In the swirling, overcrowded maelstrom of inhumanity that is Los Angeles, a city with seemingly more movie theaters than libraries but not a spare seat to be found on opening weekend, it is essential for the last of us sanity-loving survivors to find our cinematic fix at the edges of the crowd – yes, I speak of the Last Showing.

The Last Showing carries, naturally, its own mystique. It is the final frontier of daily movie-going, stuck at the end of the timetable of offerings, the undiscovered country of finality until the kiddie-saturated 10 a.m. popcorn freakfests that are, wholly and inescapably, worse than death.

Those who make the late night journey are either drunk, dreaming, stoned, crazy, lonely, cartoon clannish, wanted by the law or disinclined to the stenches of the masses. Most are all of these.

We are the under- and over-classes in Los Angeles, the anything-buts and the definitely-nots, those who’d rather sell a big toe rather than be trapped at the Grove at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. Our only interaction with the likes of the Macaroni Grill or Ruby Tuesday’s is the moment of relief found on their respective back alley walls.

Do not think for a moment that I champion those nutters that line up every year or so for a haphazard midnight opening, be it Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean or otherwise. That’s akin to coming to church only on Christmas, looking at all the pretty lights, singing the few carols that you know from the Chipmunks X-Mas Xtravaganza and calling it a night.

No, those charlatans are cinematic night owls of opportunity, also-rans of celebratory, self-congratulatory rebelliousness. The real moviegoers of the night go not for the special, the unique, the spectacle of the event, but for the sheer inborn requirement to live life on terms other than those so painfully described in the pre-show entertainment.

The addiction to arriving exactly as the movie begins, catching all of the previews and none of the putrescent chaff that comes before and sitting in a decent seat not slammed against the 100-foot tall screen, is not one to be taken lightly. The logistics of the night – relatively proximal parking, a decided lack of the under-16 crowd, generally smaller crowds and shorter lines – make true believers out of all of us who see better at night, who breathe a bit deeper after the sun goes down.

Beyond the logistical there is also the sensory, the metaphysical. What of the fear of seeing the terrifying on screen and then multiplying the anguish by walking to a lonely car? What of the excitement of an action extravaganza coupled with the empty, race-ready freeways heading home? What of comedy when you feel free to act out your favorite moments, quoting inappropriate lines to the quiet wind? There is something more than a little bit excellent about leaving a dark theater, entering a dark, silent night, going to bed where every so often the story continues.

Several years ago, I left the confines of The Sum of All Fears, an otherwise forgettable foray into the ramifications of a nuclear strike on Baltimore, to find the air outside the theater filled with ash. The sky, orange, glowed with heat. Cars parked in the vicinity were all a mottled gray.

In between previews and credits, the world had destroyed itself. I was alone, the sole witness to the end, the sole architect of the future.

This empty night, the accidental collaboration of Ben Affleck and a house fire next to the AMC, made the experience more than the sum of its parts. The Last Showing endows meaning where there might be none, a memory that stretches beyond the frame.

Responsibility, of course, is the enemy of fantasy. Early meetings and classes castigate the possibilities of the Last Showing. As years progress, the sun seems to set earlier and the night falls darker. Work leads to dinner and dishes and bed.

Late is a regressive state – 2 a.m. becomes the Leno monologue, Leno becomes the first half-hour of “So You Think You Can Dance.” One fine day, late is the lavish expense of dinner after the early-bird specials at the retirement buffet.

But for now, suck it up. Get out there, late, and enjoy being one of the few. Enjoy the closest connection you’ll ever feel to the silver screen. Remind yourself why theaters dim the lights.