Watching in the dark: The experience of film with strangers

As I wait for the lights to dim, a question pops into my head: Why do we enjoy watching a film with strangers in total darkness? Is it to experience shared emotions of what is happening on the screen? Is it that we like the idea that, by watching a film at the cinema with others, we identify a need, shared with those particular strangers, to escape from reality for 2 hours. Just as I started writing these questions to remember for my blog, the lights turned to utter darkness and the film began, as the theatre suddenly turned quiet…

Image From:
Image From:

The film I saw on that day was “The Gift”, which is a suspenseful stalker thriller starring and directed by Australia’s very own Joel Edgerton. In my opinion, thrillers and horror films are the best to see in theatres with a group of people, either friends or strangers. In this case, I decided to attend on my own. Before deciding to go, I considered the three constraints identified by Swedish geographer Torsten Hagerstrand, which could affect my decision:

Capability: The physical limits to get there

Authority: Are you permitted to be there

Coupling: Can you make it there in time

Hagerstrand’s research, which resulted in the identification of the three constraints, was to explore the physical and psychological limitations that prevent people from acting without restraint. For me, my closest theatre is a 5 minute train ride away, so capability was no issue. As for authority, my father gave me money the night before (broke life 😦 ) so that’s was no problem. Could I make it in time? Absolutely I could. So Hagerstrand’s three constraints did not affect m decision in any way and therefore was able to take part in quite an interesting communal cinematic experience.

The minute the lights went down, everyone in the theatre had an unspoken agreement that talking is now forbidden. Everyone was keen to find out how the film was going to turn out. In the end, the film proved to be fantastic, and was particularly interesting to see with complete strangers. There were a few moments in the film, where everything goes quiet and everyone (including me) is on the edge of their seat. Then, suddenly, something or someone appears, along with a sharp and loud noise. This scare tactic is commonly referred to as a ‘jump scare’ and once everyone umps from their seat in fright, the whole theatre began to laugh over the fact that they had just felt terrified. It was a terrific experience, as well as a terrific film. However, movie theatres are facing a major threat in the form of a little business called Netflix…

The main reason behind Netflix’s success is simply convenience. There is a large amount of choice and it is available at any time at the comfort of your home. However, the main reason why movie theatres are struggling to compete with services such as Netflix is not down to convenience. It is simply down to the continual rise in cost of movie tickets. For example, the local Event Cinemas theatre in the Shire (where I live) charges me almost $20 each time I see a film. Personally, I prefer going to the cinema because it gives me the sense of community and comfort. Yet, it is hard for someone like me, who is a university student, to continue to fork out $20 each time I want to see a film. So it is little surprise that services such as Netflix, which currently has more than 1 million users in Australia, are succeeding and that movie theatre attendance is starting to decrease.


Bulbeck, P 2015, ‘Netflix reaches 1m users in Australia’, The Hollywood Reporter website, viewed 28th August 2015,

Maddox, G 2014, ‘Cinema ticket prices have just topped $20 in Sydney, with Melbourne soon to follow. Could this be a psychological tipping point?’, Sydney Morning Herald website, viewed 28th August 2015,

Screen Australia, Audiovisual Markets Audiences, accessed 28th August 2015,


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