Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Is movie etiquette a thing of the past?

Rachel Choi
Illustration by Kellyn Taylor.

I saw “Bottoms” at the Boston Common AMC during orientation week. Even though it looked hilarious, I expected the theater environment to be what it was back home—quiet and respectful. 

I was surprised at first when people started laughing out loud, talking and shouting during the movie—but it was a comedy, so I figured it made sense. Plus, the movie had several references to Emerson, which the student-filled theater enjoyed.

But when I saw Martin Scorsese’s, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a 2023 film about how William Hale got away with killing more than 20 of the Osage people from 1918 to 1933, the same thing happened. And while Leonardo DiCaprio did sprinkle in some punch lines, the movie was based on a true story about the massacre of Osage people and the greedy men who got away with their crimes—it’s not a knee-slapper. 

Nevertheless, people were laughing like it was a stand-up special—like it was fiction and not something that really happened. Many audience members laughed at Ernest’s (DiCaprio) stupidity and awkwardness during the film, but this silliness was sandwiched between scenes of Ernest’s crucial role in killing innocent people. 

A loud theater can be upsetting and distracting, especially when you’re watching a movie for the first time. When I’m watching a film in theaters, I want to be completely focused and present, and it’s hard to do that when people around you are talking and laughing. If someone laughs out loud at something that you don’t think is funny, you’re stuck sitting there thinking “why?” and you’re no longer paying attention to the actual movie. 

The same happened when I saw “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”—a prequel to the original trilogy in which all but one of two dozen children brutally fight to the death. Lucky Flickerman, the official host of the 10th annual Hunger Games and played by Jason Schwartzman, makes light of the killings in order to enhance the spectacle for viewers. After a child is killed, Flickerman drops a one-liner (“Tuberculosis on legs”). My theater was in hysterics. 

My roommates and I were shocked. We just witnessed a 16 year old get his throat cut, and five seconds later, the audience is squealing. I couldn’t tell what made me more upset—the fact that the theater was loud, or that everyone seemed to be missing the point of the movie. Sometimes crowd participation will enhance the movie experience—take Rocky Horror, for example. But at this point, sitting in a theater that won’t shut up when you’re genuinely trying to watch a film you’ve been waiting weeks to see is disheartening.

In an interview with Scholastic Media Room, author Suzanne Collins said war coverage often desensitizes the audience so “when they see real tragedy playing out on, say, the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should.” That’s exactly what I experienced when I watched “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” 

Flickerman’s jokes are funny because they prove people in power control the narrative—so meta. The ridiculousness of the jokes, luxury, and spectacle are meant to mirror real-world war coverage and desensitization. 

Audience members fed into this at every point in the movie. When Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) leaned in for a kiss with Lucy Gray (Rachel Zegler), half of the audience was screaming (yes, literally screaming). While the movie seeks to show Coriolanus’ humanity before the “Hunger Games” trilogy, we also see the birth of a manipulative, power-hungry dictator who will later go on to murder hundreds of children. 

Flickerman’s jokes and Coriolanus’ awkwardness are minor elements of the movie compared to the cruelty shown to the people of Panem. In the end, the movie is not meant to be funny. But even if it was, you don’t laugh out loud in a movie theater, or so I thought. 

Perhaps it’s not that serious. It’s just a movie after all, and movies are meant to be enjoyed. Going to see a theater is a fun experience and people should be allowed to enjoy themselves. I, for one, prefer to go see a movie in theaters rather than wait for it to come out on a streaming service. 

But is movie theater etiquette a thing of the past? Back in my home state, Texas, I remember the excitement and hype around “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019. The theater on opening night was completely sold out, and almost everyone in the audience had worn some sort of costume or Marvel merch. Even during that finale, though, the theater was silent until the credits rolled. 

Even when Captain America finally said “Avengers assemble!” and lifted Mjolnir, the audience let out a few gasps but no cheers or claps. I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream “I knew it!” at the top of my lungs, but I didn’t. I was in a public movie theater surrounded by dozens of fans who likely felt the exact same way, and I was raised to be quiet during a movie. 

I thought that was the golden rule before coming to Boston. The Boston Common AMC’s location between Suffolk and Emerson attracts many students, and maybe that’s the reason for rowdier crowds—or maybe this is a niche form of culture shock. I’ve been waiting almost three years for “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” movie, and I left the theater feeling sick. I loved the film, but the audience’s behavior soured the entire experience for me. 

Maybe it’s not that deep. Maybe if I hate loud theaters so much, I should just watch movies at home. But I miss the times I could go experience a movie for the first time without cringing as the audience is giggling at all the wrong moments.

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About the Contributor
Emma Siebold
Emma Siebold, Staff Writer
Emma Siebold (she/her) is a first-year journalism major/political communications minor from Spring Branch, Texas. She is also an associate producer for WEBN-TV and editorial assistant at Emerson Today. Outside of the newsroom, Emma enjoys training with the Dashing Whippets running team, listening to folk music, and obsessing over Marvel movies.

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