I’m afflicted with a very millennial kind of hubris. I truly believe that I’m able to sit in front of the TV while looking at my phone at the same time, and fully understand what’s happening on both screens. Spoiler: This never, ever works. Every Sunday night, characters on Game of Thrones will casually deliver really important information regarding the future of Westeros while I'm laughing at a meme. Then I’ll look up and infer from the characters’ stricken faces I missed something crucial, so I’ll rewind, and chide myself for laughing at said meme, which wasn’t even that funny. A minute will pass. Then I’ll remember I’d forgotten to look up those concert tickets for Friday night. My fingers will itch. I’ll go back to my phone.
You see what I mean? Even when I’m watching TV alone, I have one eye on the screen, and the other, desperately attempting to remain connected to the world in some way, be it through texts or tweets.
Step one to solving the problem is to admit that I have no self control when it comes to my phone. Step two is to go to the cinema alone.
Going to the cinema…alone? I hear you gasping. Isn’t going to the movies alone as socially awkward as, say, eating peanut butter straight out of the jar in a public setting? Maybe. But, just like eating peanut butter out of a jar is delicious, going to the cinema alone is a fantastic exercise in remaining in the moment, and at the same time, being deeply connected to your self.
Just last week, I left work and went to see Good Time, the new crime movie by the Safdie brothers, all by myself. Just the movie started, I told my friends I'd text them later, and then made a final heroic move: I turned my phone off. I was unreachable.
For the next hour and a half, in that dark, quiet room, atop a plush leather chair, I responded viscerally to the piece of art blaring on the big screen before me. In Good Time, one night in the life of an inept Queens bank robber named Constantine Nikas (played by an electric Robert Pattinson) unfolds in a series of increasingly disastrous events. Instead of meandering through minutiae of my daily life – which is far less thrilling — I rode the emotional highs and lows of Connie Nikas’ life. It was not a life I would want for myself, but for an hour and a half, I lived it.
When the lights in the cinema went back on, I was an altered person, my ears still ringing from the movie’s jarring and insistent soundtrack. Good Time had imprinted its woozy, neon mood on me. Instead of immediately debating the film's merits with a companion, I staggered out of the cinema with the palpable experience of the film lingering on my senses, untouched by conversation.
Josh and Benny Safdie made Good Time with the express purpose of having viewers leave the cinema with their heart racing, as I did.
“We made this movie to be consumed publicly and in a theater,” they wrote in a statement on the A24 website. “There are only two places left that come with an excuse for being unreachable—the shower and the movies. 'Sorry, I was in the shower' or 'Sorry, I was in a movie.' USE THAT!!! Seeing Good Time in a room with strangers, with the lights down and a sound system way bigger than anything you could have in your home...is how it was meant to be seen. Be thrilled.”
And how can’t you be thrilled, when there’s nothing else to do? The Safdie brothers are right: Aside from the shower, the cinema is the only setting in which the temptation to reach for your hunk of Apple hardware is eroded, because it’s simply impossible. Thanks for the insistent cartoons that play before show-time, the taboo of looking at your phone in the cinema is far stronger than that of going to the cinema alone. So long as the room is dark and the film is playing, you have no alternative but to watch, to react, to empathise, and to be moved by what is before you.
Essentially, when you go to the cinema alone, you are forced to be mindful, to park yourself in the present moment and let it unfold.
My boyfriend is the first person who introduced the word “mindful” to my vocabulary. He meditates every morning. Prior to meeting him, “mindful” went in the category of “self-care” and “soul cycle,” which was: “Trendy Forms Of Fitness I Am Going To Ignore.” But, because I like him, I began to take mindfulness seriously. The hope is, by remaining focused on your body and your breathing, you’ll clear your mind of the clutter we know as thoughts, and become a calmer, more centred person.
I, unfortunately, am not a good meditator. I put in a noble effort for a while, but struggled to sweep away my thoughts as though they were trash, not weird little mind-gems to put in a box and treasure forever and ever. Instead of focusing on my breathing, I’d rehash old conversations with the lines I wish I’d said, or dream up impossible stories.
Ultimately, I found it was far easier for me to slip into the present moment by way of stories than by way of measured breathing. So, my boyfriend meditates, and I go to the cinema alone. Even though his exercise takes place in his meticulously clean and quiet bedroom, and mine in a loud cinema full of strangers, our goal is the same.
We hope that by sitting alone in a dark space, we’ll be able to float above the concerns of our daily lives, and loosen our grip on the endless scroll of information unfolding on our newsfeeds. For a brief period of time, we’re nowhere else but where we are.
Going to the movies alone is more than just entertainment – it’s an exercise in self-improvement. Since we can't be trusted to do it alone, let the cinema conquer the siren song of your cell phone for you. Then, before fumbling with the "on" button the moment the movie's finished, reflect, for a moment, in your reaction to what you just saw. It's entirely valid. And since you went alone, it's entirely yours.
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