Noir

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In the dark, I become aware of a rocking figure. Back and forth. Back and forth. Over and over. Just two rows ahead and three seats to the right. Once I've seen it, I can't stop seeing it. I begin tracking plot, subtitles and, out of the corner of my eye, motion. It is one too many things. I hold my hand up to block my peripheral vision, but I hear the heavy breathing of someone crying hard without sobbing. It is a quiet but undeniable storm. I wonder that no one else seems to notice. In the dark, it appears to be a man leaning forward to avoid the awkward obstacle of the armrest and holding a woman in his arms, tight, tighter, rocking her while she weeps.

The movie is tragic, of course. They are all tragic. Nevertheless, it is surely too melodramatic and too old fashioned to occasion unbridled grief. What are the chances that anyone in the audience has shot a rival in a burst of rage and then, brokenhearted, dragged a massive armoire to block the door from a hail of gunfire from the gendarmerie in the couloir?  And still she gasps for breath as though this story were all too painfully familiar and still he rocks her, though it seems not to comfort her at all. i wonder why he does not bundle her up the aisle, out the door, and home.

The screen brightens and I suddenly realize that there is no couple at all, but just a man alone. I recognize him from every film festival I have ever attended in this town. He is as unchanging as he is distinctive. Plus, at every screening he arrives before me and sits in the seat I would choose myself, so I had noticed him when I'd arrived. Now, in that very seat, he is hunched over, with his arms tightly wrapped around his own shoulders, rocking while sobbing or possibly just gasping for air. I know I should go and see that he's all right, but I think of inching down my row in the dark, stepping on toes, spilling popcorn, blocking the view of the subtitles at the climactic moment, only to intrude on a stranger's private grief, or illness, or insanity, and I stay where I am.

When the hero has taken his own life just moments before the police breach his room via the roof, FIN rolls across the screen and the house lights come up. The man, in his signature cyclist garb complete with ever-present 70's-style terrycloth headband, rises from his seat, checks that his jacket is placed visibly to save his seat, grabs his backpack and heads to the lobby just as he does between every double feature. Just as though nothing had happened in the dark at all.