For better or worse, there’s nothing quite like watching a movie in the cinema. There’s the sense that you’re all sharing a new experience. The feeling of expectancy when a movie the whole audience has been looking forward to seeing unfolds on the screen. The enjoyment of laughing in unison at a golden comic moment.
On the flip side, there’s the uniquely unpleasant sensation of a person behind you kicking the back of your seat. Or the horrendous human being who can’t resist checking his phone for the duration of a movie, meaning you end up having to ignore an eerie blue glow emanating from the corner of your eye for about 120 minutes.
Memories like these, whether good or bad, are all part of the cinema-going experience, and you’re sure to have lots of others of your own. I’ll never forget sitting through the most harrowing moments of Saving Private Ryan while an old couple located to my left feasted on a dinner of sandwiches, fruit and crisps, all washed down with a few tins of Sainsbury’s lager. Even today, I can’t help but associate the Normandy landings with the smell of bananas and beer.
For some reason, though, it’s the people who walk out of screenings that always stick in my mind. I’ve never left a film early before, partly because I’m so tight. Even if a film’s terrible, I’ll be damned if I don’t get my money’s worth. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been oddly fascinated by people who do get up and march angrily out of a theatre, and even taken special note of the exact point in the film where their will finally broke.
So with that introductory preamble out of the way, here are a six personal memories of the films I’ve seen people walk out of, when they left, and where appropriate, what they said as they departed. Beware of spoilers if you haven’t seen one or two of the films below, obviously.
Fight Club (1999)
Here’s a film that needs little introduction: David Fincher’s bravura, unfathomably black rendering of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name. It struggled at the cinema at the time of release, partly due to some very odd marketing, but it’s rightly garnered a cult following since (here’s a full lookback at the film).
The walk-out: Fight Club was greeted with some seething notices when it came out, so it’s unsurprising, perhaps, that not all audiences warmed to it either. I remember going to a sparsely-attended screening of Fight Club on the week of release, and being utterly enthralled by it: I still recall wondering how on earth a film like this got made by a major Hollywood studio.
Other people sitting in the cinema were less enamoured. At least two people behind me were tutting from the moment they spotted Meat Loaf and his colossal prosthetic breasts. It appeared to be downhill all the way from there. They gasped at the sight of a penis during the scene where Tyler demonstrates how he splices shots from pornos into animated family movies. They groaned during the lengthy bare-knuckle boxing sequences.
Oddly, the moment that pushed them over the edge was one I found absolutely hilarious. It’s the scene where the narrator and Tyler were rummaging through the bins of a liposuction clinic in the search for bags of discarded human fat. When one of the bags got snagged on a barbed wire fence, and the icky goo ran down into Edward Norton’s hands… too much.
There was a gasp behind me, then the sound of seats thumping into their upright position. A couple of indeterminate age left immediately, and then, seemingly inspired by their example, three more people made a quiet exodus, tutting and harumphing as they left.
Compared to some of the films in David Cronenberg’s back catalogue, eXistenZ is The Wizard Of Oz. About an ineffectual security guy (Jude Law) who’s forced to protect a superstar game designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) from anti videogame extremists, it’s like Videodrome for the PlayStation age. It’s gory, it’s violent, it’s unpredictable, but it’s also quite funny.
Who wouldn’t warm to a movie where Jude Law assembles a gun from fish bones and shoots a waiter repeatedly in the face?
The walk-out: The answer to the above question: patrons of a multiplex in Northamptonshire. The theatre was hardly packed out when the movie started, and the few people who’d bothered to buy a ticket were unimpressed. The word “boring” echoed out at least once during the first half an hour. When the startlingly gory fish-gun moment mentioned above played out, a line had clearly been crossed. “Ridiculous” a shadowy figure said, as he huffily put on his jacket and headed for the nearest door. I’m guessing he wasn’t familiar with Cronenberg’s earlier stuff.
Enter The Void (2010)
This exceedingly odd, sporadically disturbing film is all about narcotics, tempestuous relationships and the afterlife. Shot from the perspective of its protagonist Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), who’s a rather clumsy drug dealer living with his sister in Tokyo, it takes audiences on a trippy journey through the Japanese capital’s psychedelic city streets, and then off into a metaphysical exploration of childhood, death, the afterlife, and rebirth. Directed by Gaspar Noe, it’s essentially an X-rated Tron.
