When I'm at a movie with my son, my duties as a parent come in direct conflict with my first instinct as a cinephile. That instinct is: to watch the whole movie at all costs. That means I'll try to keep him in the movie, even when he's scared, through some combination of soothing, cajoling, bargaining and pleading. If he wants to leave, I must convince him that he shouldn't -- or die trying.
It worked in Big Hero 6. It didn't work in Paddington, and we left the movie with less than 15 minutes to go.
The pleading to leave started much earlier in Pan, a family-themed advanced screening of which played Sunday at Jam Factory in South Yarra. In fact, it started less than two minutes into the movie. So even though I was supposed to be reviewing it, I did my reluctant parental duty and escorted my son out of the theater ... and paid for it in a way I never would have expected.
But let's back up a bit to the beginning of the day.
Remembering how a charity run had screwed us over the last time we tried to get to this cinema via tram on a Sunday morning, as described here, we got a nice and early start, allowing ourselves nearly two hours to make what should have been an hour trip max. In fact, we needed less than hour to get there, and arrived 45 minutes before seating was even set to begin. Even better, the digital passes that we might have needed to get in, though probably not, finally arrived at the last minute on my phone while we were in transit. Things were going so swimmingly, in fact, that I allowed us the indulgence of having pancakes and a milkshake at a classic American 50s diner that was down the street from the cinema. (And yeah, that's an indulgence -- that's not what I feed my son every day.)
Although I had explained on the tram ride over that this would be a movie starring "real people," trying to distinguish it from animation, and he seemed okay with that, I was nonetheless worried that this might be too advanced for him. Then we saw the tall pirate ship set into the side of the staircase going up to the cinema, that kind where one strip of the picture appears on each step, creating one complete image if you stand back and look at it. "I want to see that movie!" my son, a renowned pirate fan, said. Imagine my pleasure in getting to tell him that this, indeed, was the movie we were seeing.
It gets better. At the top of the stairs, my son was immediately handed a red balloon in the shape of a pirate sword by a man in full pirate regalia. Moments later he was having a blackbeard moustache and beard and red bandanna painted on to this face. He was ready to watch Pan if ever a kid was ready.
The first sign of possible trouble occurred when we were going in to the theater, and I realized something that had escaped my notice during the cursory scan of our invitation: this screening was in 3D. My son had never been to a 3D movie before. How to properly prepare a child for 3D?
He seemed to enjoy wearing the glasses, though, and I recalled that at the Lego Museum in Boston, we'd watched a short 3D Lego adventure. So the experience would not be entirely unprecedented. I again relaxed into my luxury seat -- the screening was playing in one of the so-called "Gold Class" theaters -- and enjoyed the first kernels of the complimentary popcorn that had been there waiting for us.
The first test was the single trailer that played before the movie, for the Jack Black vehicle Goosebumps, another movie pitched at about the same aged child, with about the same potential scare factor. This trailer featured an abominable snowman, a werewolf, a large bug, and any number of other creepy crawlies. My son didn't bat an eyelash at the content, but as the ad was in 2D, the 3D had yet to be tested.
Then Hugh Jackman came on, introducing us to the movie in a 60-second promotional segment. The seeds of what would end up happening may have been planted here, though I'll get to that in a minute.
The movie started, and I could tell right away that my son was ill at ease. It's one of those movies with a drab color scheme that starts out with London being bombed during World War II. (I say "one of those movies" because The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe starts out almost the exact same way.) He immediately started asking questions about what was going on -- not the kind of questions you ask as a genuine attempt to understand the narrative, but the type of questions you ask to abate a mounting panic. It wasn't two minutes in when a small voice escaped him that said, "I don't want to watch this movie. I want to go home."
I swallowed hard and asked him to stick it out for another few minutes.
The next time this voice escaped him, it was a little bigger and a little more insistent. And this time he added that the movie was scary, which was implied but not previously stated aloud. I advised him to look away or to sit on my lap. He wasn't going for either.
I asked him to give it two more minutes again. He might have given it one more minute.
I soon reconciled myself to the fact that this was a losing battle. In reality, my son was one of the youngest children there, so this may never have been a good bet. And it became clear to me that he'd begin ruining the movie for the other kids if he couldn't get into its groove. At this point, there was little chance of that happening.
So with a big sigh of resignation, I gathered our stuff and directed us toward the exit.
In another sign of what was to come, though, as we had made it down to the front row, he looked up at the screen and asked me about something that was happening. Sensing that he might be getting a second wind on his potential to handle the movie, I asked him again if he wanted to stay. He assured me he did not. This did not prevent him from pulling the same routine as we were actually reached the exit. Again, I asked him if he wanted to stay. Again, he said no.
He had the gall to ask as we were leaving if he could play one of the video games in the lobby. Even if I hadn't already shoved three wasted dollars into a pinball game at the 50s diner, back when everything seemed so promising, I would have said no. I was in no mood. We descended those lovely stairs, the ones with the image of the ship set into them, the ship that had once seemed so hopeful, and he ran over to one of those cars that you sit in and put two dollars in, that move and shake for about 45 seconds before stopping. I denied him this as well. I was officially sulking.
When we left the shopping complex a few minutes later, I asked my son why he had been so scared. The content we'd seen wasn't inherently scary, though it did feature some wicked nuns, who seemed a bit grotesque in the eyes of our protagonists. And yeah, the city was getting bombed, but that kind of thing doesn't usually bother my son. He likes guns and stuff. He's scared of monsters, not violence per se.
