“An experience that is always more than the sum of its individual viewers”
Most of us have fond memories of our first cinema experience, or at least vivid memories where we laughed, cried, gasped, fell in love, met our idols and set out on adventures across land, space and time. During its one-hundred-year history, cinema has survived wars, recessions and a variety of other prophecies of demise, but 2020 has delivered one of cinema’s most significant blows with unprecedented mass-closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Which raises the question again, will it survive?
Cinema’s greatest strength lies in its collective viewing experience, but this pandemic has taken it away from us, and we’re already starting to see the effects of its removal. How strange it is to watch your favourite sporting team, without spectators to cheer. Sitcoms without a live audience. Live music without a crowd to sing-a-long. In the cinema, we sometimes think it lucky to get a screen to ourselves, but usually, we watch a film with 2, 20, 200, or 2,000 others. Once we watch a movie with others, we become part of a collective that has some kind of effect on our film experience, different from watching it alone. In other words, the cinema creates a new social audience with every viewing, a relationship and experience that is always more than the sum of its individual viewers.
It’s easy to see how infectious (a strange word to use now we know…) other’s reactions are in an audience. We laugh harder; we gasp louder. We might cry silently, but we’re not embarrassed, especially when hearing the sniffles of those around us (compare the thought of crying in any other crowded room and note the stark difference!). Perhaps the most compelling, we sometimes applaud together at the end when the credits roll, even though the creators aren’t there to hear us (how often can we say we’ve applauded when watching something alone in our living room?).
Yet the emotions we experience aren’t restricted to those depicted on screen, nor are we merely mimicking those around us, we’re more complicated than that. A film can remind us of an experience in our own lives, even if not directly tied to the film. These memories can trigger intense emotions, be it laughter or tears, and can influence those seated around us, changing their experience of the film too. We don’t experience the exact same emotions, but our individual emotions match, and we feel connected. It’s a rich tapestry of experiences and feelings that we’re suddenly forced to share whether we realise it or not, its influence caused by countless variables that have been researched for decades, or some simply distil as magic. It’s something not possible when viewing alone.
It’s strange to think, these emotions we experience so intensely with others, the majority are strangers, yet without them, we wouldn’t have as rich an experience. Despite never knowing or even talking to these people, for around two hours, we’re all connected. We know that cinema will return because the experience is greater than any one person, it is to be shared, something we can’t wait to do with you all again, and something to be cherished more than ever once we overcome this.