My daughter Nina, seven months old, sitting on my lap, started talking excitedly to the big screen in front of her.
"Doy doy doy doy doo doo," she said with enormous enthusiasm -- or something very much like it. We were watching Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus at the Landmark Sunshine Theater in Manhattan, a Wednesday matinee in their weekly Rattle and Reel screening series for parents and babies. I looked around nervously, afraid that Nina was making too much noise.
She wasn't, of course. The audience was made up entirely of mommies and their babies, three hipster daddies also in attendance. Nina burbled happily, loudly, bothering no one. In the aisle in front of me, another baby was crying. From the back of the theater, I could hear a rattle being shaken. And then, there was another baby, crying. I turned to look and noticed a mother standing in the back row, rocking gently back and forth, from one foot to the other, soothing her child, still watching the film. It was fine. Better than fine. This was fun. We were at the movies. I had bought a popcorn and Diet Coke to celebrate the occasion.
Nicholas Isana, manager of the Sunshine, says the Rattle and Reels program, which was first launched in 2004, is highly successful. "Regulars," he said, "show up each Wednesday, often not even knowing what the film is going to be."
I immediately understood the appeal. Nina was in love with the movie. I was in love with Nina. We were out of the apartment. What was playing did not much matter. Earlier in the week, I had considered taking Nina to see Roman Polanski's Ghost Writer, a film I'd much rather have seen. There was a Saturday morning screening at the Angelika Theater, part of their Crybaby series, but in the end, I decided against it. At seven months, Nina responds to sounds and keenly observes everything around her. I turn on the faucet at the sink; she turns and looks. I worry about what I expose her to.
After the film, I talked to another mother whose four month old baby was soundly asleep in her Ergo carrier. A Wednesday regular at the Sunshine, her favorite film so far had been The Road.
"Weren't you worried," I asked her, "about taking your baby to see an apocalyptic film?"
The woman shrugged. "Haley was only two months," she said. "She slept right through it. "
Just that morning, film critic Christie Lemire tweeted she was taking her baby Nic to a screening of Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon in Los Angeles. The black and white film explores acts of mysterious violence and the nature of evil in a small German town in the days leading up to World War I.
I must be over protective, already.
But Gilliam's colorful fantasy sequences seemed just right for Nina -- even if the plot of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was so complicated that I wasn't able to follow. Here's what I was able to gather: model-turned actress Lily Cole was young and beautiful and petulant. She wanted a better life and she wore terrific costumes. Her father had gambled her soul with the devil. Tom Waits was the devil. A scruffy Heath Ledger played an amnesiac in a white suit, a role that clearly was not good enough to be his final film. Poor Heath Ledger. But we were having a fine time.
After Nina's jubilant outburst, she became fussy. She was hungry, but I had come prepared: milk, diapers, two different toys. I gave Nina a bottle, which she drank greedily, eyes still on the screen. But once she finished eating, Nina started to cry. Heath Ledger had transformed into Johnny Depp; I put my cranky daughter into her stroller, and we took a walk up and down the aisle. By the time we had returned to our row, Nina was asleep.
Here, at last, was the perfect chance for me to watch the rest of the film. I settled into my comfortable stadium seat, ready to give my full attention to the movie. There was Colin Farrell, resplendent in the same white suit that Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp previously wore.
What did I do? I slept. I slept until the end of the film, opening my eyes to the credits rolling. I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and turned to my daughter, who was still napping. I might have missed much of the movie, but that's okay. We had gone on an adventure. Plus, I was entranced by the stunning trailer for Babies, a new documentary about the first year in the life of four babies from around the world. We are going back.