These Things Matter

by Brianna Ashby

all photos courtesy of the author

all photos courtesy of the author

I have trouble throwing things away. I have plastic bins full of boxes labeled for each year of high school, one for college, and a couple that hold miscellaneous trinkets and paper goods that I’ve collected in the years since. If you open the drawer in our desk that is designated for my use you won’t find a single office supply, but you will find: bits of ribbon, postcards, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, my old Billy Idol velcro wallet, letters, photos, and a pouch containing the ticket stubs from all of the concerts my husband and I have seen together, as well as the ticket stubs from all of the movies. The ones that didn’t go through the wash, anyway.

Synecdoche, NY at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, The Informant at the Bow Tie Landmark Cinema 9, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Delirious, Choke, No Country For Old Men, The Savages, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Darjeeling Limited, Juno, Margot At The Wedding, There Will Be Blood, I Am Legend, Four Christmases, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, Taken, Away We Go, The Happening, Sherlock Holmes, Milk, Where The Wild Things Are, Rachel Getting Married, Burn After Reading, In The Loop, Transformers

Transformers was actually the first movie we ever saw together, he and I. And, had I not already felt secure in our cinematic compatibility, this likely would have thrown up a red flag the size of Texas. (Thankfully, though, his favorite movie is The Royal Tenenbaums—which comes in just under Rushmore on my own list, but by a very, very small margin.) Nevertheless, I still had some misgivings about paying $25 to see 120 minutes of explosions and Shia LaBeouf, who was most likely not going to die in any of the aforementioned violent explosions, thus leaving me with no real desire whatsoever to watch the actual story play out. Still, my husband claimed it was a certain kind of nostalgia that compelled him to want to see the film, and I can be played rather like a fiddle if plied with enough charming childhood recollections. And so, off we went.

As we sat in the theatre that day, I kept wondering how I would react if he likedTransformers. I mean, really enjoyed it. Would I be forced to rethink this entire relationship? Could a judge possibly consider “divergent tastes in cinema” an irreconcilable difference in the divorce proceedings? You laugh, but I had to face facts—anyone with an actual appreciation for Michael Bay would not make for a suitable husband. Not for me, anyway.

Thankfully, as we watched Transformers, I noticed that we laughed at all of the same moments that were unintentionally funny, looked at each other in disbelief at the more ridiculous CGI sequences. Leaving the theatre, I heaved a huge sigh of relief, knowing that the man walking next to me would be the one leaving every movie with me for the rest of my life.

There are probably a million reasons why going to the movies has been a typical “date night” activity in our culture for decades, but mostly I think it’s because taking someone to the movies with us is a sort of test. You can tell a tremendous amount about a person based on who they are as a moviegoer—not just on the movies they choose to see or claim to love. (“Claim” sounds a bit cynical, I know, but let’s face it—first impressions and all that. Few people in this world are comfortable enough with themselves to admit that something likeMeet the Fockers is their all-time favorite movie, especially to someone they’re hoping to actually sleep with.) Does your moviegoing partner offer to get the refreshments? Do they remember that one time that you mentioned something about Junior Mints and so they hand you a surprise box along with the popcorn and the soda? Do they hog the armrest? Do they text during the movie or do they turn their phone off? Do they put their feet up on the seat in front of them?

And that’s just the cursory analysis.

The true revelations often come during the film itself. If it’s a drama, are there tears? If it’s a thriller, do they jump or grab your hand? Do they give you those knowing looks during a movie that proves to be terrible? Do they laugh sincerely during a comedy?

The initial phases of a courtship are dodgy—one wrong move and the whole thing could implode—and it is in this initial phase that words most often fail us. The euphoria of new love is always perilously close to nervousness and anxiety and we fall all over ourselves trying to keep the two apart, our words getting caught in the crosshairs, turning our mouths into ticking time bombs. Sitting in a movie theatre, though, and forced into silence, we get to know the person sitting next to us without much opportunity for self-sabotage. Of course, I realize this is all a bit superficial. On occasion my husband has forgotten the Junior Mints and I try not to hold it against him, because the real magic of the movies lies not in the availability of snacks, but rather in the way they connect people. Silent, bathed in blue light, we radiate feeling between us as we are absorbed into the screen.

When a movie really touches you it becomes personal. You internalize its message, its images; someone else’s story is suddenly yours. It would be terribly boring (and a bit frightening) if you and your partner loved and hated all of the very same movies. But if someone can’t understand why you loved or hated a particular film, how can they really understand you at all? We connect to those characters that remind us of some version of ourselves, or those families that mimic our dysfunctions; we long for those places we’ve lived and seen, and dream of all the places we have yet to go. The fictions that we hold close to us are incredibly revealing, and a list of our favorite movies can speak volumes to anyone who cares enough to listen.

At the end of Away We Go, my husband and I sat in silence, holding hands, watching the credits roll while everyone else in the theatre gathered up their things and bustled out. We had both long-avowed to lead childless lives, but sitting in that theatre, squeezing each other’s palms, something clicked. We hadn’t said a word. When we got outside, the city had taken on a new life, and we had taken on a new purpose. We wove around hundreds of people on the sidewalks of Manhattan and he never let go of my hand. The silence was finally broken at some point. We talked about our favorite parts, laughed out loud recalling the funny ones. And, as we walked and talked, the world became our set and we, together, had slowly started to rewrite our own script. I can’t say that the movie changed us, but it did manage to awake something that had been lying dormant under both our skins.

Two months later, we found out we were going to be parents.


Brianna Ashby is the Art Director and Lead Illustrator for Bright Wall/Dark Room. She graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration, and an unofficial minor in Costume Party Appreciation. She currently resides in Connecticut with her husband and daughter, where you can find her baking, eating baked goods, thinking about eating baked goods, and drawing things for money.