Daniël van der Winden
Daniël van der Winden
v1 •  2022

On the big screen, intimacy is

what you’ll find

On the big screen, intimacy is what you'll find

Essay • May 10th, 2022

Essay • May 10th, 2022

On a Sunday morning at twelve, I settled into a chair at a local movie theatre for Memoria, the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul about an English woman named Jessica (played by Tilda Swinton) who visits her ill sister in Bogota, Colombia, and befriends a young musician and a French archeologist. Each night, as she tries to fall asleep, she's startled by loud, metal-like bangs only she seems to be able to hear, making sleep a fruitless endeavour; the script for the film apparently inspired by the symptoms of “Exploding Head Syndrome”, which plagued the director for some time.

On a Sunday morning at twelve, I settled into a chair at a local movie theatre for Memoria, the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul about an English woman named Jessica (played by Tilda Swinton) who visits her ill sister in Bogota, Colombia, and befriends a young musician and a French archeologist. Each night, as she tries to fall asleep, she's startled by loud, metal-like bangs only she seems to be able to hear, making sleep a fruitless endeavour; the script for the film apparently inspired by the symptoms of “Exploding Head Syndrome”, which plagued the director for some time.

Tilda Swinton as Jessica and Juan Pablo Urrego as Hernán in Memoria (2022)

Tilda Swinton as Jessica and Juan Pablo Urrego as Hernán in Memoria (2022)

From the first minute, Memoria is wonderfully sensory: running for two and a half hours it consists largely of near silence or ambient noise. The scenes are long and dialogue is used sparingly, which makes every sentence that's spoken—in Spanish or English—feel more important, carry more weight. The sounds of pouring rain, babbling brooks, and cheerful bird song play an important role. The sound design of the film was specifically focused on the theatrical experience; Jessica as a walking microphone, very sensitive to the noises surrounding her, anxiously awaiting that loud bang keeping her from falling asleep. As a viewer, you have no choice but to sway along with her, at times glued to your seat and often enthralled by minute-long shots that endlessly captivate.

From the first minute, Memoria is wonderfully sensory: running for two and a half hours it consists largely of near silence or ambient noise. The scenes are long and dialogue is used sparingly, which makes every sentence that's spoken—in Spanish or English—feel more important, carry more weight. The sounds of pouring rain, babbling brooks, and cheerful bird song play an important role. The sound design of the film was specifically focused on the theatrical experience; Jessica as a walking microphone, very sensitive to the noises surrounding her, anxiously awaiting that loud bang keeping her from falling asleep. As a viewer, you have no choice but to sway along with her, at times glued to your seat and often enthralled by minute-long shots that endlessly captivate.

Shot on 35mm film, the film is visually stunning, looking somewhat grainy, giving every perfectly framed shot a very tactile feel, pulling you into the lush landscapes and soothing light, making you feel a part of its meandering story.

Shot on 35mm film, the film is visually stunning, looking somewhat grainy, giving every perfectly framed shot a very tactile feel, pulling you into the lush landscapes and soothing light, making you feel a part of its meandering story.

*

*

Twelve hours before the sensory experience of Memoria, I left another darkened movie theatre where I'd just seen The Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves, the latest in a long line of directors to take the helm of the franchise, the film leans heavily into its film noir roots. It's long—clocking in at 176 minutes—and, for the most part of its extended runtime, we sit shrouded in darkness, Gotham City portrayed as a place the sun will never reach. It rains near continuously, sounds of pattering and dripping water constantly surrounding you, perfectly translating the feeling of that dark, wet, miserable place.

Twelve hours before the sensory experience of Memoria, I left another darkened movie theatre where I'd just seen The Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves, the latest in a long line of directors to take the helm of the franchise, the film leans heavily into its film noir roots. It's long—clocking in at 176 minutes—and, for the most part of its extended runtime, we sit shrouded in darkness, Gotham City portrayed as a place the sun will never reach. It rains near continuously, sounds of pattering and dripping water constantly surrounding you, perfectly translating the feeling of that dark, wet, miserable place.

