After several months dealing with a cracked iPhone, the fissures in the display screen becoming more and more pronounced with time, I finally braved the journey to the Apple store to get it fixed. This turned into a day-long affair, as I needed to set up an appointment once I arrived at the store – which I couldn’t do remotely, since my phone was broken, which was the whole reason I went to the Apple store in the first place – and then needed to wait several hours after that for the repairs to be done. As there was a multiplex directly across the street from the Apple store, I finally decided, after almost two and a half years, to take the plunge. I entered a theater to sit down and watch a movie.
As luck would happen, the next showing of Everything Everywhere All At Once was about to start, and its run time neatly fit the span of time I’d need to wait. (This blog isn’t a review site per se, and Everything Everywhere All At Once isn’t the real subject of this post, but it’s as wonderful as you’ve heard it is and you should see it whenever you feel comfortable doing so.) I bought my ticket, which is now a strange and completely automated process except for the part where an attendant guides you to the only touchscreen that’s actually working. I bought a bag of popcorn and doused it in artificial movie-theater butter, the first I’d tasted since before the pandemic. And then I went and sat down, in the center of a crowded theater.
(It’s been several days since then and I’m still alive, knock wood, so I’ve got that going for me.)
We all sat in silence for longer than I remember – those movie-theater advertisements that have bombarded audiences at the chain theaters since the start of the millennium were severely truncated, no doubt as a concession, however small, to the pandemic. (After all, five fewer minutes in the theater watching commercials would surely make up for the risk of sitting through a two and a half hour move.) Then, per custom, would come the trailers, commercials of a different sort, for upcoming films. However, before that, came something I’ve heard discussed for the past several months but had yet to actually see. A commercial for the idea of movies itself.
It was one of those inspirational pdfs about how the need for movies, and the collective moviegoing experience. Nicole Kidman appeared on the screen, eyes all a-quiver, artfully shot in a darkened theater of her own. She delivered a supremely earnest monologue about how movies were dreams, and the thing we most desperately needed to hold on to, and we needed to share them with everybody, so gosh darn it it was so important for people to go to the movies right now. It was a ham-fistedly manipulative attempt to get us to do the thing we were already sitting there doing – and the sort of earnest celebrity appeal that’s fallen so far out of favor of late (Gal Gadot’s Imagine video, meant to keep our spirits up during the pandemic, is still roundly being mocked.) I rolled my eyes, chuckled ruefully to myself, and looked around at my fellow movie-goers…
…who all applauded rapturously, tears presumably in their eyes. (It was a darkened movie theatre, so I couldn’t be completely sure.)
Now, I’m both a jaded New Yorker and a cynical Gen-X’er, so perhaps my perspective is a bit skewed here. But come on, people! These kinds of PSA’s – or, really, advertisements masquerading as PSAs – are the most obvious kind of emotional manipulation I can think of. It would be bad enough in ordinary times – but there is still a pandemic going on, and this solemn bit of inspiration porn is trying to get us all to engage in risky behavior! And they’re not even hiding that fact! Are we so desperate to get out of the house, to do anything that feels remotely “normal,” that we’ll fall for such a cloying piece of treacle?
Well, now that I think of it, yeah, clearly we are.
And I got all teary-eyed when I tasted the fake butter topping, so I guess I’m not one to talk.