In Jacques Rivette’s 1974 new wave classic, Celine and Julie Go Boating, there exists the perfect metaphor for going to the cinema in the middle of the day: the plot revolves around two women playing magical games in a Paris-turned-playground; towards the second half of the film, they discover a mysterious house, into which they repeatedly disappear, only to return several hours later, dazed, with no memory of what has happened.
For me, Celine and Julie Go Boating is a case of life imitating art: after finishing a screening that had started at midday, I emerged into the bright spring sunshine, just as confused as Celine coming out of the walled-off mansion. The film had sucked me into its peculiar rhythms, which – over its three-hour runtime – had ebbed and flowed, and being confronted by the real world was like taking a cold shower: a sharp shock, but completely refreshing.
This screening kindled in me two things: firstly, an appreciation of film that has continued ever since; and secondly, the magic of daytime cinema. Going to the cinema is, anytime of the day, a form of self-care; an act that says to the world ‘I am going to spend this time on myself’. But going during the day has an extra buzz to it – it feels a bit naughty, like you’ve been skipping school, and coming out of the cinema while everyone is still working at their desks feels wonderfully indulgent.
In my mind, self-care is one end of a spectrum of coping mechanisms which stretches all the way to self-medication. While self-care might be the acceptable face of dealing with stress – all scented candles, relaxing baths, and calorific food – self-medication, often with drugs or alcohol, seems to represent the ‘bad’ way of handling our problems. Where does the cinema fit onto this scale? To me, it seems to fall somewhere in-between: while it’s not quite the same as downing brandy sours, going to the cinema is more heady and powerful than other forms of self-care.
Like with drinks and drugs, to a large extent going to the cinema involves active consumption. There is, of course, the whole ritual of purchasing the ticket – and those of us who obsessively frequent the same cinema will often choose the same seat – but to visit the cinema is to make an active choice; a choice to sit, in a darkened room, alongside fellow cinema-lovers, for the sole purpose of watching a film.
The very best films will intoxicate you. In a sort of reverse-mindfulness, they will transport you away from your cinema, with its frayed seats and sticky floors; away from your deadlines, looming on the horizon; away from your phone, and its constant pinging of emails and texts; and – most importantly – away from yourself. But while the cinema can act as a distraction, it is far from mindless: to get the most out of a film, you need to focus on it completely; step away from your surroundings, and immerse yourself in the screen.
Going to the cinema is still my most regular form of self-care. To me, it serves as a statement: I am telling myself ‘it’s ok, you might have exams coming up, or revision you’re meant to do, but for the next few hours you’re going to spend this time on yourself’. But unlike, say, a Netflix binge, going to the cinema never leaves me feeling deflated: annoyed, maybe, that I’ve spent money on a shit film, but never unfulfilled. Whether it’s a cheesy blockbuster, or an astringent Danish flick, the cinema never leaves me feeling empty.
For those of you who wish to follow me on this path to cinematic enlightenment, I have a few words of advice: first of all, get to know your cheapest local cinemas. If you want to go more than once a week, things can add up pretty quickly, but knowing that the BFI offers under-26s £3 last-minute tickets, or that ICA members can have £3 tickets during the day, really takes the pressure of your student loans.
Secondly, try and keep an open mind: if you’re feeling down, you might instantly reach for the latest feel-good release, but there is catharsis to be found in emotional cinema, and sometimes having a good cry in the dark can do wonders for your mental health (don’t go too far though: Shoah isn’t that great for self-care).
Finally, and most importantly, embrace going by yourself. Many people I know would never go to the cinema by themselves, but think about it: you’re going to be sitting in a dark room, with ideally nobody talking – there is never a more appropriate place to go by yourself. While it might be great to go with friends, don’t let their availability limit what you go and see. Remember: you’re going to the cinema for yourself, so practice saying ‘ticket for one, please’ in front of the mirror, and get on down to a midday screening!