Still from The Batman (2022)

Still from The Batman (2022)

Visually, The Batman is beautiful: where most superhero-movies feel distant, Reeves knows how to pull the viewer in with exquisite camerawork. Shots are often close-ups of faces, shot over one's shoulder or from behind a window wet with rain, making it feel like you're observing each character from nearby, almost smelling the rain on the tarmac. What little light there is shrouds the city in a glow of red, blue and amber, and The Batman makes Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 film known for its "neo-noir" sensibilities) look like a carnival.


The film doesn't have to lean on special effects to deliver a visual spectacle. Of course, there are explosions, high-speed chases and fights between superhero and antagonist, but the power of the film can, perhaps surprisingly, be found in its humanity.

Visually, The Batman is beautiful: where most superhero-movies feel distant, Reeves knows how to pull the viewer in with exquisite camerawork. Shots are often close-ups of faces, shot over one's shoulder or from behind a window wet with rain, making it feel like you're observing each character from nearby, almost smelling the rain on the tarmac. What little light there is shrouds the city in a glow of red, blue and amber, and The Batman makes Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 film known for its "neo-noir" sensibilities) look like a carnival.


The film doesn't have to lean on special effects to deliver a visual spectacle. Of course, there are explosions, high-speed chases and fights between superhero and antagonist, but the power of the film can, perhaps surprisingly, be found in its humanity.

*

*

In 2021, Dutch newspaper NRC published a piece by Gawie Keyser titled “Cherish film culture, save the movie theatre” (freely translated), in which he argues movie theatres are close to losing their battle with streaming platforms. He writes that Dutch theatres aren't equipped to convince the public to visit, that the quality of the programming in local theatres is appalling, the decisions they make not radical enough, and that they will therefore not be able to compete with larger cinemas offering an audio-visually overwhelming experience.

In 2021, Dutch newspaper NRC published a piece by Gawie Keyser titled “Cherish film culture, save the movie theatre” (freely translated), in which he argues movie theatres are close to losing their battle with streaming platforms. He writes that Dutch theatres aren't equipped to convince the public to visit, that the quality of the programming in local theatres is appalling, the decisions they make not radical enough, and that they will therefore not be able to compete with larger cinemas offering an audio-visually overwhelming experience.

I agree with most of his points: movie theatres tend to have an old-fashioned image, some serve an older audience, and many rooms would benefit from a larger screen to increase visitors' viewing pleasure. However, I think the size of the screen and the programming in movie theatres aren't the only culprit: I think what we need to do, more importantly, is to reprogram the viewer—not the movie theatre's offering.

I agree with most of his points: movie theatres tend to have an old-fashioned image, some serve an older audience, and many rooms would benefit from a larger screen to increase visitors' viewing pleasure. However, I think the size of the screen and the programming in movie theatres aren't the only culprit: I think what we need to do, more importantly, is to reprogram the viewer—not the movie theatre's offering.

The average moviegoer visits the cinema and finds a spectacle. One peek at the program of Dutch cinema Pathé (one of the largest chains in the country) reveals they primarily show big films like Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Uncharted, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Moonfall. Available in IMAX, or it's superlative sister 4DX, shown with a layer of experience only found in large-scale cinemas: shaking your chair along with the music's basslines, spraying water in your face when it rains, the rumbling of a passing truck mimicked by your seat, and the experience transformed to the equivalent of a ride in a rollercoaster.

The average moviegoer visits the cinema and finds a spectacle. One peek at the program of Dutch cinema Pathé (one of the largest chains in the country) reveals they primarily show big films like Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Uncharted, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Moonfall. Available in IMAX, or it's superlative sister 4DX, shown with a layer of experience only found in large-scale cinemas: shaking your chair along with the music's basslines, spraying water in your face when it rains, the rumbling of a passing truck mimicked by your seat, and the experience transformed to the equivalent of a ride in a rollercoaster.

It's time we adjust our expectations of a cinema visit. Instead of focusing on making the moviegoing experience ever bigger and louder, I think we, as viewers, should seek out a kind of intimacy only the big screen can offer.

It's time we adjust our expectations of a cinema visit. Instead of focusing on making the moviegoing experience ever bigger and louder, I think we, as viewers, should seek out a kind of intimacy only the big screen can offer.