He told me that he was scared because there was a pirate who wanted to kill everyone. We had met no such pirate. The only thing I can conclude is that Hugh Jackman, who had made some reference to his character of Blackbeard in the promotional video, had given my son the impression of being a pirate who wanted to kill everyone. As you can see in the poster above, Jackman appears with a gun and a sword -- both things my son likes. How he made the leap that this pirate wanted to kill everyone is beyond me.
And then it happened: My son said he wanted to go back in.
Goddamn you, kid.
I'm not sure if we had missed ten minutes or 15 minutes at this point. It might have even been less than ten minutes. But it was enough that I had been entirely thrown out of the movie, a movie I was meant to be reviewing. In the minutes since we'd left, I'd already mentally decided to go to a nighttime screening later this week (it opens on Thursday here, October 9th in the U.S.), just so I could write the review. I wasn't about to go back in now, which would take another five minutes of getting back up to the screening room, plus a possible explanation of why we had left the building entirely and then come back.
But more than anything, I just didn't want to do it.
There are times when you need to teach your kids about consequences. If you make certain choices in life, you have to live with them. That's okay if you're scared -- I get that. Even if nothing particularly scary has happened yet. But once you've decided to leave -- once your dad has asked you six times if you're sure you want to leave, and you still say you want to leave -- then we leave. And we don't go back.
I thought I was sound in my logic, but in case I wasn't, I also told him that they don't let you back in once you leave. I said that if you have to go to the bathroom, that's okay, but if you leave the building you can't come back in. In reality, of course they'd let us back in, especially in Australia, where people tend to be pretty lackadaisical about strictly adhering to rules in general.
But more than anything, I just didn't want to do it.
Well, either my kid saw through my logic or didn't consider it to be as insurmountable as I did, because he spent the next 20 minutes crying. That's right, 20 minutes. Fifteen of which were on a tram riding back to the city, as I did my best to soothe him while imagining the combination of sympathetic and annoyed looks people were probably directing at us. He was so distraught about the perceived injustice of the situation -- a situation he was solely responsible for, mind you -- that the only way he could think to express it in words other than crying and wailing "Mama" was to tell me that Santa wasn't going to bring me any presents this year.
And yeah, my heart sort of went out to this poor kid, hurting to the core of his being, his tears causing his pirate makeup to run down his face in rivulets. But dang it, we protect our kids too often from the consequences of their actions. The next time we go to the movies -- and I'll be pretty hesitant about that, given the outcome of this experience -- I want him to remember how sad he was this time before he asks us to leave next time.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.
Now that we were done a good two hours earlier than we expected to be -- and than my wife, getting some time at home to herself with my other son napping, expected us to be -- I had to figure out another way to spend some of this beautiful spring day. It was only 11:30, and indeed, it was about the nicest day we've had since winter officially ended at the end of August. (The seasons change on the first of the month here. Let's not get into it.)
So we went to the botanical gardens, a place that seems like a hardship to get to on normal days (but isn't really), but which was much more convenient to us now that we'd gone all the way down to South Yarra. They have a beautiful fenced-in spot called the children's garden, which has some grassy areas, some woodsy areas, some sandy areas and some climbing areas, all bisected and trisected by tributaries of man-made water. My son immediately perked up upon entry. Not only was he eager to play, but he was eager for me to come along with him on his adventures. He still had the balloon sword and he still had the pirate makeup, so he was still going to have some kind of pirate adventure, gosh darn it.
So we went traversing through the various areas of this children's garden, the forest of bamboo shoots and the tree with its hollowed out center, the spot where you can take off your shoes and stomp in the water and the part where you can watch the water trickle out from a fountain, the sandy part with its bridges across little moats of water and the tower in the trees that you reach by a spiral staircase. He was having a grand old time, and my God, was it a beautiful day.
And we stopped for two picnics as well. My son was touched to learn that I'd saved his popcorn from the movie theater and loaded it into my backpack on the way out, as we weren't even there long enough for him to eat any of it. So we had popcorn, "crunchy bars" (granola bars, which are called muesli bars here), apples and drinks -- he a juice box, me a diet lemonade soda. We just enjoyed the surroundings and the weather -- and each other's company, I suppose. That's right, all the previous enmity he had shown toward me, he had now sublimated into love and affection. He probably knew, on some level, that mine was the righteous case and his was the faulty one. But we're men -- we don't admit to things like that.
I took a bunch of good pictures of him, including the one above. A couple of them seem like candidates for this year's Christmas card. And all of this would never have happened if we'd just seen the movie and gone home, as was supposed to happen. Maybe this was nature's way of telling us to get out and enjoy the beautiful day. We also spent time in and around a war memorial, by a fountain, and in a play area outside a shopping center where we needed to pick up some groceries later on. In the end, we were out until 4:15.
But I'm jumping ahead again. By the time his balloon sword popped -- something I had warned him would happen sooner or later, especially if he weren't careful, and especially if he were swinging it in and around tree branches -- it was kind of like the trauma from the morning had all been forgotten. He didn't even get too glum about the loss of his trusty weapon, though he did ask me if I could blow it back up for him. I explained to him for probably the half dozenth time the essentially ephemeral existence of balloons.
Proving he was still a kid, and that the movie hadn't entirely left his thoughts, he did ask, "Daddy, can we go back to the movie and get another balloon?"
Fortunately, he took the gentle rebuffing of this request in stride as well.