The Dirty Harry Approach

December 27, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

We interrupt my year-end look back at 2008 for a story I stumbled upon in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. The direct link is here, but I'll copy and paste the relevant details:

"A South Philadelphia man enraged because a family was talking during a Christmas showing of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button decided to deal with the situation by shooting the father, police said... As the story of a man's aging backward unfolded on the screen, drama among the spectators erupted when [James Joseph Cialella Jr., 29] grew angry that a family sitting in front of him was talking too loudly... Cialella told the family to be quiet and threw popcorn at a boy who had been talking to his father. The father, 31, exchanged words with Cialella, who got out of his seat and came around the aisle to confront the family... The argument turned physical. Cialella then pulled a black handgun and shot the father, sending others in the crowded theater running for safety... Vanore said Cialella then returned to his seat and continued watching the movie."

Okay, for the record, I do not believe the proper solution to a situation like this is to shoot the offender, although I can certainly understand the mindset that led to the incident. It's probably a good thing that I don't carry a gun because there have been occasions when I would have been tempted to do exactly what Mr. Cialella did. After all, one has to admit that this is a pretty effective way of keeping audiences under control. Call it "The Dirty Harry Approach" to enforcing proper movie theater etiquette. As extreme as this may be, it emphasizes one of the continuing major problems of visiting a multiplex: the brazen lack of consideration by others. Some people simply don't care if their idea of enjoying a movie wrecks the experience for others. It would be bad enough if they were oblivious but it's more than that. They believe that, for their $10, they are entitled to do whatever they damn well please, regardless of whether it creates an annoyance for their fellows.

If you're in a theater and someone near you is talking, you can politely ask them to stop. Sometimes they will. Sometimes they won't. Usually, in the latter case, they become even louder and more obnoxious, as if taunting you. In that case, you have two choices: press your point, risking a confrontation, or leave and demand a refund from the theater. (It used to be that you could request that an usher deal with the situation, but those days are gone.) Movie-goers have a right to enjoy a film without an unwanted commentary track by fellow theater attendees. This is the #1 reason why I love my home theater setup and why an increasing number of adults feel the same way.

Still, after a few more theater shootings like this, maybe people will start thinking twice before doing something that might upset the guy sitting behind them. Or in front of them. Or to their side. Theaters could institute a program like the airlines, with armed undercover marshals hidden in crowds. Make one wrong noise, and you're on your knees in the aisle, being cuffed.

Well, maybe not…