*

*

Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter) published a video essay on his YouTube channel titled Faces On A Big Screen, in which he argues that it's not just the pompous action that should move you to visit a cinema, but the complex expressions on the faces you see on-screen. The most important example he highlights is the only scene in Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2022) that features Harriet Sansom Harris. She delivers a fantastic monologue that's been etched into my mind since I first watched the film because she's portrayed in incredible close-up, filling the screen, smoke wafting from her cigarette, nearly stinging your eyes as you watch her speak.

Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter) published a video essay on his YouTube channel titled Faces On A Big Screen, in which he argues that it's not just the pompous action that should move you to visit a cinema, but the complex expressions on the faces you see on-screen. The most important example he highlights is the only scene in Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2022) that features Harriet Sansom Harris. She delivers a fantastic monologue that's been etched into my mind since I first watched the film because she's portrayed in incredible close-up, filling the screen, smoke wafting from her cigarette, nearly stinging your eyes as you watch her speak.

Harriet Samson Harris as Mary Grady in Licorice Pizza (2022)

Harriet Samson Harris as Mary Grady in Licorice Pizza (2022)

It is often said that watching films in one's living room, with all its comforts—curled up on the couch, under a blanket, with a glass of wine in hand—makes for the most intimate film experience. In a cinema you're sat next to strangers gobbling up popcorn or M&Ms, after all. But, in saying so, it's easy to forget about the way in which we consume a film at home.


You sit down, and pause the film after three minutes; you forgot to put on your comfy socks. Fifteen minutes later, a toilet break, and on the way back to the couch, a new drink. Halfway through the film your partner decides to walk the dog—the last lap of the day—and, after pausing the film, you quickly load the dishwasher. Your phone vibrates when the film reaches its final plot twist, and two minutes later you rewind it to see what just happened. Ten minutes before the end you doze off and subsequently stumble to bed—you'll catch up on the ending tomorrow.

It is often said that watching films in one's living room, with all its comforts—curled up on the couch, under a blanket, with a glass of wine in hand—makes for the most intimate film experience. In a cinema you're sat next to strangers gobbling up popcorn or M&Ms, after all. But, in saying so, it's easy to forget about the way in which we consume a film at home.


You sit down, and pause the film after three minutes; you forgot to put on your comfy socks. Fifteen minutes later, a toilet break, and on the way back to the couch, a new drink. Halfway through the film your partner decides to walk the dog—the last lap of the day—and, after pausing the film, you quickly load the dishwasher. Your phone vibrates when the film reaches its final plot twist, and two minutes later you rewind it to see what just happened. Ten minutes before the end you doze off and subsequently stumble to bed—you'll catch up on the ending tomorrow.

Regardless of the setup, experiencing the intimacy of a film at home is difficult to compare to a movie theatre. The focus a movie theatre provides—the big screen, the extinguished lights, the lack of distraction—allows you to fully lose yourself in a film, to be overwhelmed by details you'd never discover, sounds you'd never hear, and empathise with characters in a way you just can't do when watching the same film at home.

Regardless of the setup, experiencing the intimacy of a film at home is difficult to compare to a movie theatre. The focus a movie theatre provides—the big screen, the extinguished lights, the lack of distraction—allows you to fully lose yourself in a film, to be overwhelmed by details you'd never discover, sounds you'd never hear, and empathise with characters in a way you just can't do when watching the same film at home.

That cigarette smoke billowing from Mary's cigarette, in Licorice Pizza; the vibrant colours of the omelette in Alma's pan, in Phantom Thread; the creaking leather of the driver's gloves gripping the steering wheel, in Drive; the sand in Phil's hair, in The Power of the Dog; the flowers in King Lu's ramshackle hut, in First Cow; the continuously clenched jaw of Connie, in Good Time. These details, these moments, stick with you forever—if you're open to it.

That cigarette smoke billowing from Mary's cigarette, in Licorice Pizza; the vibrant colours of the omelette in Alma's pan, in Phantom Thread; the creaking leather of the driver's gloves gripping the steering wheel, in Drive; the sand in Phil's hair, in The Power of the Dog; the flowers in King Lu's ramshackle hut, in First Cow; the continuously clenched jaw of Connie, in Good Time. These details, these moments, stick with you forever—if you're open to it.

