Spectator: Civil obedience

Lucy Baring does as she's told.

ON the first day of half-term, I decided we should go to the cinema. The only film on offer that wasn’t animated, but that had the required age certificate was Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney. As the film was opening that very day and as I hadn’t read the reviews, I decided it would be prudent to book the tickets online. George Clooney. Opening night. It could be a stampede, even in Salisbury.

We collected our tickets and asked what time the film ended, getting the reply: ‘Approximately 8.04pm.’ We’d parked in a car park that closed at 8pm, so Zam disappeared to move the car, leaving us with instructions for his popcorn order.

As we’d had a minor discussion about the advisability of parking there, on account of its closing time, I was full of the smugness that would lead to our next undoing.

We ordered four large popcorn buckets from a very surprised-looking man, who said ‘Four?’, pause, ‘Large? as if we might want to reconsider, but I chose to ignore his raised eyebrow and said ‘Yes’, because, fresh from the car-parking issue, I was wrapped in the confident glow of always being right. The buckets, when placed on the counter, created a high and wide wall behind which the popcorn man had disappeared. They cost considerably more than the tickets.

We were the only people in the cinema. We took our allocated seats, wondering when the others would come. But they didn’t come and we spent much of the film scanning the emptiness to be sure that we weren’t deluded.

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As the only people watching a film about (I think) a parallel universe entered via a variety of vortices, the outing was beginning to take on a surreal quality in itself. We wondered, alone in the darkness, whether we had in fact entered an alternative reality by another portal. George Clooney. Opening night. I repeat, I had not read the reviews.

The following week, we went to see We are Many, a documentary film that has taken 8½ years to make by a director who remortgaged his home twice to fund it. It follows the weeks running up to the invasion of Iraq, focusing on February 15, 2003, when 15 million people marched in 800 cities around the world. This anti-war demonstration was the largest democratic action to ever take place on one day.

Soldiers, civilians, politicians, writers, the famous, the not famous, each person in the film spoke of the optimism and hope and wonder at what was taking place—surely this collective voice couldn’t be ignored by Tony Blair and George Bush?

It was during one of the mesmerising contributions, by John Le Carré, that a member of the packed cinema audience erupted. ‘Enough,’ he said. Then again, more loudly: ‘Enough!’ Uh oh, I thought. Have we got a loony here? You can’t shout at a documentary being watched by more than 100 ticket holders even if you take issue with it.

‘Have you never been to a cinema before?” he shouted. Which is how we all deduced that he wasn’t exploding at the screen, but at the women behind him, who had commented and rustled throughout.

Somehow, his eruption added to the drama on screen, given that this was a film about saying exactly that: enough. And don’t be afraid to speak up. Cinema etiquette thus chimed with civil disobedience and I need to have another look at both.

When sitting in the Salisbury cinema, it never occurred to me to move seats, to stretch out in the ‘premier’ row. No, we sat obediently in Row G, 6–10. Eating popcorn. And as for managing noise from neighbouring seats, I know I can improve: when Anna’s heaving sobs became uncontrollably loud while watching Up a few years ago, my solution was to pass my jumper along the row while I hissed ‘Stuff this in her mouth’ to her siblings.