Let me start by getting a small confession out of the way – I have read the Twilight books at least five times all the way through. While I am somewhat embarrassed, I am not ashamed. And no, this is not going to be a post all about Twilight, so relax. I tell you this mortifying personal statistic because it leads me to this story I need to share with you:
When the first film in the Twilight Saga was released, I decided that the very best way to see it would be with the die-hards. The books had been a sensation, and everywhere you looked, there were at least dozen TV show hosts at any given time formulating derogatory shticks about the teen girls who read the books, the grown women who read the books and the two male leads of the film adaptation – R-Patz and the werewolf guy. The films were destined to be massive, and I wanted in on this admittedly trashy moment in pop-film history.
I dragged my unsuspecting friend Kate (who had never even heard of Twilight) along to the very first screening of the film at Broadway Cinemas in Sydney where I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, screaming teenage girls would flock to fight each other for tickets and seats to the movie. This is my warped idea of heaven. Not the screaming teenage girls fighting one another bit (although I am sure that is someone’s idea of heaven), but the idea of experiencing a cultural phenomenon with a group of people who so vehemently and publically relate to, despite open and public derision.
Everything I expected was there – gaggles of teen girls in branded t-shirts, carrying their copies of the books, whispering loudly and excitedly to each other. A few token boyfriends dragged along in support. What I perhaps did not expect were the groups of grown women (like me!) but in handmade fan-wear. There was more than one singlet painted in glittery red fabric paint telling the world that this chick was on Team Edward. Ouch…
So let me cut to the chase – we get in there, it is PACKED. We’re sitting somewhere down the front to one side. Waves of nervous whispers ripple through the audience as we go through the motions of trailers and ads. Kate is laughing to herself, bewildered by the cult-like fervour I have invited her into. And then – it begins…
As you’d expect, the audience is open and willing to be vocal and emotional and INVOLVED. It is magnificent. The film itself is rubbish, but no one in this room will ever admit this. In that moment, we were living out the fantasy that had enrapt all of us in its spell – the books were now pictures, and they were gloriously big pictures, that moved! Hurrah!
There is a pivotal moment in the film when the two protagonists, Bella and Edward, first kiss (spoiler alert). It is in Bella’s bedroom, at night, where creepy vampire Edward is creepily hanging out, creepily watching human Bella sleep. Creepy. In any case, she finally wakes and they talk very emotionally about their feelings for one another. It is sloppy and silly, with no hint of subtext or irony. They are desperately in love, desperately earnest and desperately conflicted about all of it.
Bella and Edward progressively move closer and closer to one another. It seems to take forever; they speak yearning words to one another, quietly, achingly. They inch forward, more yearning words, they inch forward again, they are within each other’s reach now, but do not ever touch…
The vibe in the cinema is electric at this point. It is deathly quiet, people are hardly breathing, they are so caught up in what is happening on screen. And no one is safe – we are all carried away in this moment because everyone is feeling it…
Edward and Bella are so close now, their noses are almost touching. They whisper more yearning words to each other. They stare passionately into each other’s eyes. We can hear their breath as we hold our own. They are so close, they are so very, very close. We all know that they will kiss, but they aren’t there yet, but it must be soon, they are right there. The tension is excruciating. We are all leaning forward in our chairs and they inch even closer, their lips millimetres apart, and then –
An agonising scream thunders its way through the excruciating silence:
“OH MY GOD WILL YOU PLEASE JUST KISS HER!!?!!”
The theatre ERUPTS in laughter. A young woman, feeling all the things we are feeling, but completely unable to hold it in any longer, screams her desperate, passionate desire out into the darkness. And every single one of us understands. The tension was immediately released, but the magic was not broken. That poor, poor girl needed to let out the anguish that the story had built up in her, and the second she vented, we knew it’s what we all needed too.
And OF COURSE Bella and Edward kiss. Finally! We cheered and cheered and cheered…
I love going to the cinema for this very reason. It seems to have fallen out of fashion a little bit in this age of Netflix and YouTube and good old-fashioned internet piracy, but each time I go to the cinema I am reminded of why it is such a special thing to do.
Going to the movies is a communal experience, a tribal experience. We come together to sit in the darkness and have someone tell us a story. It is terribly human, and terribly wonderful. And then, to whatever extent we are able, we think about that story; what it means to us, our lives, our community. How do we feel about the characters’ decisions and actions? Did we feel engaged or enlightened, deflated or ripped off? Is there any part of ourselves we felt we saw in that story? Any part of our own families, friends, colleagues?
It is the same too when you go to a sporting event, jammed in with the other punters, it’s impossible not to get drawn into the cheering and the emotion and the drama. And we share it with those around us, with smiles or jeers, with roars of victory or tears of defeat.
When you have the opportunity to see a film, or a piece of theatre or a concert, with a group of strangers, all those questions you have inside of you are answered in the moment. The sighs, the guffaws, the whispers and giggles, the involuntary cursing, the involuntary sniffling – we communicate so much of ourselves without even realising it, sometimes without even being able to see one another.
A collective experience often changes how we feel about a story, in comparison to say watching a film at home alone, or reading a book no one you know has read yet. We notice different elements when we experience something together; we are affected by the highs and lows of the group as much as we are by the highs and lows of our own emotions. For me, it makes me feel part of something, it reminds me that we are all in this together; we are all humans trying hard to make sense of what it means to be us. I love that.
Do you have a collective experience that has stayed with you too?