' Cinema Romantico: When Cinema Gets Extra Surreal

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

When Cinema Gets Extra Surreal

The world lately is filled with so much noise. It’s noisy when you’re plugged in, yes, sure, with the excess of social media functioning as something like a fire hose inadvertently hooked up to gas tanks instead, just spewing more fuel on the fire. But even if you’re unplugged the world often remains just as noisy since it is always trying to plug you right back in. Get out of your car to fill gas and a screen above the pump is braying at you; climb in a taxi in hopes of just staring out the window for a few minutes and there is a screen on the seatback right in front of your face; sit in airport with your phone that no longer has any battery left and hear all the screens in front of you and behind you and to the right of you and to the left of you re-going over everything bad you already knew. I haven’t been to church recently but I just assume they have already begun with screen installations on the backs of pews. So, what do you do?

I like to go to the movies. Movies can have their share of noise too, though it’s often a different sort of noise, more like deliberate disquiet, though you can also choose a movie that you might suspect is more quiet and contemplative, filled with the sounds of silence, a place to vanish into another world conjured before you, which is what I hoped to get from David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” a couple Saturdays ago after another long week in America. It started ominously on the train ride there when three apple-faced adolescent boys sitting behind my girlfriend and me had a conversation that either re-confirmed the awe-inspiring idiocy of teenage boys or foreshadowed a future even worse than the present.

The movie, once it got rolling after the ads, because there are always ads, started ominously too. Not the movie itself, which I loved and which I will discuss in depth next week, but the viewing experience, when a woman darted into the theater right near the start with a snack from the outside theater, a deli sandwich, or something, which she spent in inordinate amount of time unwrapping because the crinkling – the clamorous crinkling – unfolded against the backdrop of Rooney Mara speaking in the actual movie. Only after the movie did I realize that what Rooney Mara said in that moment was crucial. I wanted to retroactively scream. Still, that was nothing in the face of The Pie Scene.


The scene in question finds Rooney Mara’s character, in the aftermath of her husband’s death, consuming an entire pie in a pair of shots that span several minutes. It is a scene rendered in silence aside from the sounds of chewing and Mara’s eccentric dining technique which transforms pie-eating into something more like spearfishing. If some people have apparently adored it, other people have apparently abhorred it, which I learned about by reading Richard Brody’s New Yorker review where he did not merely elucidate his own thoughts on The Pie Scene but made sure to go after fellow critics who did not like The Pie Scene because apparently you can’t even keep away outside noise from your own review. I will absolutely excise the white noise in my own review, but the context of my personal experience seeing the The Pie Scene was so surreal that, dammit, I wanted to talk about that too.

As the scene commenced, thunderous explosions comprising Christopher Nolan’s WWII behemoth “Dunkirk”, which was screening next door, began infiltrating our theater, cutting right through the silence, almost becoming a kind of inadvertent commentary – Hollywood Cacophony over there, Indie Tranquility over here. But there was more.

A theater patron had entered the movie, like, fifteen minutes late, sinking into her seat, noisily depositing all her crap onto the floor and then tearing into her bag of popcorn. She was scarfing down popcorn, so furiously that she kept pausing to cough, at the exact same moment Rooney Mara was scarfing down pie. It was absurd; it was incredible; this theater patron could not have timed it better (worse). I had not been to the theater in nearly three weeks and had been desperately looking forward to this moment when I could escape all the world’s noise for a movie instead and here was the world’s noise breaching the theater walls.

When pressed in an interview on the scene’s length, Lowery said “it is an opportunity for audiences to decide if they’re with the movie. If they want to bail, that’s a great time to leave! But if they go with it and just accept it on its own terms, I think it opens all sorts of doors into how you can experience this movie and how you can experience cinema as a whole.” For me, the moment became different. It was as if the whole world was daring me to be with the movie. And so I noted everything happening around me, stifled a laugh, forced myself back into the scene, regained hold of its rhythm, and got good and lost.

2 comments:

mercatiwriter@aol.com said...

I can't wait to read your personal review.

This country has been growing ruder and ruder -- under the Donald, we're becoming obsessively rude.

Alex Withrow said...

Great essay here. It does seem like silence is lost in cinema now. Not just in the movies themselves, but during the theater experience as well. Thank god there were only 4 other people in my Ghost Story theater, who all remained quiet during the pie scene, save a few light exhales and shuffles in their seats. I can't wait for your review, I've been trying to form my thoughts on it as well. What a unique picture.