Reeling with Ryan Lattanzio

This Week: Going Alone


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Try to tell someone about a dream you had, and they won't want to listen. Try to tell someone about a movie you saw that they didn't, and they'll probably want to listen even less. They weren't there with you. Dreams and movies can't be recounted intelligibly, not without losing some of their essence. It's like sculpting in 2D: You just don't have the means to make it work.

That's why when we sleep, we dream alone. And when we go to the theater, that public dreaming-place, we go there, too, to be alone - not because we want to talk to our date or meet new people or something.

But we don't usually go alone, do we? There's something discomfiting about that dark room of strangers. If a movie has anything over a dream, it's that you can experience it with someone and afterward, they'll know what you're talking about even if you noticed different things.

Last year, I attended a talk by filmmaker Peter Greenaway called "New Possibilities: Cinema is Dead, Long Live Cinema." Given the title, you can imagine the ego at play. Greenaway said, "Cinema as an individually perceived phenomenon is erroneous." Though he's no doubt a brilliant director, that statement is just silly. How can you say that a moviegoer doesn't have his or her own subjective experience? That's as futile an attempt to bracket cinema as psychoanalysis is to bracket dreams.

In my freshman year, I saw - or dreamt? - Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" on the opening Friday. As the credits rolled, I went out into the night, shaken by the same feeling I get when I awake from a revelatory dream. I felt, at once, as if I had entirely understood life and also knew nothing about it. I had gone into the movie with a talkative group of friends and left with a silent one. We didn't even want to ask each other why that house is always on fire. We had nothing to say because the movie had already said everything for us.

The following Monday, I was walking to class and had another sudden, alien feeling: I had to see the movie again, alone this time. I skipped class and went straight to the theater. I sat down in the empty dark and watched the film a second time. Unlike those dreams you only think are recurring, this one actually was. I stayed for the credits because I didn't want to wake up, even as I came to and readied myself for life after "Synecdoche."

This past Sunday, I went alone to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," a very different kind of film, at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on College Avenue. Going to a movie alone is not like watching one alone at home on the couch with your cat. In the theater, you are sharing that movie-dream with those around you, and you are all working hard to make sense of it.

Watching "Uncle Boonmee," if you're like me, involves a lot of sense-making. Why has this dying man's son returned after years missing and why does he look like a Wookiee? What is that talking catfish doing to that woman in the lake? What is going on here?

But "Uncle Boonmee," like a dream, asks simply for your presence rather than your understanding. You can't make sense of it - sense isn't really even relevant - so why keep trying? That's how dream logic works. You're meant to feel, not think.

Not since "Synecdoche" have I gone to the theater alone and had that kind of waking cinema-dream. The dream of "Uncle Boonmee" was mine, even as I shared it with those strangers in the room. I stayed through the credits.

Dream about Ryan at [email protected]

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