You’re seated in a crowded movie theater. You, and every other person in that space has entered into an unwritten contract, agreeing to certain rules that guarantee a pleasant movie experience for everyone. No talking, smoking, or alcohol consumption for starters. If a young child cries or misbehaves, adults remove the child from the theater. No shouting, ‘the butler did it!’ moments before the butler does it.
After opening the door to the theater lobby, the immediate whiff of buttery popcorn instantly abandons our common sense over health concerns, allowing most of us to consume whatever junk we want. After all, we’re at the movies. This is in the contract.
There is something more fundamental, and much more essential, to the unwritten contract than these simple applications. It is the willingness to abandon the expectation of complexity regarding the contents of the movie; plot, character reaction, the expert co-habitation of sound and image to heighten emotion. Since Hollywood movies are really the only movies that matter, abandoning hope for nuance when consistently hit with syrupy endings must also be contractually agreed upon.
Generally, we are content with this contract. It works. We need a place to not think about our lives, a cool, dark, relaxing place we can focus on the lives of people who aren’t real. Feel their unreal emotions, pain, and happiness. Laugh at their silly stupidity. To know, even for a short time, how wonderful it can be to be a criminal, or how cleansing it is to exact murderous revenge. We can trick ourselves into knowing what it must have been like living in the past, or what it might mean to live in the future, even though it’s impossible knowing those things. The word for all this is escapism. For two hours, all we ask is that no one ask a thing from us except to feed us crap and let our minds leave earth.
We leave the theater and step reluctantly into glaring sunlight. Our day-to-day existence is lit once again for us. We squint, perhaps using our hand to shield our eyes from its reality. We try to reflect on what we have just seen for comfort, to re-enter that artificial world once more. Maybe we talk among our acquaintances, to help keep the experience alive. But it’s no use. The brightness is overwhelming, and we simply go back home.