Monday, April 7, 2014

'Nymphomaniac' and sharing the cinema experience

This was meant to be a review of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Released in two parts in the U.S., my intention was to see both volumes back to back in an attempt to recreate the intended experience as closely as possible. The myriad versions of this film that exist across the globe make it nearly impossible to know precisely what the director’s preferred cut is.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I can report only that Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is the first half of what looks to be a stirring, epic character study of a woman who is acutely aware of her mania but can neither change nor accept it. The first five minutes of Vol. 2 were intelligent and introspective in a way that leaves me no doubt the conclusion will be satisfying.

Alas, I am left unable to explore fully the storytelling to which I had been so looking forward. For the first time in my life, I walked out of the theater. Full disclosure, at the age of 5, I was so bored by Grumpy Old Men, I harangued my father into leaving early to see Beethoven’s 2nd instead. I have since made peace with Grumpy Old Men and find it to be a delightful romp.

As it turns out, I am not meant to attend Saturday night showings of films. The Vol. 1 audience was bad enough. I suppose one should expect a certain degree of immature laughter with a film that so frankly discusses and depicts sex and sexuality. To be fair, there are moments of humor, but it is by no means the wall-to-wall laugh fest the 7:40 p.m. screening audience at the Landmark Sunshine in the East Village would have you believe.

The 10:30 p.m. audience for Vol. 2, however, immediately proved itself unbearable. Instantly, the laughter returned. This time, it was accompanied by three young people – two seats from whom I had the misfortune of sitting – who proceeded to heckle the film. I will not repeat what was said, but suffice it to say, if you have an immature friend, you can imagine. A request to cease the talking was denied, and finally, we were forced to leave.

Kudos to the staff of the Landmark Sunshine, which was understanding and amenable. We received a full refund for Vol. 2 and were told there had been problems before with screenings of Nymphomaniac. This leads to the larger point, which can be summed up ineloquently as: Who are these people, and what is their deal?

Tolerating fellow patrons is among the few hazards of being a cinema fan. As someone who holds the dark quietude of the theater sacred, there is always an anxiety when I take my seat: What will this crowd be like? Audiences are generally respectful of the social contract of the movie theater. Those audience members who are not are often quieted by a polite request for silence. But, as with any statistical model (as unscientific as this discussion is), there are the outliers.

These are the people about whom I know nothing. I do not understand the concept of paying $13 for a movie ticket and doing everything possible to destroy the experience of going to the movies. I do not understand the lack of respect for others who paid $13. But, maybe it is illogical. There is not an explanation. I have no answers – only questions.

What, then, is the takeaway from this experience? Is there a conclusion that can be drawn? Many people who have similar feelings to mine – or who have other issues with an outing to the cinema – have stopped going. Home systems are more capable than ever of approximating what it is like to sit in the theater, particularly with surround sound, high-definition screens, Blu-ray, etc. Yet, it will never be more than an approximation.

I started this blog not only as an appreciation of movies but of going to movies. My favorite 10 seconds in the world are those during which the lights go down and the picture comes up. That will not change. I want to laugh with others. I want to cry in the dark next to others doing the same. I want to shudder in fear and scream in terror with my fellow movie lovers – and I want them to do the same with me. Maybe it is naïve of me still to love those moments of shared empathy, but what could be more naïve than to give ourselves over to two hours of fantasy?