The James Clayton Column: The loneliness of the single moviegoer

James highlights the Valentine's Day choices for those spending it home alone...

Loneliness kills. Look at what happened to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. The poor man was driven to a mohawk haircut and mad, radical plots to wipe the scum off the streets of New York. Loneliness sends you loco and if you’ve got insomnia and the back seat of your taxi is covered in puke, it may send you into complete psycho-craziness.

Starved of social contact you’re liable to start talking to the mirror and imagining that you’re an avenging angel destined to whack all the pimps, pushers and sleazy presidential candidates plaguing the city around you. Before they had the Internet and cable TV to distract them, God’s lonely men were potential meltdowns and a threat to public safety. Travis Bickle would have never cracked if he’d had access to YouTube.

For more movie examples of isolation’s deadliness, see how upset Sam Rockwell got in last year’s Moon, left on a lunar base with only himself (himselves?) and Gerty the robot to talk to. Likewise, look at how Will Smith’s ‘last man on Earth’ ended up so affected by his solitude in I Am Legend that he developed a crush on a shop dummy.

Humans are sociable creatures. It’s unnatural for them to be totally alone. In such circumstances, conversation with a volleyball is perfectly reasonable (family planning with a shop window mannequin, however, is not).

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You’d hope that wider humanity would care about the masses of miserable, lonesome people spread across the planet. You’d think that the world would provide companionship and a bit of compassion for all the emotionally wounded, unloved souls. Give a little love, yeah? No. Instead society chooses to stick two fingers up to the lonely ones and increases their feelings of inadequacy and alienation by throwing a big crass celebration on their mountain of smug. Commercial industry creates Valentine’s Day to drive the knife in deeper.

Every February it approaches like the Huey helicopters in Apocalypse Now, bearing down and backed by the booming sound of Ride Of The Valkyries ready to drop napalm all over the unloved ones so the troops can use their burnt remains as surfboard wax. “I love the smell of smouldering human hearts in the morning,” hollers Lt. Kilgore as the sad singletons sink under a wave of incendiary jelly, “Smells like Valentine’s Day”. Either that, or Sex Panther cologne (“60% of the time, it works every time.”).

It strikes me – literally, there’s burning jelly in my hair – that February 14th is a bit like the Vietnam War in that it has über-macho-men who can get the girls riding high on epic surf whilst everyone else experiences horror and despair. Without wanting to play down the endless atrocities of the conflict, I can see that the Vietnam War and Valentine’s Day have a lot in common. Both stand as pointless sources of unnecessary pain and suffering. Both have left many poor individuals traumatised, displaced or struck down with venereal disease. The major difference is that ‘Nam has inspired some incredible movies. Valentine’s Day: not so.

I, as one of those unloved and unwanted sad cases, am going to be on the pile of rotting rejects whilst the romantics have a high time of it. Most likely, Valentine’s Day will pass without anyone posting me a card, some roses or a plush soft toy. I can say pretty certainly that a magical date with an incredibly beautiful woman, a candlelit dinner, a late showing of The Wolfman and a frenzied moonlight skinny-dipping mission isn’t going to happen.

If anyone does want to spend an evening in my semi-charming company watching Benicio del Toro turn into a werewolf, then give me a call and bring a towel. Before anyone protests that a horror remake is a poor choice of first date movie, my parents went to watch The Killing Fields the first time they went out. After two hours of Cambodian genocide, marriage and three kids looks easy.

Otherwise, I and many others will be spending Valentine’s Day in our own Quantum of Solace, crying our eyes out, feeling like a cockroach and wanting to be crushed like one. It’s not healthy to feel like this and so, alternatively, if you don’t want to drown in a vortex of self-pity and self-loathing then – in the wise word of Dodgeball‘s Patches O’Houlihan, “You have to get angry!”

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Feel the fury and look into the eyes of your loved-up tormenters then spit defiantly. To insulate yourself against absolute heartbreak and low self-esteem, throw yourself into utter cynicism.

In terms of film history, Hollywood’s bleakest age was the 1970s, what with economic insecurity, massive mistrust of authority after Watergate and ‘Nam and the death of the hippy dream. There’s reassurance in the pessimistic masterpieces of the seventies, and I’d recommend the following as Valentine’s Day movie choices for lonely, unloved people who could do with a cinematic reminder that love stinks…


You know what’s going to happen to all the smug couples? They’re going to feel the telekinetic wrath of the reject girl and end up incinerated in a prom night inferno.

A Clockwork Orange

Feelings of lust and desire for the old in-out will only make you feel unbearably sick. Refrain, oh my brothers: it’s a sin! It’s a sin!

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Have sex and a psychopath in a hockey mask will come after you and carve you up before you can put your clothes back on.

Don’t Look Now

Marriage and having a family means dead children, depressing holidays and haunting visits from a dwarf in a red anorak.


Deep emotional relationships lead to loved ones dying and coming back as masochistic space ghosts, repeatedly forcing their heartbroken partner to experience the loss over and over in an environment where they can’t even rely on gravity to support them.

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Dawn Of The Dead

If you had a partner, you’d be spending the weekend in some ghastly shopping centre having the last remains of life eaten up by the forces of undying consumerism/commitment to an animate corpse.

Taxi Driver

Try romance and you end up even more insane and outcast than you already were. The screwheads think you’re a twisted freak and they don’t appreciate it when you attempt to kill their pimp or take them out to see Swedish art movies. They are all filth and scum and a real rain’s gonna come and wash them away. Yeah? Huh? Huh? You talkin’ to me? Huh?

(Phew. I’m so glad they invented the Internet…)

James’ previous column can be found here.

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