fared better than so many returning soldiers who have not been able to win the battle they are fighting with the demons in their souls and their psyches. Because I also profoundly believe that those battles are just as real as any combat and conflict soldiers may have encountered as they went off, pitifully unprepared, to fight for their countries and to keep those of us who have never seen a real battle from ever having to get our hands dirty…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com