It's the music during the most important twist (David Bowie, in Inglourious Basterds) that stuck with me. The collective sadness, tangible throughout the entire room during the most heartbreaking scene (Cleo, on the beach with the kids, in Roma). The constant and overwhelming sense of confusion and loneliness (Synecdoche, New York), the visuals so unique and colourful my jaw dropped for the duration of a film (Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters). And, when I fell in love with being in love (If Beale Street Could Talk).

It's the music during the most important twist (David Bowie, in Inglourious Basterds) that stuck with me. The collective sadness, tangible throughout the entire room during the most heartbreaking scene (Cleo, on the beach with the kids, in Roma). The constant and overwhelming sense of confusion and loneliness (Synecdoche, New York), the visuals so unique and colourful my jaw dropped for the duration of a film (Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters). And, when I fell in love with being in love (If Beale Street Could Talk).

*

*

In conversation with Kodak, Apichatpong Weeresthakul said he designed the sound of Memoria for the movie theatre, and adds that this is the reason he'd prefer not to release the film online. You can't decide how one experiences the sound at home (or on the road), and if it plays such an important role in the story, it makes sense to want to guide the viewer.

In conversation with Kodak, Apichatpong Weeresthakul said he designed the sound of Memoria for the movie theatre, and adds that this is the reason he'd prefer not to release the film online. You can't decide how one experiences the sound at home (or on the road), and if it plays such an important role in the story, it makes sense to want to guide the viewer.

Moviegoing can be an intensely intimate experience. I think Weerasethakul's film, like many others I've experienced in a movie theatre, is one I could not have appreciated fully—internalising its most intricate details, overwhelmed by its warm embrace, feeling a part of the journey it took me on—had I not watched it in the comfort of a movie theatre.

Moviegoing can be an intensely intimate experience. I think Weerasethakul's film, like many others I've experienced in a movie theatre, is one I could not have appreciated fully—internalising its most intricate details, overwhelmed by its warm embrace, feeling a part of the journey it took me on—had I not watched it in the comfort of a movie theatre.

Thank you to Julie, Marc and Mechteld for reading a Dutch draft of this essay, and to Megan for reading and editing my English translation.

On the big screen, intimacy is

what you’ll find

Essay • May 10th, 2022

On a Sunday morning at twelve, I settled into a chair at a local movie theatre for Memoria, the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul about an English woman named Jessica (played by Tilda Swinton) who visits her ill sister in Bogota, Colombia, and befriends a young musician and a French archeologist. Each night, as she tries to fall asleep, she's startled by loud, metal-like bangs only she seems to be able to hear, making sleep a fruitless endeavour; the script for the film apparently inspired by the symptoms of “Exploding Head Syndrome”, which plagued the director for some time.

Tilda Swinton as Jessica and Juan Pablo Urrego as Hernán in Memoria (2022)

From the first minute, Memoria is wonderfully sensory: running for two and a half hours it consists largely of near silence or ambient noise. The scenes are long and dialogue is used sparingly, which makes every sentence that's spoken—in Spanish or English—feel more important, carry more weight. The sounds of pouring rain, babbling brooks, and cheerful bird song play an important role. The sound design of the film was specifically focused on the theatrical experience; Jessica as a walking microphone, very sensitive to the noises surrounding her, anxiously awaiting that loud bang keeping her from falling asleep. As a viewer, you have no choice but to sway along with her, at times glued to your seat and often enthralled by minute-long shots that endlessly captivate.

Shot on 35mm film, the film is visually stunning, looking somewhat grainy, giving every perfectly framed shot a very tactile feel, pulling you into the lush landscapes and soothing light, making you feel a part of its meandering story.

*

Twelve hours before the sensory experience of Memoria, I left another darkened movie theatre where I'd just seen The Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves, the latest in a long line of directors to take the helm of the franchise, the film leans heavily into its film noir roots. It's long—clocking in at 176 minutes—and, for the most part of its extended runtime, we sit shrouded in darkness, Gotham City portrayed as a place the sun will never reach. It rains near continuously, sounds of pattering and dripping water constantly surrounding you, perfectly translating the feeling of that dark, wet, miserable place.

