Happiness is an Empty Cinema

Happiness, for me at least, is a fleeting and transient emotional state. I never know when the next bout of glee will strike, and I’m generally sad to see it go.

Following a surprisingly decent and not too overwhelming job interview, I had some time to kill before I was to return home, so I went to the nearest independent cinema to watch a film. My choice on this particular afternoon: Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest. The film itself was pretty good, though not as enjoyable as his previous two, Drive and Bronson. I’m kind of obsessed with that pair of films. Forgives was enjoyable enough but didn’t reach the heights of the others, in my humble opinion. Still a very decent film, and probably in my top ten of the year when all is said and done, but just not as impactful to me as the aforementioned duo. This, however, is clearly not for a lack of effort. Because Forgives is 90 minutes of wall-to-wall violence on an extreme and visually cruel level. It’s scene after scene of boiling water in the face, ice pick through the retina, appendage slashing gore, until you’re almost begging for a timeout to catch your breath and recalibrate your jangled senses. I didn’t realize this before today, but I must admit that I prefer my violence more cartoonish and therefore easier to assimilate, a la Quintin Tarantino. I’m from the Dragnet school of violence, all rampant gunfire and no visible indication of vital organs being pierced with shells. It’s violence sans the concept that someone is actually experiencing pain on any tangible level. With Forgives, you’re right there on the grimy streets of Bangkok, feeling every unsheathing of the shiny brilliant blade, every slice of sinew, every time you’re dragged down a hall by your teeth at the hands of an expressionless Ryan Gosling. And it’s unsettling. The level and frequency of the violence took away from what was a fairly engrossing story.

Speaking of Gosling, I like him as an actor but I think in Drive and Only God Forgives he might have twenty lines combined. I’ve not done the research, but I think it would be a safe bet to assume that Ethan Hawke says more in the first five minutes of Before Midnight than Gosling does in both of Refn’s films. It would appear that his main function in these movies is to brood and wear tight t-shirts. For better or worse, every Hollywood actor finds his or her place in the silver screen food chain, and maybe Gosling is still working out the kinks on his. He’s obviously a gifted thespian, and a Canadian, which means he’s already one up on fellow Canuck Ryan Reynolds. Sorry, lesser Ryan. Sometimes you’re Shawn Michaels, sometimes you’re Marty Jannetty.

All of this is really just adjacent to the point I was initially hoping to make: an empty cinema is my idea of bliss. Come to think of it, any room bereft of humans is nirvana to me. I’ve never felt lonely. Not ever. I’ve been alone, but never lonely. So when I purchased my ticket to a 2.50pm Tuesday afternoon screening, I suspected I might have a fairly empty cinema. Imagine my delight when the opening credits rolled and I was the lone cinefile in attendance! In all my movie-loving years (now spanning three-plus decades), I have never had the good fortune of experiencing the solo cinematic…uh, experience. And it was even more beautiful and serene than even I had hoped. Only Refn’s penchant for bloodlust sullied that artificial high.

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