The Fallen Curtain
One of the many losses of lockdown is the distancing from cinema halls and their cool, forgiving embrace. A short glimpse of a memory recaptured.
I remember it vividly: my last trip to a movie theatre. I’d been meaning to watch the WWI drama 1917 for weeks and finally decided to give in to that impulse that hits early in the day, imploring one to escape the cold clutches of routine. But once at the theatre, the lady at the ticket counter announced implacably: ‘The show has been cancelled’. Heading back home would mean submitting to the gods of routine. And so, I grudgingly bought a ticket for the horror film Bhoot: The Haunted Ship instead.
The theatre was nearly empty, with groups of giggling collegians occupying far-flung seats. This was in early March, when the pandemic had pervaded our consciousness but not our public spaces. As it turns out, this last theatre outing was a sign of things to come: a ghostly ship on the screen, and an intermittently horrified audience.
For over a hundred years now, humans have escaped to the cinema hall to be enthralled, engaged and enlightened. But mostly, to escape into a darkened room where one’s private reality ceases to exist for the few hours of a film’s run-time. Whether it is to get away from work or into the arms of a lover, whether you frequent a plush multiscreen with seven types of popcorn on offer or a grotty single screen with birds fluttering between creaky seats – the theatre-going experience is a collective pleasure like no other.
At a time of social distancing, my mind goes back to the space where people have for decades collected to be alone together. Unlike live sport or performance, a film doesn’t demand a reaction. It invites you into its cool embrace, making you forget yourself for a while. I don’t know when I’ll find myself in an auditorium again – the chief pleasure of my childhood and privilege of adult life. But I suspect it’s going to feel a lot like the first time.