Still from The Batman (2022)

Visually, The Batman is beautiful: where most superhero-movies feel distant, Reeves knows how to pull the viewer in with exquisite camerawork. Shots are often close-ups of faces, shot over one's shoulder or from behind a window wet with rain, making it feel like you're observing each character from nearby, almost smelling the rain on the tarmac. What little light there is shrouds the city in a glow of red, blue and amber, and The Batman makes Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 film known for its "neo-noir" sensibilities) look like a carnival.


The film doesn't have to lean on special effects to deliver a visual spectacle. Of course, there are explosions, high-speed chases and fights between superhero and antagonist, but the power of the film can, perhaps surprisingly, be found in its humanity.

*

In 2021, Dutch newspaper NRC published a piece by Gawie Keyser titled “Cherish film culture, save the movie theatre” (freely translated), in which he argues movie theatres are close to losing their battle with streaming platforms. He writes that Dutch theatres aren't equipped to convince the public to visit, that the quality of the programming in local theatres is appalling, the decisions they make not radical enough, and that they will therefore not be able to compete with larger cinemas offering an audio-visually overwhelming experience.

I agree with most of his points: movie theatres tend to have an old-fashioned image, some serve an older audience, and many rooms would benefit from a larger screen to increase visitors' viewing pleasure. However, I think the size of the screen and the programming in movie theatres aren't the only culprit: I think what we need to do, more importantly, is to reprogram the viewer—not the movie theatre's offering.

The average moviegoer visits the cinema and finds a spectacle. One peek at the program of Dutch cinema Pathé (one of the largest chains in the country) reveals they primarily show big films like Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Uncharted, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Moonfall. Available in IMAX, or it's superlative sister 4DX, shown with a layer of experience only found in large-scale cinemas: shaking your chair along with the music's basslines, spraying water in your face when it rains, the rumbling of a passing truck mimicked by your seat, and the experience transformed to the equivalent of a ride in a rollercoaster.

It's time we adjust our expectations of a cinema visit. Instead of focusing on making the moviegoing experience ever bigger and louder, I think we, as viewers, should seek out a kind of intimacy only the big screen can offer.

*

Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter) published a video essay on his YouTube channel titled Faces On A Big Screen, in which he argues that it's not just the pompous action that should move you to visit a cinema, but the complex expressions on the faces you see on-screen. The most important example he highlights is the only scene in Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2022) that features Harriet Sansom Harris. She delivers a fantastic monologue that's been etched into my mind since I first watched the film because she's portrayed in incredible close-up, filling the screen, smoke wafting from her cigarette, nearly stinging your eyes as you watch her speak.

Harriet Samson Harris as Mary Grady in Licorice Pizza (2022)

It is often said that watching films in one's living room, with all its comforts—curled up on the couch, under a blanket, with a glass of wine in hand—makes for the most intimate film experience. In a cinema you're sat next to strangers gobbling up popcorn or M&Ms, after all. But, in saying so, it's easy to forget about the way in which we consume a film at home.


You sit down, and pause the film after three minutes; you forgot to put on your comfy socks. Fifteen minutes later, a toilet break, and on the way back to the couch, a new drink. Halfway through the film your partner decides to walk the dog—the last lap of the day—and, after pausing the film, you quickly load the dishwasher. Your phone vibrates when the film reaches its final plot twist, and two minutes later you rewind it to see what just happened. Ten minutes before the end you doze off and subsequently stumble to bed—you'll catch up on the ending tomorrow.

Regardless of the setup, experiencing the intimacy of a film at home is difficult to compare to a movie theatre. The focus a movie theatre provides—the big screen, the extinguished lights, the lack of distraction—allows you to fully lose yourself in a film, to be overwhelmed by details you'd never discover, sounds you'd never hear, and empathise with characters in a way you just can't do when watching the same film at home.

That cigarette smoke billowing from Mary's cigarette, in Licorice Pizza; the vibrant colours of the omelette in Alma's pan, in Phantom Thread; the creaking leather of the driver's gloves gripping the steering wheel, in Drive; the sand in Phil's hair, in The Power of the Dog; the flowers in King Lu's ramshackle hut, in First Cow; the continuously clenched jaw of Connie, in Good Time. These details, these moments, stick with you forever—if you're open to it.

