That moment, that breathtaking moment when you reach the last scene in film—the parting shot, the final words, and you think, Yes: the sighs, tears, laughter, nails-in-palms, extra helping of popcorn, hours stolen from work or chores or whatever were all so worth it.
There is an intimacy to being in the dark in that most private of public places: a movie theater. Whoever is sitting beside you, whatever the mess surrounding you, when the house lights go down, and the massive screen is illuminated, a portal opens, beckoning, offering an alternative reality. The promise of engagement within that new world is powerful. And when the promise is fulfilled, the end feels right, utterly inevitable.
And there is, if not complete—for what is the experience worth, really, if it does not stay with you?—a sense of closure. The credits roll, the lights come up, and the alternate world dissolves.
I watch most films at home these days, and love the convenience of “Pause” and “Replay”, the comfort of my sofa, soft clothing, but my sense of involvement is diminished, no matter how dark the room, or big the screen, because an essential aspect of the art is missing: that seductive whoosh, the irresistible beckon of a portal opening, the sense that when it closes, I have been elsewhere.
Recently, after reading, and abandoning midway, numerous very well-written books in digital format, I realized I was suffering from a similar lack of involvement, a spreading aesthetic distance. Why? Because that same essential part of the experience was lacking: this time, with the physical opening and closing of book covers.
It amazes me that so simple a motion can hold within it so heady an influence. Lift a cover and an alternate world beckons. Turn a page, and it draws you in. And if the book fulfills its promises, its final scene, last words will feel as inevitable as a parting shot, even as its cover closes, its world lingers, the closed book rests in your hands.
In that moment, that breathtaking moment, your entire body will know you have been elsewhere.
And it was so worth it.
(Recommended viewing: The Purple Rose of Cairo)