My journey back to the cinema

Dana considers getting back in front of the big screen she loves so much after over a year away

When the cinema doors were locked behind me last March, I assumed it would be for a month or two.  However, as the world continued to lock down around me, I realised I would be saying goodbye for a more indefinite and lengthy period. While the cinemas were closed I relied on streaming services and boxsets. But I watching summer spectaculars and Oscar hopefuls on a tiny screen was numbing. I found my attention span waned, and I avoided any film over two hours long. Once, I watched a four-hour film in those uncomfortable cinema seats – but in the comfort of home, I could barely sit for ninety minutes.

Watching summer spectaculars and Oscar hopefuls on a tiny screen was numbing.

In September last year the cinemas reopened, but there was nothing I wanted to see. They closed once again. I felt guilty but relieved as I hid at home. And in May 2021, the cinemas reopened again to rapturous enthusiasm. This time there was plenty that I wanted to see, and by now I had almost entirely watched my online library. But while I had finally finished my infinite list, I was still hesitant. A number of people from various film groups that I belong to wrote online about the euphoria of being back. I read their reviews and emotive recollections with jealousy. My friend, whom I was finally able to meet, told me about how she had been to see numerous films within the space of a fortnight. I, who used to watch three or four times a week, had become a ‘sometimes’ cinema attendee.

Somewhere that I used to frequent numerous times a week was now the source of terrible anxiety. The cinema was my happy place. No matter where I was, I’d always find a cinema. No matter how I felt, the cinema was always there to ground me. It no longer grounded me – instead it planted roots of fear into my second home. It dawned on me that I’d have to wear a mask for the duration of the film, and also that others would not be so courteous. I worried about the windowless darkness of a packed cinema screen. I worried about germs and lack of ventilation. I worried that a monstrous being might leap through the screen – and given the year we’ve had, can you blame me?

Somewhere that I used to frequent numerous times a week was now the source of terrible anxiety.

But soon I was back on that familiar cinema website. I found a time and booked a seat. My stomach danced in knots as I received the booking reference, and filled out the online track and trace form attached. For the next few days I was anxious, my head ached, and my stomach turned. On the morning of my venture, the cortisol was alleviated by adrenalin. What if the bus doesn’t turn up? I convinced myself to leave three hours early to take an hour’s journey.

When I got there, I inhaled and exhaled as I walked towards my old friend. It looked the same apart from the sanitizer dispensers hovering behind the door. I walked in through the automatic doors, my hands shaking. I felt my heart pounding in my chest. I noticed that there are no new posters, no cardboard stands, no candy coloured freebies, no memorabillia or overpriced goodies. Typing in the reference, I glanced at the dated posters. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate people either. The staff were hidden behind plastic screens. In a previous life I would have stood and chatted with them. Sitting down in those rigid seats, I looked at the screen. The lights went down and trailers played. I felt emotions rise as the snippets of hope rolled. There was a lack of people in the screen. I got worried about the longevity of my retreat. Will cinema survive?

The little memories of what was nip at me, how the cinema experience has been altered.

My chest tightened in the dark, and a fear overcame me. This virus has taken so much from everyone. I gathered myself, focusing on the mundane trailer for yet another Fast & Furious sequel – even Covid-19 is powerless against Vin Diesel! I watched the warnings, the highlights, there were no Pearl and Dean premieres. The little memories of what was nip at me, how the cinema experience has been altered. It suddenly dawned on me – there will be no pausing of this film. My full attention is on the screen, the intense and relentless power of the silver screen demanded me to watch.

People began to pile in, overpriced snacks in their arms. I watched with slight irritation as these latecomers scrambled for seats using the torch on their phones for guidance. They settled just in time as the film began. They dismissed the seating plan and sat where they are able. That may have been acceptable 15 months ago but now the rules have far greater consequence. I silenced my thoughts, my irritation at these inconsiderate latecomers. The BBFC rating appeared first. I crossed my legs over – they’ve had fifteen months away from these rigid and narrow seats. For a moment there was silence, and a similar fear resonated amongst the patrons. The film began. I sighed in relief, we’ll be just fine.

In a week or two I may go again. I won’t merely go to see any old drivel, I shall go only for a film that I am eager to see. What was once routine is now a treat. I fear that I would struggle to see any more than that. In time I know I will once again frequent the silver screen with confidence and indulgence. And I know in time, normality will return.

Have you been back to the cinema yet? Let us know in the comments.

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