A Journal of the Plague Week 26

Sunday, September 13th, 2020

This post mentions the film Tenet, but there are no spoilers because I’m not a jerk.


We went to the cinema at the start of the week.

It’s such a strange thing to write—so mundane and simultaneously so shocking, given the times we’re living in. And there were so many specific conditions that needed to be met for me to even contemplate doing such a thing:

My thinking is pretty much in line with that of Justin Chang, film critic for the Los Angeles Times:

I have a lot of patience with Nolan’s high-priest-of-cinema routine […]. I also wish that, in a life-or-death situation, he and Warner Bros. weren’t thrusting “Tenet” and its theaters-only release strategy so insistently into the spotlight.

Tenet is the movie I most wanted to see this year (though Dune is a very close second), but every time its release was delayed this summer, I breathed a sigh of relief because it meant I wouldn’t have to decide whether or not to brave the cinema. A month ago, I was very much on the fence about whether I could bring myself to step foot in a movie theater. Actually, I wasn’t even on the fence yet, I was still inside the fence debating whether I’d climb onto it at all. And I was (and am) slightly resentful of the very existence of fence. I know that cinemas are suffering, and that some movies are just ~meant~ to be seen on the big screen, but I wish more options were available to see this film in a way that didn’t potentially put anyone’s life at risk.

The truth is, I just don’t fetishize the cinema-going experience the way true cinephiles do. I like seeing a spectacle on a big screen, but if I could get even an approximation of that in the comfort of my own home, I’m not sure I’d ever go to a movie theater. The “communal” aspect of the cinema does not enrich the film-watching experience for me—on the contrary, it just stresses me out (who’s gonna talk through the movie, who’s gonna get their phone out, who’s gonna constantly kick the back of my seat, who’s gonna eat the crunchiest, rustling-est snacks right next to me…?). There’s a different quality to watching a live performance on a stage in a theater versus on a screen at home, but the difference between watching a movie on a screen in a theater and on a screen at home is, to me, merely one of scale. (Don’t @ me.)

So, I didn’t particularly want to go to the cinema, especially since I felt strong-armed into having to do so by Mr. Nolan. But in a year with almost nothing else to look forward to, I looked forward to this film and didn’t want it spoiled for me by some smart-ass on social media. What to do, what to do?

What Jeremy and I did was start to very hypothetically strategize what a trip to the cinema might look like if we decided to go. We put almost as much planning into our theoretical outing as Nolan’s characters put into their schemes. We contemplated what times and days might be quietest, and whether it would be best to go to the earliest showing on any given date because the theater would be at its least germ-filled. We studied seating plans and debated the merits and drawbacks of different locations in the different theaters (Duke of York’s is bigger, Dukes at Komedia has sofa-seats with lots of space around them). We calculated how much a single trip to the movie theater would cost us if we not only bought seats to sit in but also several seats around us (a lot, and also not necessary since the cinema automatically blocks adjacent seats once you’ve booked a ticket). We wondered whether people would take their masks off to eat popcorn and not bother to put them back on again. And we asked ourselves if the whole thing was just a flat-out dumb idea.

In the end, it was a very last-minute decision to go. After lunch on Monday (Thai food from Namo Eat at The Eagle—outstanding), with about 45 minutes to go before the next showing at the Duke of York’s and only a few tickets already sold, we snapped up the two seats front and center in the theater. We figured that a handful of people sitting silently behind masks in a spacious auditorium was about as safe a cinema-going experience as we could hope for right now. And that is precisely what we experienced; there were maybe eight other people in a cinema with a capacity of 274, so it was practically like having the cinema to ourselves. Not financially great for the theater, but pretty much the ideal scenario for us. And we enjoyed every minute of the movie.

There was yet another first this week: our first proper, sit-down meal at a restaurant (outdoors, obvs) since we had lunch at the Winding Stair in Dublin on March 2nd (as an aside, I remember our cab ride to the airport after that lunch, because the cabbie had the radio on and the presenters were talking about the worsening coronavirus situation in Europe and the possibility of canceling the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations—which seemed unthinkable at the time. Hah.). Since the weather was nice again this week, Jeremy and I decided to splurge and have dinner at The Flint House, a new-ish restaurant in the middle of Brighton with a lovely roof terrace and nothing but glowing reviews. And it did not disappoint—everything from the cocktails (pink grapefruit negroni!) to the delectable food and delightful service was perfect. And because the restaurant is in an essentially brand-new (and simultaneously quite old) part of Brighton, it felt like we were on vacation somewhere. It felt like how our life used to be. It felt like the growing light at the end of the tunnel.

But the tunnel seems to be getting longer again now, the light receding. The number of coronavirus cases in Brighton is rising steadily, with 40 confirmed cases in the past week, up from just 7 weekly cases a month ago. And the actual number is likely to be much higher because it’s even harder to get tested now than it was before. Our main testing center at a nearby stadium closed two weeks ago so the stadium could start hosting soccer games again, because that’s a totally reasonable use of space in a pandemic. A pub just down the street from us (though not one we’ve been to recently) has closed temporarily after a customer tested positive. Local high school students are already infecting each other at house parties, and I don’t see how that problem isn’t going to positively explode in one week’s time when all the university students return. There were already two different parties in our neighborhood last night, and as I lay awake at four in the goddamn morning listening to a group of dudes bellowing for no good reason, I thought: this is only going to get worse.

And by “this” I mean everything.


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