The walk-out: Enter The Void’s scenes of claustrophobic, first-person drama are punctuated by a series of drug trips, which unfold on the screen like a series of voyages through the interior of a lava lamp. Although undeniably beautiful, they also give Enter The Void a strangely languid pace. The film moves to its own slow and unpredictable rhythm, and it’s never easy to guess when it’s all going to end.
After one kaleidescopic freak-out moment, the screen went black, prompting someone on the back row of the tiny theatre I attended to suddenly exclaim, “Oh, thank God.”
Unfortunately for him, Gaspar hadn’t finished yet: there followed approximately 40 more minutes of floating cameras, weird pulsating shapes, and scenes of graphic sex. When it became clear to the impatient man at the back that the movie was far from over, he said, to nobody in particular, “Fuck this, I’m off”. As good as his word, he collected together the tattered remains of his sanity and left.
Kill List (2011)
Ben Wheatley’s British horror thriller is like The Wicker Man for the 21st century. It depicts the life of a hitman not as some globe-trotting adventure, but as a slightly depressing job you take on because you have to pay the mortgage. Wheatley brings a real matter-of-fact, mundane tone to Kill List, which makes its descent into occult madness all the more disquieting.
The walk-out: Kill List was the kind of film where its lack of publicity worked in its favour. Its surprises hadn’t been spoiled by blanket media coverage or ubiquitous TV spots, so its darkest moments remained safely intact. Unfortunately, Kill List’s indie status also meant that, when I went to see it, lots of people had clearly used their unlimited cinema cards to get in without knowing a thing about it. When, after 20 minutes, nothing violent had happened, several people started mumbling and walking out of the screening room – presumably because they wanted to get in to see something else while it was still early enough.
Had they stayed, it’s possible that one scene would have sent them packing in any case. There’s a sequence where a man’s legs are brutally pounded with a hammer, and the reaction was quite unusual. A handful of people audibly gasped. One woman exclaimed, “Oh my God.” The hammer attack provoked a renewed rush for the exit, with one or two people literally shoving each other in their fight to get to the door.
Oddly, I remember sitting through all kinds torture and bloodletting scenes in Hostel, and while people were murmuring and gasping, nobody bothered to get up and leave. Maybe it’s because Kill List was a less well known film, whereas Hostel was fairly infamous before it even arrived in the UK. Or maybe it’s the quiet mundanity of the direction, as I mentioned earlier, which makes the jabs of bloodshed seem even more pronounced. At any rate, I suspect Mr Wheatley would have taken those horrified audience reactions as a compliment.
The Duke Of Burgundy (2014)
Writer-director Peter Strickland’s previous film was the brilliantly odd Berbarian Sound Studio, a kind of sonic horror in which Toby Jones’ sound editor goes quietly bonkers while working on the post-production of a low-rent Italian giallo flick.
Anyone who saw it should have known what they were in for with The Duke Of Burgundy (review right here), a riotously kinky film about the love affair between a formidable author (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her maid (Chiara D’Anna). It’s surreal, unpredictable and deliciously funny, as it peels back the hidden layers on its central couple’s weird, dominant-submissive relationship.
The walk-out: I saw The Duke Of Burgundy at the London Film Festival, and the reaction to it was as British as you could possibly get. There were chortles and guffaws at the sight of lingerie-clad buttocks and (extremely tasteful) scenes of S&M. A discussion about a “human toilet” resulted in a ripple of very middle-class laughter.
Gradually, though, it became clear that Strickland’s film was dividing the room. While lots of people (your humble writer included) thoroughly appreciated The Duke Of Burgundy, others were clearly nonplussed. You might think that a festival audience would be quite tolerant of something exotic and unpredictable (it’s surely the sort of thing film festivals thrive on) but the various scenes of foot-rubbing, bondage and general cheekiness on display in The Duke Of Burgundy appeared to be a bit much.
Approximately 40 minutes in, the walk-outs began. Most were quiet. Some were sighing. At least eight people left before I gave up trying to keep tally. One middle-aged gentleman walked down the steps to the exit, located to the front right of the screening room, and paused at the door to observe a close-up shot of a woman’s lingerie-clad posterior, which filled the 12-foot high screen. He regarded it for a moment, shook his head, coughed, and quietly departed.
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