Film at Nineteen

by Bill Mullis

The theatre was already dark when I sidled in, full of nervous, guilty adrenaline. There was a scattering of patrons, not many, but about what one would expect for a Wednesday night.

As I found a seat, isolated but not obviously so, I congratulated myself on my planning and execution. I chose this movie house because it was not in a part of town where I was likely to be recognized. It was the middle of the week, so there’d be fewer people who would actually see me. I timed my arrival for the few minutes before the picture was supposed to start.  I had bought my ticket without letting my voice quaver (though I couldn't force myself to actually meet the ticket-seller’s eyes), and I looked neither to the right nor to the left as I navigated my way through the multiplex, ignoring the added temptations of the concession stand.

I hunkered down in my seat and watched the commercials and announcements. I felt like a bad, bad boy in a terribly rebellious mood, and I was certain that at any moment the Voice of God was going to rip the roof off the theatre and lay my sins bare to all the world.

The screen went dark. There was a pause, and then...

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Perhaps I should explain.

To put it briefly, once my grandmother rediscovered -- rather over-zealously -- the religion of her youth, the movie theatre was a thing of my past. For her, going to a movie was like dancing, or swimming with the opposite sex, or playing cards: an unsavory activity in an unsavory place, where Bad Things happened on an alarmingly regular basis. It simply wasn't done. If it was done by other kids at our church, won't no skin off her teeth. Them younguns just weren't raised right.

So, from the ages of about 12 to 19, in the Dark Age before video rentals, if it wasn't on Monday Night At The Movies, it was a rumor, something I heard the kids at school (or at church) talk about, but of which I had no personal knowledge. It chafed at me at first, but I really wasn't enough of a rebel to want to risk disappointing my sainted Grandma, and by nineteen I had convinced myself that if I ever  went to a movie, Jesus would pick that exact time to come back, and what excuse would I have for being in such a place?

But the idea of Star Wars had stirred my blood, and I risked the wrath of the two greatest powers in the universe — God and my grandmother — to see if the fuss was worth the effort.

As it turned out, Jesus did not return that night. Neither did the voice of doom echo through the den of my iniquity. Luke and Leia saved the Rebel Alliance, the stirring theme music swelled while the credits rolled, and my journey to the Celluloid Side was complete.

After which I scooted out of the theatre and drove home as quickly as the Rambler would go, and hid in my room to avoid meeting Grandma’s steely gaze.

But it was a beginning -- for a mission from God.

Bill Mullis blithely goes to the movies any chance he gets. He loves that stuff.


  1. LOL!!!!! You know, I wasn't raised in a church that frowned on boys and girls swimming together. So when I met the guy I would ill-advisedly marry, I was taken aback by the term "mixed bathing." I thought, "Well, no kidding! Of course boys and girls can't bathe together." His family gave it a minute to marinate in my brain as I figured out what "mixed bathing" really meant -- SWIMMING! I never could understand how swimming with boys and going to the movies was going to get me a first-class ticket to the Great Downunder, but they certainly were convincing!

  2. Yeah. Good times, good times....

    Heh. I finally got tired of trying to justify that business....


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