It's the music during the most important twist (David Bowie, in Inglourious Basterds) that stuck with me. The collective sadness, tangible throughout the entire room during the most heartbreaking scene (Cleo, on the beach with the kids, in Roma). The constant and overwhelming sense of confusion and loneliness (Synecdoche, New York), the visuals so unique and colourful my jaw dropped for the duration of a film (Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters). And, when I fell in love with being in love (If Beale Street Could Talk).

*

In conversation with Kodak, Apichatpong Weeresthakul said he designed the sound of Memoria for the movie theatre, and adds that this is the reason he'd prefer not to release the film online. You can't decide how one experiences the sound at home (or on the road), and if it plays such an important role in the story, it makes sense to want to guide the viewer.

Moviegoing can be an intensely intimate experience. I think Weerasethakul's film, like many others I've experienced in a movie theatre, is one I could not have appreciated fully—internalising its most intricate details, overwhelmed by its warm embrace, feeling a part of the journey it took me on—had I not watched it in the comfort of a movie theatre.

Thank you to Julie, Marc and Mechteld for reading a Dutch draft of this essay, and to Megan for reading and editing my English translation.

On the big screen, intimacy is

what you’ll find

Essay • May 10th, 2022

On a Sunday morning at twelve, I settled into a chair at a local movie theatre for Memoria, the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul about an English woman named Jessica (played by Tilda Swinton) who visits her ill sister in Bogota, Colombia, and befriends a young musician and a French archeologist. Each night, as she tries to fall asleep, she's startled by loud, metal-like bangs only she seems to be able to hear, making sleep a fruitless endeavour; the script for the film apparently inspired by the symptoms of “Exploding Head Syndrome”, which plagued the director for some time.

Tilda Swinton as Jessica and Juan Pablo Urrego as Hernán in Memoria (2022)

From the first minute, Memoria is wonderfully sensory: running for two and a half hours it consists largely of near silence or ambient noise. The scenes are long and dialogue is used sparingly, which makes every sentence that's spoken—in Spanish or English—feel more important, carry more weight. The sounds of pouring rain, babbling brooks, and cheerful bird song play an important role. The sound design of the film was specifically focused on the theatrical experience; Jessica as a walking microphone, very sensitive to the noises surrounding her, anxiously awaiting that loud bang keeping her from falling asleep. As a viewer, you have no choice but to sway along with her, at times glued to your seat and often enthralled by minute-long shots that endlessly captivate.

Shot on 35mm film, the film is visually stunning, looking somewhat grainy, giving every perfectly framed shot a very tactile feel, pulling you into the lush landscapes and soothing light, making you feel a part of its meandering story.

*

Twelve hours before the sensory experience of Memoria, I left another darkened movie theatre where I'd just seen The Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves, the latest in a long line of directors to take the helm of the franchise, the film leans heavily into its film noir roots. It's long—clocking in at 176 minutes—and, for the most part of its extended runtime, we sit shrouded in darkness, Gotham City portrayed as a place the sun will never reach. It rains near continuously, sounds of pattering and dripping water constantly surrounding you, perfectly translating the feeling of that dark, wet, miserable place.

Still from The Batman (2022)

Visually, The Batman is beautiful: where most superhero-movies feel distant, Reeves knows how to pull the viewer in with exquisite camerawork. Shots are often close-ups of faces, shot over one's shoulder or from behind a window wet with rain, making it feel like you're observing each character from nearby, almost smelling the rain on the tarmac. What little light there is shrouds the city in a glow of red, blue and amber, and The Batman makes Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn's 2011 film known for its "neo-noir" sensibilities) look like a carnival.


The film doesn't have to lean on special effects to deliver a visual spectacle. Of course, there are explosions, high-speed chases and fights between superhero and antagonist, but the power of the film can, perhaps surprisingly, be found in its humanity.

*

In 2021, Dutch newspaper NRC published a piece by Gawie Keyser titled “Cherish film culture, save the movie theatre” (freely translated), in which he argues movie theatres are close to losing their battle with streaming platforms. He writes that Dutch theatres aren't equipped to convince the public to visit, that the quality of the programming in local theatres is appalling, the decisions they make not radical enough, and that they will therefore not be able to compete with larger cinemas offering an audio-visually overwhelming experience.

