Brow Beat

It’s OK to Partially Bootleg a Movie When You Have to Pee

Not legally, maybe, but morally.

Photo illustration: A man stands in front of a urinal as a split-screen image shows his cellphone with a scene from Dunkirk on it in the theater.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock and Warner Bros.

For ages, I abstained from all beverages during movies in order to avoid having to pee because I’m the neurotic type who somehow thinks that missing a single scene ruins the entire movie-going experience. What choice did I have? Asking a friend what you missed only results in awful, meandering CliffsNotes explanations. Where’s the emotion? My friends can’t act. Short of the Hollywood stars coming to my apartment and re-enacting the events, there was little to make up for the gap in storytelling.

Until I started bootlegging the scenes. One time I desperately needed to pee even though I hadn’t imbibed a single thing for hours prior to the screening. Apparently a Capri Sun from 1998 had taken its time making its way through my urinary system. Dunkirk played overhead, and I squirmed and danced in my seat like an 8-year old. Why couldn’t Christopher Nolan focus more on the battlefronts on land and in the air, rather than constantly cutting back to the sea? Nor did it help that each ship seemed to sprout a leak.

So I cracked and got up. But in a moment of sheer ingenuity, illegality, or both, I hit record on my phone’s video camera, left it in the cup holder, and ventured out into the empty hallway.

While missing a scene can certainly interrupt the flow of a film, needing to pee throughout a picture’s runtime puts unfair pressure on the movie, forcing us to constantly ask: Is this scene better than peeing? Few are. The progression becomes torturous as we think “That would have been a good time to go.” Soon you begin to confuse emotions and blame the film for your pee discomfort, as if the director locked the exits.

I can’t remember what transpired on-screen as I turned on the recorder. No one noticed what I’d done since the phone doesn’t give off any light when recording. After a glorious pee, I shut off the recorder and later fled during the credits, with that pathetic nervousness you get when you’ve done something illegal that you mistakenly think people care about. Clearly I needed to head back to the bathroom, this time to dye my hair, shave my beard, and steal new clothes. But instead I sat in the car and watched the scene. It worked perfectly.

My brain, long acquainted with nonlinear narratives, was able to place the scene in its proper position and enable a feeling of wholeness. You know how some movies have a little passage at the end of the credits, tying up a loose end? That’s what this felt like, except the scene played long after the credits, all the way in the parking lot.

Is doing this illegal? Somewhat. Even though I only record a healthy-pee length of the film and always delete the scene after watching, it’s still something you could get in trouble for, so this is not really something I can recommend trying at home. To avoid being caught by any nosy hall-monitor types, if you do try it, only try it when the theater isn’t packed, and make sure your phone doesn’t give off too much light. (iPhone users should turn their brightness all the way down and angle their lenses upward, leaving the screen facing down toward the bottom of the cup holder.)

Is it ethical? Totally. Mostly. It’s not as if I’d be buying another ticket just to see the one scene I missed, and if anything, the theater is going to earn more money from me on refreshments.

Which isn’t to say there couldn’t be a better solution for everyone. It would be helpful if directors inserted some sort of pre-film PSA indicating the ideal time to pee. (Sure, there’s an app for that, but it was created by people who stayed in the movie instead of peeing, so their advice is fogged by pee bias). Every scene is precious, but even directors can admit that one or two are calling it in. For instance, if you needed to pee during this article, I’d have recommended going during the seventh paragraph. My heart wasn’t in it.

If movie theaters don’t want me illicitly recording 45 seconds of film while peeing and then watching it later in my Civic, they need to make some changes. Perhaps install screens over the urinals showing the movie, or give the audience fancy Google glasses that play the film during the walk to the bathroom.

Until that day comes, I’ll be the guy partially bootlegging the movie with the biggest drink in the theater.