Daily Trojan Magazine

An open letter to the person watching a movie with recurring sex scenes next to me on the plane

Humor writer Rachael Kozik finds herself inexplicably bonded to the stranger in seat 17C after pretending not to watch their raunchy historical movie.

(Gloria Jin / Daily Trojan)

You don’t know me, but from my middle seat next to you, I see that you started that R-rated period piece included in our airline’s complimentary entertainment selection. Some lowbrow passengers would have picked the latest troglodyte gruel shamelessly devoid of anachronistic love scenes. 

But not you, discerning and brave viewer in the aisle seat. You saw the airline’s notice, telling you it was a film with explicit and adult scenes. To be mindful of passengers around you. But like the cinematic Roald Amundsen you are, you forged on, undeterred by obstacles that would have forced retreat in lesser men. But instead of the South Pole, you are leading two-thirds of row 17 to misrepresentations of pre-21st century intimate relations. 

And while I lacked the foresight to charge my Bluetooth headphones to watch something on my own or check in with ample time to prevent a middle seat assignment from the airline, I can tell you one thing: I will periodically look at your screen until we finish this movie. Together.

You have probably only just passed the opening credits, and I have already glanced up from my e-book to look at your screen four times. Who was I kidding? Why did I think this was the flight I would finally read “Atomic Habits”? 

I want to thank you in advance for playing the movie with subtitles after the first minutes proved too difficult for you to understand the dialogue with — I am assuming, as I don’t know where this movie is taking place — English accents. This will make me feel too invested to not keep watching. Updates of varied meaning will unfold on the screen, bonding us eternally or until this plane lands, whichever comes second. 

As I joined the film late, I likely have already missed the introduction of the main character and the context needed to understand why they later have to marry or can’t get married or get pneumonia. This won’t matter, as the lack of clarity will prove ineffective in preventing my gaze from returning periodically, entering and exiting during the multiple sex scenes we both know this movie is going to have.

Sadly, there will be parts of this journey that I will have to face on my own. You will not feel the pain I will when my eyes hurt from prolonged squinting at your screen. You will not feel the confusion I will when I think her lover is her brother or vice versa — in my defense, they will look especially similar from my seat — as they share an embrace that is either too passionate or not passionate enough. And, lastly, you will not feel the cognitive burden I will when I need to imagine the sounds of the subtitled nonverbal content such as “moans breathlessly” and “chuckles.”

Nevertheless, we will overcome these divides with our shared watching of “adult content,” which seems to be almost guaranteed in films set in sexually repressed timeframes. We will experience the characters’ longing looks, but only looks, in wet clothing caused by a sudden thunderstorm that was meteorologically impossible from the weather depicted seconds earlier. We will experience the characters’ uninterrupted lovemaking in the meadows despite all the bugs we know meadows must contain. We will experience a character’s husband — or father — eventually finding out about aforementioned bugless meadow lovemaking.

You will look at me and I at you occasionally in the first 30 minutes. When this happens, I initially will dart my eyes toward the middle of the seat as if suddenly, but understandably, overcome by a desire to see the complimentary snacks and beverages provided. Did you know AHA® is offered on this flight? 

I might mix this up by looking down at my e-book, which will be on that rotating screen of authors that everyone knows only occurs after several minutes of no use, and turning it back on. But we will drop this pretense. 

We are passengers on a vessel of air travel, not a vessel of lies. Eventually, we will learn to trust each other in a way that can only arrive from two adult strangers unabashedly watching the sexiest content available on a budget airplane together without any acknowledgment.

Too early, the film will end. This will be clear to me not because of plot progression and natural conclusions but because of credits playing. Did somebody die? Was the death pneumonic? Was it related to that erotically charged storm needed to facilitate the plot? I won’t have a clue.

Regardless, you won’t watch anything else, and we will sit in silence for the remainder of the flight. My e-book will die 10 minutes later, exhausted from all that turning off and frantic restarting. 

I will never think about this movie again until I play it as background noise when I clean my dorm before moving out in several weeks. Amid the scrubbing and wondering what I am supposed to do with all those free wooden spoons I took from Trader Joe’s, maybe you will sense that somebody in Los Angeles is thinking about you. Because, yes, 17C, we will be distanced after this flight ends, but we will never be separated.

Before the descent, the person in the window seat will try to start a conversation with us after he gets back from the bathroom. We will both pretend we can’t hear him. And how could we? We have already gone so far. 

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