Apr 6, 2015

Upon Closing My Computer

The subject who speaks here must admit one thing: she sometimes watches movies on her computer. Having just read Roland Barthes, 1975 article "Upon Leaving the Movie Theater," I am left wondering how the experience of watching a movie amongst a crowd, in a dark room, on a big screen versus alone, in bed, on a laptop screen changes ones cinematic experience.

Barthes argues that we (often) enter the movie with feelings of "emptiness, idleness, inactivity: we dream, not by viewing the film or by the effect of its content, rather, we dream, unwittingly, before becoming its spectator." Barthes argues that it is the darkness of the theater that functions as a foreshadowing to the hypnosis that is soon to take place through the course of the movie as one watches and becomes enthralled by the images on the screen. The darkness acts as a "cinematographic cocoon," wrapping audience members in an erotic anticipation, excited for the voyeuristic pleasure that is to come.

The "lure" (as Barthes calls it) of the cinematic experience, recreates Lacan's "mirror stage," thus allowing one to substitute the movie screen for the mirror and narcissistically see oneself in the representation of the other on the screen. In this moment, the filmgoer is almost hypnotized and is glued to the image on the screen, convinced of its genuineness.

So, what happens upon leaving the movie theater? Barthes questions how one would go about prying oneself from the mirror? How does one leave the theater and  function once again, as a human and not as a hypnotized post spectator specter? Barthes asserts that one way to experience cinema-going without fully being lost in the gaze is through distance. Not necessarily the physical positioning one takes in relation to the screen, but through distancing oneself from the isolating experience of the theater: being aware of "the sound's grain, the theater, the obscure mass of other bodies, the rays of light, the entrance, the exit." Through this consciousness a heightened awareness of the movie itself might be possible.

How is this different or not different in the world of Netflix? How does the act of watching a movie alone on a laptop, influences one's relationship to the images on the screen. If there is no darkness to act as a cocoon, can one still be hypnotized into having the screen function as a mirror?

For me, there is no substitute to watching a movie in a theater. The environment of the theater significantly impacts how much I enjoy or do not enjoy a movie. The post cinema dream, like hypnotic state is more likely to occur for me after going to the movies, as opposed to watching something at home. Yet, for the sake of convenience and finances, I do (often) watch movies in my bed on the small screen of my laptop. The space of home movie watching creates a significant distance that allows me to separate myself from the screen, thus in turn, also allowing me to be more analytical and critical of what I watch at home. I unquestioningly loved 'Furious 7' when I saw it in the theater and had a lot of negative questions about 'Exterminating Angel' when I saw it at home. Interesting?

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