Multitudes of emotions in the theater

Harry Styles’ latest movies raise a question about how people should react to different types of scenes in a movie theater.


Graphic by Tiger Times staff.

Harry Styles’ latest movies raise a question about how people should react to different types of scenes in a movie theater.

Malak Samara is a junior and Editor-in-Chief for the Fishers Tiger Times. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

   Most movies, unless it is some form of comedy, will very likely have a serious scene or two. This ranges from sad, disturbing or scary scenes that typically cause people to feel emotions that are the opposite of happiness. However, different people can have different emotions, no matter what the situation might entail. This raises the question of how people should act in the theaters and whether certain emotions should be contracted during more serious scenes for the sake of others’ experiences in the theaters. 

   As new movies are released on the big screens, there has been an uprise of controversy regarding what should and should not be a part of movie theater etiquette. More specifically, there have been a multitude of TikToks explaining the different experiences people have had when watching the two new movies Harry Styles stars in: ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ and ‘My Policeman.’

   Due to Styles mostly being famous for his singing career, both as a solo artist and his time in One Direction, many of his fans made it a point to attend both movies in order to show their support for the artist. Moreover, because Styles is a newer actor, his fans would laugh during certain scenes, including the more serious ones, because of the thought that their favorite singer was trying to portray a certain emotion that did not seem natural to them. 

   People who were not as big of fans of Styles or wanted to enjoy the movie for the plot itself, either tried to ignore what they thought of as unnecessary laughter, reported it to the staff or became assertive and shushed the fans. Many of these scenarios were taken to TikTok to bring awareness to theater etiquette and how some people saw laughing at serious scenes was considered disrespectful and potentially triggering. 

   According to the Chicago Tribune, people reacting a certain way to any scenario can be a result of past experiences. This is also applied when watching movies, people may react to a scene by laughing but it does not take away the overall impact that the movie had. To them, laughing may be their way of expressing sadness. Furthermore, sociologist Gretchen Peterson at California State University explained that when watching a scene that triggers an emotional reaction, bodies go through a sudden physiological change such as hearts beating faster or beads of sweat forming which can be signs of sadness or fear but also symptoms of laughter. Therefore, in the moment laughter may come out but in reality, the person felt sadness. 

   Additionally, psychologist Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia found that people tend to laugh when they are dealing with emotions that may be uncomfortable. For the Styles fans that went to the two movies only for the actor, they did not expect such heavy scenes to also be a part of the movie. This may cause them to feel awkward or uncomfortable which then turns into laughter as an instinct. 

   Both of these findings support a sociological, physiological and psychological reason as to why Styles’ fans might have laughed in the movies. They might have a certain feeling towards the artist or an image of him which causes them to laugh during the serious scenes because they are not used to seeing him in that way or do not know how else to react to it. Let’s assume that it was not that deep, however, and the fans laughed only because of the fact that they thought it was funny Styles was acting. At the end of the day, people think differently, have different experiences and will react to situations differently and trying to control that is impossible. Art is made to be portrayed in different ways and interpreted by the audience. While there could have been an intention for the art form, it does not mean the audience is forced to see it that way. 

   On the other hand, people see laughing as a disturbance to their viewing and invalidation of their own emotions. When they hear people laughing during a scene that has hit them emotionally, they see it as a mockery of their own deep emotions. What makes the situation worse is that the laughing is most likely coming from the fact that Styles is acting, not because that is their true feeling of the scenes, which is also disrespectful towards the actor. 

   For many reasons, however, I believe reacting a certain way during scenes should not be a part of movie theater etiquette. I think people’s experiences in life will always cause different reactions to things and trying to tell them that they cannot react a certain way in a theater is further invalidating because the emotion is not ‘conventionally correct.’ A solution could include being aware of your surroundings in a theater and trying to minimize expressive emotions as much as possible. There is also always the option to wait for the movie to be released online so if people’s variety of reactions is triggering, the movie can be enjoyed in the comfort of a private space. It should be kept in mind that the movie theater is for the public and people should go into it with an open mind of having to share that space and accept that people will have opposing and different feelings.