I agree with most of his points: movie theatres tend to have an old-fashioned image, some serve an older audience, and many rooms would benefit from a larger screen to increase visitors' viewing pleasure. However, I think the size of the screen and the programming in movie theatres aren't the only culprit: I think what we need to do, more importantly, is to reprogram the viewer—not the movie theatre's offering.

The average moviegoer visits the cinema and finds a spectacle. One peek at the program of Dutch cinema Pathé (one of the largest chains in the country) reveals they primarily show big films like Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Uncharted, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Moonfall. Available in IMAX, or it's superlative sister 4DX, shown with a layer of experience only found in large-scale cinemas: shaking your chair along with the music's basslines, spraying water in your face when it rains, the rumbling of a passing truck mimicked by your seat, and the experience transformed to the equivalent of a ride in a rollercoaster.

It's time we adjust our expectations of a cinema visit. Instead of focusing on making the moviegoing experience ever bigger and louder, I think we, as viewers, should seek out a kind of intimacy only the big screen can offer.

*

Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter) published a video essay on his YouTube channel titled Faces On A Big Screen, in which he argues that it's not just the pompous action that should move you to visit a cinema, but the complex expressions on the faces you see on-screen. The most important example he highlights is the only scene in Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2022) that features Harriet Sansom Harris. She delivers a fantastic monologue that's been etched into my mind since I first watched the film because she's portrayed in incredible close-up, filling the screen, smoke wafting from her cigarette, nearly stinging your eyes as you watch her speak.

Harriet Samson Harris as Mary Grady in Licorice Pizza (2022)

It is often said that watching films in one's living room, with all its comforts—curled up on the couch, under a blanket, with a glass of wine in hand—makes for the most intimate film experience. In a cinema you're sat next to strangers gobbling up popcorn or M&Ms, after all. But, in saying so, it's easy to forget about the way in which we consume a film at home.


You sit down, and pause the film after three minutes; you forgot to put on your comfy socks. Fifteen minutes later, a toilet break, and on the way back to the couch, a new drink. Halfway through the film your partner decides to walk the dog—the last lap of the day—and, after pausing the film, you quickly load the dishwasher. Your phone vibrates when the film reaches its final plot twist, and two minutes later you rewind it to see what just happened. Ten minutes before the end you doze off and subsequently stumble to bed—you'll catch up on the ending tomorrow.

Regardless of the setup, experiencing the intimacy of a film at home is difficult to compare to a movie theatre. The focus a movie theatre provides—the big screen, the extinguished lights, the lack of distraction—allows you to fully lose yourself in a film, to be overwhelmed by details you'd never discover, sounds you'd never hear, and empathise with characters in a way you just can't do when watching the same film at home.

That cigarette smoke billowing from Mary's cigarette, in Licorice Pizza; the vibrant colours of the omelette in Alma's pan, in Phantom Thread; the creaking leather of the driver's gloves gripping the steering wheel, in Drive; the sand in Phil's hair, in The Power of the Dog; the flowers in King Lu's ramshackle hut, in First Cow; the continuously clenched jaw of Connie, in Good Time. These details, these moments, stick with you forever—if you're open to it.

It's the music during the most important twist (David Bowie, in Inglourious Basterds) that stuck with me. The collective sadness, tangible throughout the entire room during the most heartbreaking scene (Cleo, on the beach with the kids, in Roma). The constant and overwhelming sense of confusion and loneliness (Synecdoche, New York), the visuals so unique and colourful my jaw dropped for the duration of a film (Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters). And, when I fell in love with being in love (If Beale Street Could Talk).

*

In conversation with Kodak, Apichatpong Weeresthakul said he designed the sound of Memoria for the movie theatre, and adds that this is the reason he'd prefer not to release the film online. You can't decide how one experiences the sound at home (or on the road), and if it plays such an important role in the story, it makes sense to want to guide the viewer.

Moviegoing can be an intensely intimate experience. I think Weerasethakul's film, like many others I've experienced in a movie theatre, is one I could not have appreciated fully—internalising its most intricate details, overwhelmed by its warm embrace, feeling a part of the journey it took me on—had I not watched it in the comfort of a movie theatre.

Thank you to Julie, Marc and Mechteld for reading a Dutch draft of this essay, and to Megan for reading and editing my English translation.

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