In 2014, the Friday after Thanksgiving, my mom and I went to the movies, mostly just to remove ourselves from a crowded house of extended family for a few hours. To hit REFRESH during a long week with relatives in close quarters, we thought.
It was the one time I can remember ever going to the movies completely blind. I hadn’t read a review or even seen the trailer, which was shockingly insular for me as a movie fanatic and as someone with access to the internet. My mom had pitched the movie simply as The One With The Gone Girl.
“You know, it’s the one where Reese Witherspoon goes hiking. That one. She goes hiking and is GONE. Off the map. She’s a gone girl.”
The movie we saw was a Reese Witherspoon movie, though she was a producer not an actor. It took all of 90 seconds of screen time for us to realize: the hot and steamy thriller we were watching was not Wild. There was no hiking along the Pacific Coast Trail. Wild and whatever it was we sat through for nearly three hours are very different movies. I still haven’t seen Wild. I’m sure it’s great.
Gone Girl, rather quickly, checked off all seven of The Seven Things In Movies That Don’t Do It For Me: 1. Horror 2. Graphic sex scenes 3. Graphic sex scenes in the company of my mom 4. Excess blood 5. Excess Ben Affleck And/Or Mark Wahlberg 6. Graphic sex scenes involving excess blood and/or Ben Affleck, in the company of my mom 7. A run- time north of 2 hours (2:48!).
So, did we leave the theater and try to sneak into another movie that wouldn’t give us nightmares? Something more palatable that was in theaters at the time like Big Hero 6 or Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day or even Wild? No, we did not (But why? Stockholm Syndrome? The shame of leaving halfway into a movie, despite being in a dark room of strangers who didn’t know us let alone couldn’t see us? The shame of asking those strangers to excuse us despite us being in a row by ourselves next to the exit? Masochism? Our motives remain unclear.).
We sat, clenching, mortified, my hands covering my eyes, lightheaded, bordering on nauseous, my mom squealing louder than anyone in the theater in short, pained yips. “ohMYGOD.” And when Rosamund Pike slits Neal Patrick Harris’ throat, during a sex scene already unbearable to witness with a family member (I feel no remorse spoiling this barbarism seven years later), my mom leaned over and whispered, “I assumed she was also gonna cut off his…yeah.”
We drove home and blurted all the movies we needed to undo what we had just seen, felt, and heard, actively trying to disassociate ourselves from Rosamund Pike and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie Mistake: WINNIE THE POOH. TOY STORY. WINNIE THE POOH. MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. BEAUTY AND THE FUCKING BEAST. My mom almost veered off a major highway, trying to keep her eyes open, laughing in denial, laughing in shock, laughing with tears, laughing together, laughing at our attempt at a spa day.
I slept with the light on that night. I listened to a talk by the Dali Lama to fall asleep. I haven’t looked at knives or the word “gone” the same ever since.
The next day, my grandma asked what movie we’d seen.
“The one… with Reese Witherspoon.”
Will’s written work has been published on WBUR’s Cognoscenti and on the comedy site, Points In Case. His comedic work has been featured on The Huffington Post, in Runner’s World, and in The Boston Globe. In the first grade, he won The Warm and Fuzzy award.