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Ode To The Cinema

Bruna Gomes pays homage to the peaceful, emotional, salty experience of going to the cinema, a place where storytelling is at the core, and the real world briefly dims.

I love going to the cinema. It is an experience that makes me very happy to be a human being with a physical body: indeed it helps me realise that sometimes I accidentally exist as if I have no body, as if I exist in my thoughts only, like a phantom, a screwed-up ball of ideas that gets thrown around my house and then skidded along the beach in summertime. But then I go to the cinema, that smell of buttered popcorn deep in the carpet, the film posters lit up electronically on the wall like a menu, and I feel very much that I have a body, a body which I get to take to a very comfortable chair and do nothing with for three whole hours. What a relief! I love arriving in time for the ads and movie trailers, as if I’ve made an important appointment with the Hollywood studios and they’ve been waiting nervously all day to pitch me their ideas. I sit in the dark with my hand plunged in my bucket of popcorn and I judge. I consider what is being pitched to me and I revel in my power. Most times, the trailers are excellent and I already can’t wait to return to the cinema to see those upcoming movies. And the current movie hasn’t even started yet! But I like this discussion of stories, this moment for me to wonder about plot premises. I feel like I’m being considered an equal to the movie makers. 

And then the cinema screen widens and the movie I paid for begins. My fingers are already very salty, my lips shrivelled, my mouth dry. And the first sound arrives, startling everyone, and it takes a moment to adjust to the loudness. And music comes from every direction. And characters are larger than life. And my favourite part, the part that makes me so childishly happy to be a person with a body, is when a scene makes everyone in the audience laugh together. The joy of laughing in unison with strangers is better than the funny scene itself. It’s so good. Alternatively, there’s sometimes a funny moment when I laugh at a joke that no one else laughs at. Or maybe it’s not even a joke but just an irony that I react to. And that is such a luxuriously secret and excellent feeling. It is the same as when I notice a discreet reference that the movie makes and I silently get it and wonder if anyone else does. 

Once, when I was alone in a foreign city, I had nothing to do one night and so decided to go to a nearby independent cinema which was screening a movie I was excited about. I was late and slipped into the theatre just as the lights were dimming. No ads played. The small theatre was filled with grey-haired artists and groups of seemingly critical people, and I was suddenly intimidated. I noticed I was seated next to a woman who had also come alone, and for some reason I found great comfort in this. The film was very tender and full of a silence that was at once sweet and extremely melancholy. A particular scene made the woman next to me have the exact same reaction as me: we both laughed in that way that is also a cry. We both wept quietly at this hilarious and devastating scene. By the end of the film, I felt transformed. All around me, people spoke about it in Dutch, and I was alone with the emotions of the film. I felt like the film lived inside of me and I could share it with no one: it was precious and mine only. 

In another foreign city, this time a Spanish-speaking one, I reunited with a friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Late on the night of our reunion, we decided to shuffle through the cold to the cinema: a place that would surely be warm. We got there and bought tickets to the only movie that was playing, a taught physiological drama and character study. We hesitated only briefly about it – we didn’t want the intensity of the film to distract us from the euphoria of our reunion. But the cinema, indeed, was warm. We bundled ourselves into seats, whispering loudly, unravelling ourselves from our layers of scarves and coats. People turned and stared but I didn’t care because I was so happy to be with this friend. The rules of the cinema flew away and made our loudness and happiness of speaking to each other very special and exciting. Throughout the movie, my friend burst into laughter even though it wasn’t a comedy. Watching her was sometimes more entertaining and engrossing than watching the film. A portion of the movie was set in Berlin – some of the dialogue was in German. Coincidentally, my friend is half Austrian and can speak fluent German. Because the subtitles were translating everything into Spanish, my friend translated all the German for me, her whisper brash and dramatic. See, in the cinema, no message big or small can be lost. Whatever is being communicated is vital and all-consuming. The cinema gives phenomenal weight to every whisper from the audience, every word of dialogue on screen, and every note in the soundtrack. What we have to say to each other, every word, every murmur, is gold. The communication of a story is, above all, the most cherished thing. The movie turned out to be much more disturbing than we realised, and for days we spoke about it and asked each other for thoughts on different scenes, small portions of dialogue, an actor’s subtle tone. We’ll never forget that movie and now it’s forever a part of our friendship, even though the story and the character have nothing to do with us. It is deliciously haunting. 

I think I remember almost every movie I’ve seen in the cinema. I remember leaving a PG movie and huddling in the theatre’s bathroom with my sister and mother while we wept and wept, struck deeply by the happy ending. I remember watching a film in Hindi (which I don’t speak a single word of) without subtitles, and still laughing at all the jokes. I remember my sister and I clinging onto each other in an empty theatre during a horror movie – we heard footsteps thudding behind us, as if a ghost was running around and tormenting us, and we were convinced the movie had conjured some irrevocable evil in the theatre. For the rest of the screening, we felt cold gusts of air pass over our heads. The theatre was scarier than the film itself.

There is something timeless about going to the cinema – or maybe cinema stops time. The cinema becomes the whole universe, and the only thing given permission to destroy this universe is the closing credits. Then, like people released suddenly from hypnosis, the audience rises and stretches like a yoga class and makes their way to the exit. Maybe someone makes a hand puppet in front of the projector before bolting out. Sometimes someone waits loyally for a post-credits scene, a final imparted secret. And then the whole world, the real world, exists once again, blinding and utterly harsh. And I plan my next trip to the cinema.


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