Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Yoga and the art of movie-watching

Although this blog is primarily about yoga, I sometimes also write movie and food reviews. Why? Because I do watch movies and eat food (I have yet to attain the siddhi of surviving only on prana), and there is no other public medium where I can readily express my views about these things. So although movies and food are not the central themes of this blog, I do write the occasional movie and food review.

Very interestingly, it seems that my recent review of Melancholia has unexpectedly been generating a lot of traffic for this blog; so much so, that it is now of the most read posts on this blog! Who'd have known? I'm guessing that many a Kirsten Dunst or Lars Von Trier fan have inadvertently stumbled upon this blog by googling "Melancholia", "Kirsten Dunst", "Lars Von Trier", or some combination of the three.

When I first discovered this, I was inclined to just file it away in my mind as one of the funny things that happen in a blogger's "career", if you may call it that: Occasionally, you write these posts that you don't expect anybody to read, and voila! It becomes a big traffic-generating source for the blog. But as I pondered this matter a little more, I couldn't help wondering: Could there be some kind of subtle connection between yoga and movie-watching? Could watching movies be a yogic experience in some way? If one defines "yoga" broadly as a process of union with something greater than oneself, could watching movies bring about such a union?

I pondered these questions a little, and then set them aside. And then, yesterday, I came across this recent New Yorker article by Anthony Lane. Most of the article consists of a review of a couple of recent movies (Melancholia among them). But there is one passage that speaks to the questions I was pondering. Lane writes:

"There’s only one problem with home cinema: it doesn’t exist. The very phrase is an oxymoron. As you pause your film to answer the door or fetch a Coke, the experience ceases to be cinema. Even the act of choosing when to watch means you are no longer at the movies. Choice—preferably an exhaustive menu of it—pretty much defines our status as consumers, and has long been an unquestioned tenet of the capitalist feast, but in fact carte blanche is no way to run a cultural life (or any kind of life, for that matter), and one thing that has nourished the theatrical experience, from the Athens of Aeschylus to the multiplex, is the element of compulsion. Someone else decides when the show will start; we may decide whether to attend, but, once we take our seats, we join the ride and surrender our will. The same goes for the folks around us, whom we do not know, and whom we resemble only in our private desire to know more of what will unfold in public, on the stage or screen. We are strangers in communion, and, once that pact of the intimate and the populous is snapped, the charm is gone. Our revels now are ended."

Most of this passage, as you can see, is a critique of home cinema, which I am very sympathetic to; I'm one of those people who get really peeved at having my movie-watching experience interrupted. But I also find it very interesting that Lane describes the traditional movie-going experience (as opposed to the home cinema experience) as one involving "compulsion", in that "we may decide whether to attend, but, once we take our seats, we join the ride and surrender our will."

If Lane is right (and I think he is), then going to the movies involves an act of surrender. For a couple of hours, you leave everything else that is in your life at the door of the movie theater, and immerse yourself fully into the universe of the movie that you are watching. You become a fly on a wall in the world of the protagonist; for just a couple of hours, your physical body exists only in order to facilitate this fly-like immersion in the movie universe. You become a part of something bigger than yourself, namely, an alternate universe. We might even say that being fully immersed in a movie is, in this sense, a sort of out-of-body experience.

I often wonder if this kind of "out-of-body" experience is what draws movie-lovers to the movies. Perhaps, without being fully aware of it, they are seeking a kind of yogic experience; an experience of surrendering their wills, even if only for a couple of hours, and becoming part of something bigger than their individual egos.  In so doing, the moviegoer also allows herself to be subtly altered by the world in which she has immersed herself, and emerges from the experience a slightly different person.

Interesting, don't you think? :-)


  1. Very interesting, I do think ; ) You've given me the perfect excuse to go practice surrender.